A few hundred feet north of Washington National Airport there’s a small grassy park where locals gather to behold the closeup spectacle of commercial aircraft, which come in directly overhead throughout the day.
Aircraft approach Washington over the Potomac River in order to minimize noise disruptions in the city. In their final descent they loop over Gravelly Point Park, quickly snap their landing gear into place, and make their screeching landings on a runway stained black by decades of burnt rubber.
Watching huge jets passing by so close overhead is a sensory overload that’s exhilarating (and potentially brings into doubt the basic physics of heavier-than-air flight). Planes are very heavy, large, and fast moving—points that are difficult to appreciate until one roars by a hundred feet above you.
Some days the landing procedure is reversed. When the wind is prevailing northerly, air traffic controllers seize on the opportunity to give departing planes a Mother Nature-assisted takeoff over Gravelly Point. .
Know Before You Go
Parking is limited. Best bet is to bike there along the Mount Vernon Trail, which connects via Washington and Virginia.