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Runners pass beneath cherry-tree boughs along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images)

Travels on the Run: Washington, D.C.

I moved to Washington, D.C., more than 20 years ago, and in all that time I have never tired of my go-to run around the National Mall. Through sweltering humidity, spring showers, freezing rain that clings to your jacket and falls off in icy chunks, bellowing winds, and everything in between, this route never fails to showcase the timeless beauty of America’s capital city.

I’ve seen it adorned with Christmas decorations and Fourth of July flags, bustling with bused-in crowds and silent in snowy solitude. But the most striking time to run has always been the crisp, cool twilight of spring or fall, when blinking stars punctuate the periwinkle sky, and the white-marble monuments—Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington—stand sentinel, glowing reminders of the potential of the democratic experiment, despite inside-the-beltway political shenanigans.

> Run Stats:

Mileage: Five-mile loop

Best time: Throughout the day, through the seasons, the Mall’s personality changes minute to minute. Early morning is lovely, of course, as the twilit sky slowly illuminates the monuments. Cherry blossom season is legendary—for the blossoms, as well as the crowds who come to gawk at them. At night, watch for the light in the Capitol’s Dome—an indication that Congress is still in session.

Start and End: Begin at any point along the Mall and make a loop. I often start my runs near the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol building.

> The Route:

  • From the Capitol, head west, crossing 3rd Street in the city’s northwest (NW) quadrant.
  • Follow the crushed-brick pathway parallel to Madison Drive to 15th Street NW.
  • Cross 15th and follow the paths around the base of the Washington Monument, continuing west toward the Lincoln Memorial. After crossing 17th Street NW, you can veer right and run along Constitution Avenue, or continue straight, around the Reflecting Pool.
  • At Lincoln, bear to the left of the memorial, turning left on 23rd Street, switching over to the District’s southwest (SW) quadrant.
  • Cross Independence Avenue SW, heading into West Potomac Park along Ohio Drive SW. Note: Be sure to cross Ohio Drive so that you’re running along the river.
  • When you reach the Jefferson Memorial, follow the rim of the Tidal Basin. It will bring you out to a pathway alongside East Basin Drive SW. Follow this, bearing left at Maine Avenue SW.
  • At the stoplight at the intersection of Maine Avenue and Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, cross Maine Avenue and continue up the sidewalk, toward the Washington Monument.
  • Cross Independence Avenue and, immediately, Raoul Wallenberg Place/15th Street. Find the small trails angling over to Jefferson Drive at 14th Street SW. Cross 14th Street and run on the sidewalk parallel to Jefferson Drive, which will lead you back to the crushed-brick pathway on the Mall.
  • Follow the crushed-brick pathway through the Mall, crossing 7th and 4th streets SW.
  • Cross 3rd Street SW, bringing you back full circle to the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

Barbara A. Noe is senior editor at National Geographic Travel Books.