National Park Getaway: Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac

Granite monolith standing in a patch of grass
Johnson's family and friends gather on the plaza every August to commemorate his birthday in an event open to the public.

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Across the river from the large, bustling presidential monuments lining the National Mall is a lesser-known, peaceful memorial dedicated to the nation’s 36th president. Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac offers recreational opportunities, stunning views of the nation’s capital, and a chance to reflect on the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

On an island in the Potomac River, LBJ Memorial Grove is officially in Washington, DC. Motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians often do not know that they are briefly crossing into the District of Columbia because it is so close to the Virginia shoreline. Once known as Columbia Island, it was renamed Lady Bird Johnson Park in 1968 to honor of First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s contributions in urban beautification of the nation’s capital. She would soon become influential in the design of her husband’s memorial on the island.

Shortly after the death of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973, friends and family began planning a tribute to his legacy. Rather than a classical building or large metal sculpture, the idea was to create a living memorial for the enjoyment of nature, a nod to Johnson’s love of the environment. The spot chosen was special to the Johnsons, as they had often stopped there on return trips to DC during his presidency for a moment of peaceful reflection looking at the skyline of the nation’s capital.

Blue heron standing in the water
Blue herons and white egrets are a common sight as you walk across the Boundary Channel Bridge to the island.

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The area was converted into a grove with hundreds of white pine and dogwood trees and framed by sprawling azaleas and rhododendron. A 19-foot-tall, 43-ton monolith serves as the centerpiece of the memorial grove. The large piece of sunset red granite was chosen by Lady Bird Johnson from a quarry within 35 miles of their ranch at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Site in Texas.

Johnson’s memorial was dedicated only three years after his death, while his presidency was in the recent living memory of the majority of Americans. President from 1963 to 1969, Johnson served during arguably one of the most turbulent times in US history. The memorial sought to capture Johnson’s legacy with civil rights, land conservation, and education by including several of his quotes immortalized in granite. Among his many achievements during his presidency, Johnson signed the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Bill seeking to end discrimination, the Primary and Secondary Education Bill to increase federal aid to public education, and the Water Quality Act to improve the nation’s water sources and added 3.6 million acres of land to the National Park Service to preserve the nation’s natural and cultural heritage for future generations.
Two bicyclists on a paved trail
The trails through the grove are often used for short, scenic walks or added on to longer hiking, biking, and jogging excursions.

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The 17-acre park is one of the smallest exclusively outdoor units in the National Park Service but still offers a variety of recreational opportunities. The quiet trails through LBJ Memorial Grove connect nearby paths, including the Mount Vernon Trail, popular for cyclists, joggers, and walkers. Boaters and paddlers can view the grove from the river or when launching at the nearby Columbia Island Marina. Families and friends can enjoy a quiet picnic in the small meadow in the grove and bring their fishing poles to fish along the banks or binoculars to watch wildlife from the bridge over the Boundary Channel.

LBJ Memorial Grove is along the 25-mile George Washington Memorial Parkway, which was designed to offer motorists access and views of natural and cultural sites of the national capital area. Visitors can also access the park by car from the parkway, on foot or bike from the Mount Vernon Trail and Boundary Channel pedestrian bridge, or by boat at the Columbia Island Marina.