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Best Places to Watch the Sunset in DC, National Park Style

Chasing sunsets is a fun and pandemic-friendly pastime I’ve discovered this past year, so I thought I’d identify and share some of the best places to view and photograph them in the DC region. The monument valley looks a little different here than it does out West, but seeing a sunset on the East Coast, whether from a spot along the National Mall or overlooking a river, can give you a great appreciation of why the District of Columbia is a special place to be! 

The District of Columbia and surrounding areas are offer great sunset views due to the balance of city life, beautiful historical landmarks, and a heavy dose of nature, all within the radius of our nation’s capital. Choosing a vantage point to soak in a sunset might be the hardest part, but here are a few of my favorite locations.

Quinn at the Lincoln Memorial/Photo by Chris Rief

My favorite spot to view the sunset is the Lincoln Memorial, and I don’t think you go wrong with any location in the immediate vicinity. Facing it head-on, you can frame the Memorial up front with the sun setting behind it. With Reagan National Airport close by, you may spy a plane or two taking off or landing. That said, I really enjoy relaxing on the back side of the Memorial. The columns and large marble steps offer a peaceful sitting area away from most of the tourists, where you can take in the sun setting just beyond the Potomac River. My daughter Quinn and I recently enjoyed a snack here as we watched the sunset.

Photo by Chris Rief

If you don’t make it to the back of the Lincoln Memorial, there are plenty other spots along the National Mall to check out. I often find myself snapping photos of the Washington Monument, with cotton-candy skies in the background and reflected in the Reflecting Pool. This naturally beautiful area really doesn’t have any bad angles, especially at sunset and dusk. Some other options along the Mall include viewing Thomas Jefferson across the Tidal Basin, and taking time to reflect at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Anacostia Park/Photo by Chris Rief

Do yourself a favor and check out the wonderful Anacostia River Trail in Anacostia Park, which winds along the river. It is a great way to relax and unwind, and get some steps in! The trail and park offer enough space that you don’t have to worry about crowds and maintaining social distance. Looking west, you will see the colors of the sky over Nationals Park and the District. You can take in views from the Skating Pavilion, playground, or near the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.

Photo by Chris Rief

While Fort Washington Park (in Maryland) is a little bit of a drive from the city, sunsets here are well worth the trip. Either take on the hills to get the view from above, or head down to take in the sunset by the lighthouse. Any view will be rewarding, and hearing the water flowing in the Potomac River adds more sensation to the experience. 

Sunset at C & O Canal/Photo by Chris Rief

As a bonus, I would recommend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP at Great Falls Tavern. It is worth walking over to Olmsted Island to see the Great Falls of the Potomac. Hearing the rush of the water rapids is so calming, and witnessing the sky cast a wide variety of warm and cool colors brings me peace.

Lonely Tree at Fort Washington/Photo by Chris Rief

There are some magical places in the area. Remember to plan ahead, recreate responsibly, wear a mask, and snap a bunch of photos! Enjoying the sunsets is something we should all find time to do every now and then. If you want a little fun, check out my crossword puzzle that accompanies this article. Happy exploring!

Header photo: Lincoln Memorial at sunset/By Chris Rief

Chris Rief is a non-profit professional with a deep passion for photography and public lands. He lives in the D.C. area, where you can find him exploring national park units near and far with his daughter, Quinn.

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