At a Glance

Hours: Open year-round from 6 am to 10 pm.

Cost: Free.

Tips: The island has pedestrian access only via a footbridge from Arlington, VA; no cars or bikes are permitted on the island. ◾ Although the Lower Potomac Water Trail goes past the island, landing or launching is not permitted on the island. ◾ Some trail sections may be closed because of flooding, and the boardwalk may be slippery when wet. ◾ Restrooms on the island are closed in winter, usually from October to April. Sometimes, a portable restroom is available during the winter.

Best Seasons: All year, but spring and fall are best.

Local MOS Chapters: No MOS chapters in DC, but Montgomery Bird ClubPatuxent Bird Club are in the neighboring suburbs. The Audubon Naturalist Society and the Audubon Society of DC cover DC.

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Potomac River near the Key Bridge
(703) 289-2500

Theodore Roosevelt Island is a National Park Service property located in the Potomac River. The 89-acre island is between the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Georgetown neighborhood of DC, and Rosslyn and Arlington on the western shore of the Potomac in Virginia. The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge carries US Route 66 over the south tip of the island, but there is no access to the island from the bridge. The entire island is dedicated as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, one of the earliest champions of conservation, who did much to preserve land across the nation. Access to the island is purposely limited in order to keep the island in a natural state. The island is open only to foot-traffic – no cars or bikes.

The centerpiece of the island is a formal memorial that features a statue of the President, four large stone monoliths with some of Roosevelt’s quotations, and two fountains. The remainder of the island consists of wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands, with a well-developed trail network and a boardwalk through the swamp (see trail map at link at left). Although the habitat on Theodore Roosevelt Island looks like it developed naturally, it is actually a planned landscape that replaced the remnants of earlier usage, including military encampments during the Civil War and experiments with dynamite during the Spanish-American War. The current wooded landscape was designed after the island became federal parkland in 1932.  Because of its strategic location, the island serves as a migrant trap, and hosts a good diversity of birds during spring and fall migration.

There are three main trails on the island, each named for the habitat is passes through:

  • The Swamp Trail is 1 ½-mile loop trail, the island’s longest trail. It encircles the edge of the island, passing through swampy woods and cattail marsh. The trail is part pea gravel and part boardwalk.
  • The Woods Trail is a short, ⅓-mile trail that runs north-south through the heart of the island, passing through the Theodore Roosevelt memorial plaza. It is paved with pea gravel.
  • The Upland Trail is ¾ mile long and also runs north-south, traversing the length of the island. It passes though upland woods and loops around the remnants of the foundation of an old mansion.

The island is accessed by a footbridge from a small parking area on the Virginia side of the Potomac River (see Directions below). At the base of the footbridge on the island, you will come to a T intersection where the Swamp Trail runs north and south. The memorial plaza is a short distance away, through a small strip of woodland. Begin by turning right to take the Swamp Trail heading south. At the south end of the Island, the Swamp Trail will turn east at a footbridge over a marsh. The marsh is a good place to check for rails, waders, shorebirds, and small birds such as Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow.

Continue to follow the Swamp Trail north into a wooded swamp. Here you may flush Wood Ducks or hear singing Prothonotary Warblers. As you walk the trail and boardwalk through the swamp, watch for opportunities to view the Potomac River to the east. Check the water and any mudflats for ducks, gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Gulls like to gather on the roof of the Kennedy Center across the River.

Continue following the Swamp Trail in a counter-clockwise direction around the island. Upon arriving at the memorial, you can take the Woods Trail or the Upland Trail, or both, to check the interior of the island for woodpeckers and songbirds.

After completing your tour of the island, return across the footbridge to the parking area on the Virginia side of the river. Here, you can pick up the paved Mount Vernon Trail, a hiker-biker trail that runs north and south along the river (see Mount Vernon trail map at the link at left). Follow the Mount Vernon Trail a short distance south to obtain a view of the tidal mud flats at the south end of the island, where a channel separates Little Island from the main island. Depending on tides and season, this area can be filled with an assortment of waterfowl, gulls and terns, or shorebirds.

Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy: During his presidency, Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, created five new National Parks, and established 18 new National Monuments. He also established 150 National Forests and numerous other protected lands. In total, Roosevelt was responsible for preserving 230 million acres, much of it by use of executive orders. While birding at the island, tip your hat to the President who did so much to preserve the lands that we all cherish.

Birdlife:

Noted for migrants, as many as 25 species of warblers being observed on a May day. Check the marsh and the wooded swamp for Swamp Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, Common Snipe and both yellowlegs and migrant thrushes. American Bitterns, Soras and Virginia Rails sometimes seen as migrants and Great and Snowy egrets and Little Blue Herons in the summer.

Parking:

Use designated parking space. US Park Police regularly tickets drivers who have parked on the grass.

Directions:

Drivers can only reach Theodore Roosevelt Island from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. After Memorial Bridge, follow the sign to turn right into the parking lot.

Nearby Sites:

Constitution Gardens and Reflecting Pool.

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousConifersUpland Deciduous Urban or Small Town Landscape Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainRivers & Streams

Features:

BeginnersBoardwalkFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsLake, Pond, Bay, River, OceanNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature CenterObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedRestroomsWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families

Type:

National Parks & MonumentsThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails