Biking the Monuments with My Child


View from Arlington National Cemetery across Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial

OK, this is not about adoption and not about Asian culture.  The only tiny connection I can make is that there were a lot of international tourists (many Asian) on the National Mall the day we did this tour.  But I am writing it to encourage other families to bike the mall. It is so much easier to bike it than to walk between all the places.

I wanted to take my child (now 7) to see some of the monuments on the western part of the National Mall.  He has been asking to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  But I was sure he would enjoy a couple of memorials which are close by.

I tried to figure out how we were going to do it without making it a really tiring day.  A couple ideas included taking a hop on, hop off bus tour,  a pedicab around the mall or just taking taxis from place to place.  But the bus tours are $70 – $118 for an adult and a child.  An hour pedicab ride for two costs $72.   And on top of this there is the cost to take the Metro to some destination to catch the bus, pedicab or taxi plus the cost to park in a garage at the Metro station.

IMG_4921I came up with the idea that we would bike the monuments.  I don’t know why I never thought of it or why no one mentioned it.  First off, my child did not take his bike to bike the monuments.  I took my bike and attached a trail-a-bike, also known as a tag-along bike.  This is a half bike that attaches to the seat post of an adult bike.  The child can pedal (or not).  My child, Danny, really likes to go on the trail-a-bike.  I would not take a 7 year old on his own bike to do this tour, but it is probably doable for 11 or 12 year olds who are good at biking.

Here are some things you need to know:

  • Biking IS allowed on the National Mall sidewalks and walkways.
  • Biking is NOT allowed IN the memorials, which means you need to park your bike or walk your bike through the memorials (FDR, MLK).
  • You can bike across Memorial Bridge on the sidewalk (either side).
  • I biked the whole route by biking on walkways and crossing streets.
  • I never biked on a street (that I was not crossing).

My route cost $7.75, which was the cost of parking at Arlington National Cemetery for 4 hours of parking.  Plus whatever it cost in gas to drive to that location.  I knew that Danny really only wanted to see each place for a few minutes, not get an in depth look at any one place.

Here is the list of things I brought:

  • water bottles for both of us (3-4 total), but 2 would have been fine as there were lots of working water fountains along the way in August. I can’t vouch for other times of the year.
  • first aid kit  (two days earlier while hiking on the tow path, we needed a band-aid and I didn’t have one, this time I was prepared)
  • bike tools and small pump
  • lunch and snacks in a small lunchbox
  • print out of Google maps of the area in question
  • various bike locks and keys
  • camera
  • bike helmets

That which did not attach to my bicycle or that we wore, I stuffed in my backpack.

I parked at Arlington National Cemetery parking garage.  On the Wednesday I did it, there was plenty of parking when we arrived around 10:45 am.


IMG_4899I biked out of the garage and over the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The Lincoln Memorial is at the end of the bridge.  We stopped first to see the Lincoln Memorial.  We parked our bikes in the bike parking and walked up the stairs.  We looked at the statue for a short while before heading to the basement to see the small museum.  Danny was actually more interested in the movie playing about all the protests and marches at the memorial than the memorial itself.

We ate an early lunch on some shady benches between the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

Our second stop was over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We parked our bikes and walked a short way.  I knew this was going to be the least interesting for my son.  I put it on the itinerary because he was adopted from Vietnam.  I had to explain that this was to honor the American soldiers killed in the war, not the Vietnamese soldiers killed in that war. He of course wanted to know if his side won.  I determined that his side both won and lost that war. Since he was born in Vietnam many years after the end of the war, he was born under the Communist Regime, the winners.  But because he was adopted by an American family and the South Vietnamese with help from the Americans lost that war.  He therefore is on the side of the losers too.

IMG_4914Next stop was to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. We biked on over and parked again. As I expected, he loved this memorial.  Who could not love a bunch of soldier statues hiking across the lowlands?  Danny’s paternal grandfather served in the Korean War, so there is a personal connection to that memorial.

Next stop, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  This is the new memorial that I had not seen.  It is across Independence Ave, but there are numerous safe crossing spots.  I suppose you can park you bike outside the memorial on that side of the road, but there is no where to lock your bike to.  So we crossed West Basin Drive, SW to where there is a place to park and lock your bike.  This is next to the MLK bookstore and  a restroom.

mlkThis is the second place which Danny wanted to see.  The statue was bigger than expected, but very sunny, so he wanted to leave as soon as we got there.  Danny had read all about this memorial in a book he has.  It says the granite used to make the statue looks like one color far back and many colors up close.  I guess the problem is in the glare of bright sunlight, we could not see the many colors.

Last stop, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  We entered it from the MLK Memorial side, which is actually the end of the memorial.  There is bike parking before you get to the memorial.  The memorial is a series of four “rooms”, which represent different periods of FDR’s presidency.  Danny loved the people standing in the bread line and the little dog next to FDR in one of the rooms.

IMG_4930Next stop after the FDR Memorial, was back to the Lincoln Memorial area where there is a refreshment booth.  We sat and had some water ice.  Add $6 for two cups of water ice to our total.  So for less than $14, Danny and I have a great day of visiting the monuments of the western National Mall.

We biked back to the Arlington National Cemetery garage via right-hand side of the bridge sidewalk.  To get to that side, I had to bike all the way around the Lincoln Memorial and make sure not to get on Rock Creek Parkway.  Fewer people walk across Memorial Bridge on the right side heading out of Washington, DC., which made the biking on that side easier.  We got back to the garage and called it a day.

If you use a credit card to pay for the parking, you can pay at the exit.  If you need to pay by cash, you need to enter the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Center and pay there.   Although I started at the garage at Arlington National Cemetery, another place to park and start this tour would be on Theodore Roosevelt Island. There is parking there, but is only accessible from the northbound lane of the GW Parkway.    The Mount Vernon Trail goes right past the Memorial Bridge so you don’t have to bike on the road there either.

Other places we didn’t go.

We did not bike to the Jefferson Memorial.  Danny studied Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. in first grade, but never studied Jefferson, hence his lack of interest in this memorial.  But the Jefferson Memorial is easily doable on this trip.

We did not bike to the Washington Monument because I could not get tickets for the monument two weeks before we took this trip.  In fact when I was looking, it was not until after students went back to school were any tickets available.  If I could have gotten tickets, this would have been on our tour.

Danny’s favorite was the Lincoln Memorial, second favorite was the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  His least favorite was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  We had a great day and I can see doing this or a little different trip another day.


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