Being the capital of the United States and its center of power, as well as, having all those monuments and museums, Washington DC gets all the attention. But just across the river is Arlington Virginia, and it deserves some love. The perfect way to see all it has to offer is by bike.
**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.
Most people know Arlington because of the national cemetery and as home to the Pentagon. But there is more to it than that. Between Washington and Arlington, in the middle of the Potomac is an island that is part of the National Park Service and only accessible by land from the Virginia side. Along the river and atop the ridges you will find awesome views and monuments to our service members.
Arlington is often mistaken for a city. And while it may present that way, “Arlington” actually refers to Arlington County, which consists of neighborhoods but no cities or towns. Many corporations take up residence in the skyscrapers of this Virginia County.
Where to get a bike
If you are not traveling with your bike, you can always grab a bike from Capital Bikeshare. You will find locations throughout the city. If you plan to start your ride from Rosslyn as this guide suggests, you will find multiple kiosk locations along Lynn St, as well as Wilson Blvd.
The way it works is you will register online and pick a plan. You can sign up for an annual plan (paid monthly) or purchase a single-use or single-day pass through the app or at the kiosk. You will scan the QR code which will unlock the bike. Ride wherever you like and return it to any kiosk.
Capital Bikeshare offers both standard pedal bikes and eBikes. Throughout the Capital Bikeshare network, there are 1500 bikes. You will be charged an additional $1 to use the eBikes plus a $1 out-of-station fee if you dock in a public bike rack.
Download the app and you’ll be on your way.
Explore Rosslyn by bike
This 12-mile self-guided ride starts in the Rosslyn section of the city which is easily identifiable by its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and courthouse. Before hitting the road, take a quick ride up Wilson Blvd and fuel your tank at EClairons, a great cafe serving sandwiches, coffee, and incredible pastries.
Theodore Roosevelt Island and the Mount Vernon Trail
You will pick up the Mount Vernon Trail near Theodore Roosevelt Island. Here you will find parking for your vehicle if you opt to start here. There is also a Capital Bikeshare kiosk here.
The path begins at the island and runs all the way to Mount Vernon, through Old Alexandria. The full length of the trail is 18-miles but for this trip, you will only be riding on the path for approximately 4-miles.
From this lot, visitors can access the Island which is a living memorial to the 26th president. Once overgrown farmland, the island has been transformed into a “real forest” with roughly 2 miles of walking paths. In addition to its natural landscape, visitors will find the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial.
Unfortunately, bicycles are not permitted on the island. However, you can lock your bike at one of the bicycle racks in the parking lot.
Gravelly Point and Reagan International
From Roosevelt Island, you will head Southeast on the Mount Vernon Trail riding along the Potomac River toward Gravelly Point. Along the way, there are some spots that are ideal for taking pictures of Washington DC across the water.
On your way to Gravelly Point, you will pass the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial. This is a beautiful spot for pictures. The memorial is situated in Lady Bird Johnson Park on Columbia Island. The monument honors US Navy Sailors and Merchant Marines lost at sea during WWI. The statue dedicated in 1934 is identifiable by its seven gulls flying above a cresting wave.
From here, continue pedaling along the trail to Gravelly Point and Airport Park. This is a favorite spot to stop and watch planes taking off and landing from Ronald Reagan International Airport.
Next Stop –Crystal City
Then head through Crystal City, a section of Arlington that includes defense contractors, satellite offices for the Pentagon, the United States Department of Labor, and the United States Marshals Service.
As you come into Crystal City you will pass through Crystal City Water Park. This is not a park like an amusement park, it is an urban park with a water feature. Across the street is the location for Amazon H2Q now under construction. This is a major boon for this neighborhood.
One of the most interesting aspects of Crystal City is that much of it is not visible from the surface level. Beneath the city lies the metro, of course, but also shopping, dining options, and more. It’s a city beneath the city.
Make your way into Pentagon City. This is a great time to stop and recharge your battery. Take a coffee break at the flagship location of Commonwealth Joe Cafe and Roaster (located at 520 12th Avenue), a modern cafe serving its own roasts and specializing in Nitro Cold Brew and pour-overs. While there, pay attention to the window display as it changes seasonally.
The Air Force Memorial
After a rest make your way past the Fashion Center and Pentagon Row on your way to the US Air Force Memorial. This is one of two places along the ride where you will need to climb. Otherwise, the ride is mostly flat. But the trip up the hill is worth it.
The memorial honors men and women of the US Air Force. It appears as three arced stainless-steel spires soaring toward the sky to a height of 402 feet above sea level. The actual height of the spires is between 201 feet and 270 feet.
The design is meant to resemble the contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds executing the bomb burst formation they have become so well known for. Typically, this maneuver is done with four F-16 but absent that 4th plane signifies the “missing man formation” traditionally used at Air Force funeral flyovers.
The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
From here descend past the Pentagon and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. The memorial remembers the 184 people who lost their lives in the crash of Flight 77. The site recently underwent renovations reopening in time for the 20th commemoration of the event
The memorial is a collection of 184 cantilevered stainless steel benches inlaid with granite each one beside its own pool of water, reflecting light onto the bench and surrounding gravel field. Together the 184 individual units interspersed with 85 Crepe Myrtle, which will grow to 30 feet and provide shade, make up the memorial.
From the Pentagon, you can see Arlington Cemetery on the opposite side of the highway. But the entrance to the cemetery is just over a mile further. When you arrive, you can make the turn onto Memorial Drive to the cemetery, but you will not be able to ride in.
Of course, Arlington National Cemetery at 639 acres is the nation’s largest military cemetery. Over 400K servicemen and women along with their dependents have been buried here. This is a very active cemetery where there are up to 30 interments a day here. Please be respectful.
Arlington National Cemetery is the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the burial place of Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. JFK is buried there with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and his brother Robert Kennedy. Of course, there are many other notables interred here including Supreme Court Justices, military leaders, politically influential figures, and even astronauts.
Visit the Seabees Memorial
Along Memorial Drive, near the metro access, you can stop at the Seabees Memorial. Seabees refer to the Naval Construction Battalion or the CBs, who have since World War II been responsible for constructing bases, building roadways, and creating airstrips to support military operations in times of both war and peace. Inscribed on the memorial is the Seabees motto “CAN DO” along with the phrase “With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer.”
View the Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Directly ahead of you at the end of Memorial Drive at the Ceremonial Entrance to the cemetery, you will see the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. This is the only major national memorial honoring all women who have defended America throughout the nation’s history. The memorial is housed in what had been known as the Hemicycle. This is the curved facade with a reflecting pool, fountain, and Court of Valor.
But the memorial is much more. Within the arced building there are 16 exhibit halls for permanent and rotating exhibits. You will find displays commemorating the service and bravery of women in military service as well as a computerized registry of female service members.
Arlington Ridge Park
Finally, before making your way back into Rosslyn head toward Arlington Ridge Park for a visit to the Netherlands’ Carillon and the US Marine Corps War Memorial. Getting to the park will require you to climb the second hill of the ride but the view of the Potomac and Washington DC from the ridge is spectacular.
The Netherlands Carillon
The Netherlands’ Carillon situated in Arlington Ridge Park was gifted by the dutch as an expression of gratitude and friendship for the help the country received during WWII. The steel tower stands at 127 feet and contains 53 (originally 49) bronze bells. The tower itself is an open steel structure with a bronze baked-enamel finish. Stairs allow visitors to climb 60-feet up to the observation deck. The carillon plays automated concerts throughout the day.
US Marine Corps War Memorial
Travel across the ridge as you make your return to Rosslyn. On your way, you will pass the US Marine Corps War Memorial. The memorial is a 3-D bronze rendering of the famous photo of six marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. The sculpture was cast in 12 pieces and assembled on site.
I hope you have enjoyed this itinerary. The entire ride should take between 1-1/2 and 2-hours depending on how long you spend at each stop. This allows time for breaks and photos. Don’t forget to return and secure your bike.
Where to Stay
Did you know, you can get a room in Arlington for up to 20% less than those downtown rates? Yet you will still have easy access to the sites of the capital city and Arlington. Many of these highrise hotels offer stunning views of the Potomac River and the District.
I suggest Le Meridien Arlington located in the trendy and walkable Rosslyn neighborhood. Request a room on the river side of the hotel where you will enjoy amazing views of the Potomac, the Key Bridge, and Georgetown.
Consider riding the full 18-mile length of the Mount Vernon trail from Rosslyn to Mount Vernon. The ride takes you through Old Alexandria, along the river, through wooded areas and marshlands. It’s a lovely and mostly flat ride on a very active trail.
It seems there is a lot to see and learn in a 2-hour ride! Thank you!
If you want to truly experience each place I would agree. But the only place I didn\’t spend any time at all was the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon because it was closed and I only walked out to the island. If you want to dive into both those places you could easily make a day of it.
I\’ve only been to Arlington National Cemetery. A bike tour would have been a great way to see more of Arlington. Thanks for the suggested route!
What a beautiful journey 🙂 thank you for sharing this experience!