The Georgetown Loop is a “metro hike” that includes waterfront vistas, cinematic history, embassies, and the largest tulip poplar in DC!
Length: 4.5 miles
Time: 2-4 hours
Winters in Washington, D.C. can be extremely cold, but occasionally a 65-degree day sneaks through a frigid February. This is what we like to call “false spring.” We tune up our bikes, stuff our picnic baskets, and call up our friends. It’s time to get away from our desks and step outside to one of DC’s 600+ parks.
It was on such a day that I gathered a few of my friends for coffee and a “metro hike” at Georgetown Waterfront Park. This ~4.5-mile loop takes you along the Georgetown Waterfront, sends you up the exorcist stairs, strolls you past pastel townhouses to Montrose Park, and brings you back down to the Georgetown Waterfront again on Rock Creek Park Trail and the C&O Canal.
As you can see, I was determined to figure out how to make this a loop, and I think this walk is pretty enjoyable at the end of the day! I hope you like it as much as I do.
Wait, what’s a “metro hike?”
A metro hike is something I came up with while working at Rock Creek Conservancy. It’s a hike in the city that includes both natural and urban settings. Ideally, it connects to the metro or other public transportation, so this Georgetown loop is not the best example, since Georgetown is notoriously a bit disconnected from the rest of DC. You can make this a true metro hike by starting your loop at Dupont Circle.
Preparing for your hike
Just because you’re in the city, doesn’t mean you can wing it. It’s a long walk and there is some steep terrain in places. While you’re exploring the Georgetown loop, plan to wear your walking shoes, bring water, slather on sunscreen, and prepare for a few hours of exploring one of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.
Phase 1: Georgetown Waterfront Park
Technically, you can start this walk anywhere on the loop but I prefer to start at Georgetown Waterfront Park. Fuel up for your hike at one of the many local cafes and picnic down at the water’s edge where you can watch boaters, walk the labyrinth, and learn about Georgetown’s history.
Pro-tip for tourists: On weekends, Georgetown Cupcake will be busy from open to close. Skip the line and pick up a latte and arguably better cupcake from local family-owned cupcakery Baked and Wired. That’s what we did!
For a more detailed guide to Georgetown Waterfront Park, click here.
Phase 2: Exorcist Steps (0.5 Miles)
It’s a quick half-mile walk from the waterfront to the Exorcist Steps, which you will find at the parking lot where M St meets Canal Road.
The steep, narrow, shadow-cast stairs were featured in the 1973 film The Exorcist, which is often rated the scariest movie of all time. They are famous for being the spot where Father Damien Karras falls to his death after hurling himself out of a window.
No one on the walk, including myself, had been to the Exorcist Stairs, even though we all live and work in DC. It’s honestly more of a tourist destination, but we really enjoyed our visit (as you can tell from the photo.)
Once you’re done taking Exorcist selfies, walk up the full 75-step flight to Prospect St NW to start the next portion of your walk.
Phase 3: Georgetown Wander (1.1 miles)
This chunk of the “hike” takes you through the posh neighborhood next to Georgetown University on your way to Montrose Park.
There are two places to visit at the beginning of this section If you’re feeling like you need to fuel up. Stop into Wisemers Deli for a sandwich and a cookie or head to Call Your Mother for a solid bagel.
Walking up 34th St, you’ll see pastel-colored townhomes mixed with some extreme mansions that will make you take a double-take. We spent a good portion of our time looking up houses on Zillow, not a single tiny townhouse clocked in at less than 1.5 million, but that just means we have good taste, right?
Walk on 34th until you get to R St, then turn right to cross Wisconsin behind the Georgetown Library. Pop into the Peabody Room at the Georgetown Library to explore the special collection of Georgetown history housed there.
As you cross Wisconsin, you’ll enter a part of the neighborhood that is full of historic federal homes you can visit including Dumbarton Oaks Garden, Tudor Place, Evermay, and Dumbarton House. Even though this loop doesn’t make time to stop and explore some of these old homes, they are definitely worth a trip!
You will see a road that says “Lovers Lane.” Walk past that sign to the official entrance to Montrose Park.
Phase 4: Montrose Park
Montrose Park is a great place to stop, picnic, get in a game of tennis, or play with the kids on the playground. There is also a bathroom here that is often open to the public.
The land that makes up Montrose Park was originally purchased in 1804 by a man named Richard Parrott. Parrott built his federal-style estate there and set up a “ropewalk” to make rope for the various industries of Georgetown. The land was managed as an estate through most of the 1800s, but by 1902 it was abandoned and was slated for redevelopment.
A woman named Sarah Louise Rittenhouse rallied the neighborhood to lobby the government to turn it into a park instead since neighbors already used the space for recreation. After one unsuccessful try, she managed to get the park approved and the federal government took over in 1911.
There used to be a memorial armillary sphere in honor of Rittenhouse, but it was not there when we visited.
The government built the pergola, tennis courts, and playgrounds, but some features of the original estate remain including the boxwood plantings, the ropewalk, and the osage orange trees that line the ropewalk.
Phase 5: Two roads diverge in the woods (0.4 miles)
I was determined to find a way to turn this hike into a loop, and we found several dead ends before everything came together!
At the northern perimeter of the park, you will see a slope with wooden stairs nailed into the ground (pictured). This may or may not be an official route, but we saw many people using it to access Lovers Land and the entrance to Dumbarton Oaks Park. (If you have time, Dumbarton Oaks Park is also worth a visit!)
Walking down the steps, look to your right to see a massive tree. This old tulip poplar is the second-largest tree in the city and it was recently saved from invasive vines.
Once you get down onto the gravel path you will see a sign for Dumbarton Oaks Park, a trail in the middle that looks like it goes up, and a trail to your right that looks like it goes down. Take the middle, upper trail and you will enjoy a peaceful walk through the woods and emerge next to the Italian Embassy on Massachusets Avenue.
Turn right to cross Massachusets Avenue Bridge, but make sure to stop to look back at where you came from. You will see Rock Creek below you and on the hill in front of you, you’ll see Oak Hill Cemetary and Montrose Park. It’s honestly one of my favorite views in the city.
Phase 6: Embassy Row (1 mile)
I hope you brushed up on your flags because it’s time to spot some embassies!
As you walk down Massachusets to Sheridan Circle you’ll see the ornate Islamic Center of Washington as well as the Embassies of Belize, Turkey, India, Japan, Korea, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, Burkina Faso, Latvia, Ireland, Egypt, and Romania.
Once you hit Sheridan Circle walk down 23rd St until you get to P St.
Turn right to cross over the P-Street Bridge (officially called Lauzun’s Legions Bridge) and you’ll start seeing signs for the Rock Creek Trail. Follow them downhill to Rock Creek Trail next to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.
Walk on this trail for about 1-mile until you see a sign for the C&O Canal.
Phase 7: C&O Canal (.59 miles)
The C&O canal means you’re back in Georgetown! This trail takes you along the Georgetown section of the Historic C&O Canal, which runs 184.5 miles all the way to Cumberland, Md! When we were walking, the path was full of people jogging, exploring, and taking selfies with the cute canal-side houses.
Once a bit of a mud puddle, the C&O canal has recently undergone major renovations. As you walk on the trail, take some time to stop at the plazas to learn about the history of the canal. Sometimes they even have mules and a petting zoo!
There is also the promise of a canal boat joining the rehabbed canal in 2022. Stay tuned!
Finished! Grab a beer
If you’re like us, this hike was fun but now you’re exhausted and want to take a load off. Before you head home grab a bite to eat and a beer at The Berliner! Their open-air dining room beneath the Key Bridge makes it a great choice for COVID-era dining.
I hope you enjoyed exploring the Georgetown loop as much as I did! Let me know below what part was your favorite or if you have any suggestions for stops along the way.
To learn more about the Georgetown Waterfront and its history, click here.