We take airplanes for granted…tons of metal carrying tons of passengers trapped inside a thin pressurized aluminum skin while traveling hundreds of miles an hour. A point so cleverly put but Louis C.K. (if you’re at work…you might want to have headphones for that link)

Pretty flowers and that "M"
Pretty flowers and that “M”

But to truly appreciate the marvel of modern air travel you gotta get up close to these things in action. There are more than a few airports around the country where you can get pretty close…for instance everytime I was in Vegas my primary running route would take me down Tropicana next to one of the main runways at McCarren International Airport. Every once in a while I’d be so in the running zone that I’d forget where I was until the thunder of a jet just a few dozen feet above my head would scare the bejeezus out of me. Of course there is this most famous example.

In DC we have National Airport, or DCA or…if you really want to see some skin crawl: Reagan National. It’s a small airport, originally serving as a quick escape for those on the Hill, but as the District’s population has surged so too has the airport’s popularity. And with that original purpose in mind the airport is super-close to downtown DC, and at the northwestern end of the main runway is a park called Gravelly Point. You can drive there, but don’t…just don’t. Go get a bike and ride the Mount Vernon Trail, it runs along the Virginia side of the Potomac from Teddy Roosevelt Island to the aforementioned home of our first president. And about a quarter of the way into the ride you’ll find yourself at Gravelly Point.


Lauren and I biked down there from our house this past Saturday…it was Lauren’s first visit. I love the place, so I was excited to spend a gorgeous afternoon down there. The ride’s easy enough, through Rock Creek Park across Memorial Bridge onto the MVT. All said and done about six miles from Dupont Circle.

We laid out the blanket and waited for the planes to start landing. It didn’t take too long before a jet banked right down the Potomac and rumbled less than a hundred feet overhead. Being that close to a plane landing invites little surges of adrenaline…it also accentuates the absurdity of the routine. How can flight ever be routine!

The scene is made all the more ridiculous on a gorgeous weekend as hundreds of people gather at the park (another reason not to drive). There’s a rugby pitch all of 400 yards from the runway and kids are out playing football and flying kites as these planes are flying in. I just want to shout:

“Kid!…don’t fly that kite!”

“Kid!…don’t punt that football!”

But there were no footballs clanking off the plane’s fuselage, no kites getting sucked into an engine. Instead it’s just universal awe as these planes land…and then a heavy whoosh of wind a few seconds later…and then a mysterious wisp sound ten seconds later as air rushes into the vacuum created by the plane. It sounds as if a phantom is dancing just above our heads.

Look in the sky it's a...
Look in the sky it’s a…

We spent much of the afternoon there watching plane after plane land and takeoff…it really doesn’t get old.

Tags : Gravelly PointMount Vernon TrailReagan National AirportWashington DC
Kris Ankarlo

The author Kris Ankarlo


  1. Wow, amazing views. I have heard of this place but havent been there yet. I have watched planes from Hain’s Point and the control tower at Air and Space Museum in Dulles but it looks like the views at Gravelly are even more awesome.

    1. Yeah…it’s pretty awesome and super easy to get to. Hains Point is also very neat, for a different perspective. Haven’t done the control tower at Udvar-Hazy…that might call for a trip down the Dulles Toll Road!

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