Gravelly Point, Washington D.C.’s Great Plane Watching Park
To be totally correct, Gravelly Point is in Virginia, just north of Crystal City and Reagan Washington National Airport. The small sliver of land sits upon the shores of the Potomac River, and is contained within the lands of the National Parks Service’s George Washington Memorial Parkway.
If the winds are just right (from the south), the park is an awesome venue for plane watching, as arriving Regan National flights are down to a few hundred feet as they finalize their navigation to runway 19. In fact, the River Visual Runway 19 Approach follows the center of the river until the Rochambeau Bridge, over which the arriving aircraft turn right, towards the western edge of the waterway and roll out close to a half-mile from the runway’s threshold. Under this last minute “jog” to the right, sits Gravelly Point Park.
If you’re an airliner photographer who seeks a 90-degree side shot with perfect lighting, this Park may not excite you. But if you like to be close to the action and have a need for some different angles for your photos, here will definitely satisfy you.
With a wide angle lens, you can still fill a lot of the frame.
With a telephoto lens, you’ll be overflowing your frame… I like to concentrate on nose shots from here.
But having said that, if you wait in the small parking lot right off the Parkway (and away from the flight path a few hundred feet laterally) a mid-sized lens with some decent early afternoon light will get you pretty close to that 90-degree side shot…
And as an added bonus when traffic is landing and departing to the south, with a medium to long range lens, you can capture traffic taxiing to the departing runway or touching down too.
Getting to Gravelly Point isn’t too hard by auto; when exiting the Reagan Washington National Airport it’s a short drive towards the Pentagon. But, due to the Parkway roads being limited access and being one direction without any exits for a while, when leaving the park there’s no southbound exit… so driving from there might be a bit longer than your arrival drive due to a right turn only restriction. A GPS will certainly help! I’ve walked from the terminal to the park before… there’s a bike path that leads directly into the park from just outside the airport terminals – but the path is frequently used by some fast cyclists, so use caution there too!
When there’s an unfavorable wind, planespotting is still very enjoyable from Gravelly Point. However, when the weather conditions are favorable and landings to the south are being made, the Park is an exciting and “up-close and personal” place to watch and photograph planes.
These photos were taken during a 2006 trip, Ed.