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Long-suffering DC commuters may think of George Washington Memorial Parkway (aka, the GW Parkway) as a route to avoid or endure, but it can be a lovely drive on a weekend, offering lots of scenic views and stops along the way. Combine it with the historic Georgetown Pike, and you’ll have quick access to beautiful parks, interesting history, and nice hikes along the Potomac River.
Georgetown Pike (SR 193): Dranesville to McLean
Georgetown Pike is less than 12 miles long, but the road offers easy access to several of our favorite Fairfax County hikes. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, and designated as the first Virginia Byway, the old Georgetown Pike was built in the early 1800s with hand tools and horse drawn equipment.
Most of the road passes through the lovely town of Great Falls, where you can stop for a bite or a pint. Past the town center, the two-lane road passes extravagant homes and fields, then twists and turns as it skirts Great Falls Park.
Things to do from Georgetown Pike:
- Hike the Potomac Heritage Trail at Seneca Tract
- Dine and play in the town of Great Falls
- Hike and boat at Riverbend Park
- Explore nature and history Great Falls Park
- Hike along streams and ridges from Difficult Run
- Hike to a waterfall at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
George Washington Memorial Parkway: Langley to Mount Vernon
Get onto Route 495 northbound then take the first exit, and you’ll transition from the scenic state road to a national roadway—George Washington Memorial Parkway. The GW Parkway was designed to link sites that commemorate important episodes in American history, and to preserve habitat for local wildlife. Originally conceived as a route along the Potomac River’s edge from Arlington to Mount Vernon, Congress authorized its extension to include Great Falls Park in 1929.
Now the roadway offers panoramic views above the Potomac in the north, and of the monuments of DC alongside the river in the south. There are so many stops on the 25-mile parkway that you’ll need multiple trips to see them all, and you should really allow a separate day to visit the gem at the end of the parkway, George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Things to do from George Washington Memorial Parkway:
- Hike along the Potomac at Turkey Run Park
- Visit the Marine Corps Memorial
- Explore Theodore Roosevelt Island
- Honor fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery
- Visit DC’s southern corner at Jones Point Park
- Relax by the river at Lady Bird Johnson Park
- Explore Dyke Marsh and the Mount Vernon Trail
Scenic Drive Route and Loop Option
To drive the full length of Georgetown Pike and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, begin at the western end of Georgetown Pike where it intersects with route 7 in Great Falls, and end at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
If you want to make it a loop drive, considering avoiding the highways and returning on route 123 through Fairfax then north on Hunter Mill Road. It’s not all scenic, but there are some nice, historic sections on this route and it’s much more relaxing than driving the 495 beltway.
How many of the parks and hikes have you tackled on these scenic and historic Virginia roads?