Tours

18 Miles on Mount Vernon Trail

HITTING THE TRAIL...

Another DC bucket list item complete! This weekend, Dani and I (finally) biked the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile paved stretch between Rosslyn, Va. and George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate. Winding alongside the Potomac River, the trail offers runners, cyclists, and exercise novices alike a scenic escape from hectic city life. Although, on a nice day, we quickly learned the trail can get pretty crowded too.

[VIDEO] ONE MINUTE, EIGHTEEN MILES

Thanks to a little GoPro magic, check out a small glimpse of the awesome scenery along the trail.

Situated in Northern Virginia, the multi-use recreational trail is easily accessible by car or metro. There are some worthy stops along the way, including Old Town Alexandria, Arlington National Cemetery, Gravelly Point, and of course, Mount Vernon Estate, a must see.

BIKE TO MOUNT VERNON

Don't have your own bike or just visiting? No problem, you can rent one from Bike and Roll in Old Town Alexandria and enjoy a scenic ten mile ride on the Mount Vernon Trail. And if the 20 mile round trip is a little too much, you can book a one-way bike trip and return to Alexandria on the Potomac Riverboat Company’s Miss Christin. I think that's next up on the DC bucket list!

Big Bend National Park

A HIDDEN TREASURE

One of the least visited and most remote national parks, Big Bend seems to be one of the few places in the country where you can literally get away from it all. From an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend includes massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river.

Getting There (1,943 MILES)

  • Flight: DC > Dallas-Fort Worth > San Antonio (4 hours)
  • San Antonio > Marathon, Texas (5 hours)
  • Marathon, Texas > Terlingua, Texas (2 hours)
  • Terlingua, Texas > River Road East, Big Bend National Park (1 hour)

A DAY ON THE RIO GRANDE

Adam and I opted for a river tour of the Rio Grande with Big Bend River Tours. There are several tours to choose from, both full and half day, although a lot depends on the water level, which has been particularly low the past several years.

Our group of six set out from the small, but charming town of Terlingua (more on it later) at 8:00 a.m. for a full day canoe trip through Hot Springs Canyon. Our guide, David, was full of knowledge about the park and shared harrowing and hilarious stories of fellow travelers.

The Rio Grande creates a distinct environment in Big Bend National Park and serves as part of the natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. As the tour went on, the river became more and more scenic. Think wild horses drinking from the bank, tall canyon walls towering overhead, and majestic mountains in the distance. Truly the stuff postcards are made of.

Hot Springs Trail

This trip floats through scenic canyons, with easy paddling and no rapids. However, there are a few tricky spots, that took some extra coaching from our guide, but we finally got the hang of it. Stops along the way reveal hidden hot springs, ancient ruins, and incredible views of Mexico's Sierra del Carmen.

We stopped for lunch near Hot Springs Trail and explored the area before a long soak. Heated by geothermal processes and emerging at 105° F., the water carries dissolved mineral salts reputed to have healing powers.

TRIP TIPS

  1. Sunscreen. Trust me. Weeks later Adam is still peeling.
  2. Pack light. We were given waterproof bags, so we simply stored our small backpack inside and attached it to the boat.
  3. Hydrate. It's can be difficult to gauge how tired you've become from paddling and navigating. Drink, refill, and drink some more.
  4. Take all the pictures. We used a GoPro Hero 4 Silver and an iPhone 6s, both in their own water-proof cases, to capture the stunning views from the canoe.
  5. Teamwork. After surviving some rough waters early on, Adam and I settled into a nice rhythm and were cruising downstream.
Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
— Gustave Flaubert

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Go Ape Zip Line & Ropes Course

Zip Lines! Ropes courses! Tarzan swings! Dani and I ventured to Rockville, Maryland, to check out the zip line and ropes course at Go Ape. Situated in Rock Creek Park, a short drive from D.C., Go Ape offers a fun, and challenging, two hour adventure.

We parked in the gravel lot across the road from the log cabin that serves as a check-in point. The staff were friendly and informative, assisting with signing waivers and outfitting us with harnesses and safety gear. After a quick training session we strapped on our GoPro and were off on the trail.

Dani loves heights, me not so much. But with a little coaxing I made it through the six zip lines, 44 crossings, and two Tarzan swings that make up the course. Each of the six individual sections progress in height and difficulty to the end, making it challenging and fun throughout. We both had a great time and can't wait to visit again in the summer.

OUR TIPS

  • Wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty. On more than one occasion, both Dani and I had less than graceful zip line landings into the dirt.
  • Dani wore gloves and was glad she did, the ropes can be rough if you're not use to them. Although I was fine with out them.
  • If you have a GoPro bring it! It was our first time using the head strap mount and it worked perfectly for capturing zip line footage.

Cathedral Bell Tower Tour

One of the closest attractions to our apartment, the National Cathedral is a majestic piece of architecture towering above northwest DC. Dani and I climbed 333 steps to the bell tower for a spectacular view of the city. Of note: this is not the tour for you if you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights (of which I am both!). The tour starts with a (very) narrow assent up the limestone passageway and ends with a (wobbling) spiral staircase, as you climb the final steps to the bell tower.

The panoramic views of the city, and the ringing of the bells as we reached the top were certainly worth all those steps! Our tour gathered for a short history of the Cathedral and a demonstration of the bells by the Washington Ringing Society—it was fascinating to see in person.

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