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The Spectacle of Watching Airplanes Land Overhead at Gravelly Point Park in Arlington, VA

Have you ever wanted to watch roaring airplanes land directly over your head? This is where you can do it - and it's a thrilling experience!

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stays busy. The one million square foot passenger facility features three terminals and hundreds of flights per day. During a recent visit to Washington, D.C. – my third visit now – I discovered the best place to watch those planes landing. It’s called Gravelly Point Park – and it’s directly beneath the flight path of landing planes.

It wasn’t easy getting to the park. You can only access the parking lot from the northbound side of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. If you’re heading southbound or miss the turn, you’ll have to navigate some tricky u-turns to find your way back to the park’s entrance.

When I pulled into the parking space, I was startled by the roaring engine of a landing plane. I jumped out of the car to see the landing gear suspiciously close to the park as it roared overhead toward the runway.

Planes landing at Reagan National over Gravelly Point Park already have their gear lowered – and the altitude is quite low as well.

Walking out to the grassy park, I looked to the north across the Potomac River to see another approaching plane. Passenger jets are not allowed to fly over the city – both for security and a little bit of peace and quiet – instead, the pilots follow the route of the river and bank sharply at the last second to line up with the runway. Less than a minute before touching down, the plane flies directly over Gravelly Point Park – and all the people gawking below.

I couldn’t believe people were allowed this close to landing aircraft. Of course, it’s perfectly safe. I didn’t even feel a gust of wind from the plane overhead and the noise was no more than a typical airshow. But still – these planes were landing directly over my head!

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In between planes landing, I took a look around the park. Families were having picnics on the grass and a few tables scattered around the small trees. Bicyclists pedaled through on the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail. In the midst of occasional noise, people were having quite a bit of fun.

After half an hour of capturing photos, I put everything away, found a comfortable patch of grass, and sat for awhile. It was my last day in Washington, D.C. after a four-day trip. It was also my birthday. I’m not an aviation enthusiast, but I could still admire the roaring planes landing overhead.

Planes seemed to always takeoff to the south. From Gravelly Point Park, visitors get a view of the back of the plane.

Getting to the Park

Getting to Gravelly Point Park is tricky at best. Google Maps – or any kind of GPS navigation – helps with the execution, but even then it can be a mess of u-turns and merging roads.

Here are some tips on how to get to Gravelly Point Park by car, bike, and foot.

Drive

For most activities in Washington, D.C., I prefer to leave the car parked at the hotel and take the Metro. However, the best and easiest way to reach Gravelly Point Park is by car.

The only way to reach Gravelly Point Park by car is northbound on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Airport Access Road is the best place to get on the parkway toward the park.

If you’re driving southbound on the parkway, you can make a series of 270-degree turns at the Airport Access Road exit to get on the parkway northbound – just make sure to stick to the right lane throughout the maneuver!

Bicycle

Biking is a popular activity throughout Washington D.C. and the Northern Virginia area. The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail parallels the George Washington Memorial Parkway – offering a safe option for bicyclists.

Parking is still somewhat limited and will require a hefty ride to reach Gravelly Point Park. The nearest parking is at the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial.

Metro

It is possible to take the Metro to reach Gravelly Point Park but it will require a bit of walking. Is that surprising?

The nearest Metro station is at Arlington Cemetery on the Blue Line. A quick walk along Memorial Avenue leads to a pedestrian access to the Mount Vernon Trail. It’s about a two mile walk to Gravelly Point Park.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
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