DC Trails is considered one of the leading charter and bus touring companies in the DC area. The family-operated business offers a variety of bus tours including hop-on, hop-off services that visit some DC’s most popular landmarks. In addition to their tours of Washington DC, the company expands to popular destinations including- New York City, Virginia Beach, Niagara Falls, Richmond, Orlando, Monticello, Philadelphia and America’s Historic Triangle. Their charter buses are booked by a variety of private groups and organizations from wedding parties to universities and companies. Many of their tours are offered daily featuring packages and even a tour designed specifically for seniors. This post is devised to help you choose the best option for you and/or your group.
Interested in other bus tours of Washington DC? Read our comparison post about the best bus tours in DC.
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Physical Address: 420 L’Enfant Plaza SW Washington, DC 20024
L’Enfant Plaza can be a confusing area because that one name “L’Enfant Plaza” can refer to so many things – the Metro station, the mall/food court, the neighborhood, or the actual plaza!
To meet your DC Trails bus and guide, you’ll go to the actual Plaza (note: this area is currently under construction).
This is an easy walk just off Independence Ave SW between 9th and 12th St SW – just opposite the Smithsonian Castle. (see map to left) So if you plan to start your bus tour later in the day, you can easily walk here from the museums on the mall.
If you want to start your day off with the bus tours – and we usually recommend this (see below) – the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza is a 5-minute walk from the 9th and D St SW exit of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station (Green/Yellow/Blue/Orange/Silver) –
This exit from the Metro station takes you straight into the concourse of the “plaza mall” – so it’s an indoor walk! You’ll want to exit the Mall through the large glass ceiling!
If when exiting the Metro, you find yourself outside – just turn left around the corner.
DC Trails sports a Certificate of Excellence via the TripAdvisor community rated within the top 20 of 145 tours in Washington DC. Based on reviews, the company is used by many different groups and demographics. Family’s seems to be the most common types booking tours followed close behind by groups of friends and couples. Overall the company is rated high by users. Many participants show particular favor for the extensive amount of stops made available on the hop-on, hop-off tour. Other comments praise the tour guides on their ability to make the tour both educational and entertaining.
The Twilight Tour is consistently regarded as the best part of the experience. In addition, many users suggest the 48-hour pass which includes the night tour at no additional charge. The Yelp community gives DC Trails a more average rating. Complaints center mostly on long wait times. While there are many stops, users say wait times can reach up to an hour depending on traffic. Keep in mind DC is a very popular tourist destination and the company can only do so much to account for high-traffic volumes. Other negative comments include specific incidents of the air conditioning on the buses going out through most describe the rides as very comfortable.
DC Trails offers their hop-on, hop-off bus services daily between 9 am and 5 pm. There are 20 stops made available making it easier for participants to visit some of DC’s most popular sites. Their double-decker buses are climate controlled, wheelchair accessible and even feature an onboard restroom facility. Guests have the option to be picked up or dropped off at landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. There are many museums included amongst the stops, which tickets to formally tour can be purchased ahead of boarding. There is a 24-hour and 48-hour option for this tour, both of which include an evening tour, the latter featuring an optional boat tour.
Reviews for DC Trails: Hop-on, Hop-Off Tour:
Reviews for their hop-on, hop-off tour range from mixed to very good. The majority of users of the TripAdvisor and Yelp community share positive experiences. Many write that the buses saved them a lot of time getting around the city that walking would have otherwise cost them. The guides are mostly reviewed very positively. Users consistently report the drivers and tour guides as very energetic while they share a wealth of knowledge about the city and its sites. Some reviews suggest the wait times are too long often making it hard to see as many sites as desired in a single day. This is not to the fault of the company so much as the traffic is often very high in such a popular tourist destination. It is highly recommended to view the company’s route map and to schedule your trip prior to embarking. Most reviews come from families who say this tour is perfect for both kids and adults.
When: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm (Exceptions: July 4, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day)
Where: Tour route departs from 420 L’Enfant Plaza SW Washington, DC 20024
NOTE: Both tours include an optional evening Twilight Tour which is based on availability. To reserve a spot contact DC Trail’s main office line after purchasing tickets. The 48-hour tour has an optional boat tour which participants can take in lieu of the Twilight tour. This tour is also based on availability and runs from April 15th – October 1st.
NOTE: Entrance fees to the various museums and attractions cannot be purchased on the bus and should be scheduled prior to boarding.
There are 20 stops for the Hop On / Hop Off DC Trails Bus Route. You can get on and off at any stop – not interested in something? Skip it and stay on the coach. Want to spend extra time somewhere? No worries! Stay as long as you want and catch the next bus.
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Stop 2: US Capitol Building – you’ll be dropped off at the West Lawn of the Capitol Building. From here you can visit the US Capitol – by walking up the hill to opposite side of the building – or the Library of Congress or the Supreme Court Building.
If you want to explore the Capitol, Supreme Court and Library of Congress, expect to spend a few hours at this stop. We recommend saving “the Hill” for another day since all three sites are easily accessible from each other and Capitol South Metro Station. If you don’t want to visit inside all three and just want some good photos of the Capitol, you’ll only need about 20 minutes here so you can plan on picking up the next bus.
Stops 2 and 3 are within walking distance of each other.
Stop 3: Botanic Gardens – the Botanic Gardens are a beautiful stop – especially if the weather outside isn’t cooperating, as its basically a large greenhouse!
If you’re just stopping for the Botanical Gardens, you only need about 30 minutes, but since Stops 3 and 4 are in walking distance of each other, you can save some time waiting for a bus and just walk to the Air and Space Museum where you should plan on at least an hour or more, especially if you want to eat in the area as well. Since all the most popular Smithsonian Museums are centrally located and easily walkable, we recommend saving museums for a day without a bus pass.
Stop 4: National Air and Space Museum – another stop that is in walking distance of the ones before it. From here you can also visit the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Gallery of Art.
Stop 5: Washington Monument – while the Monument is closed for the foreseeable future, we have a list of alternatives for views of the city. From this stop, you can also visit Holocaust Memorial Museum and Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
With the monument closed, you only need a short time to walk up and around the monument. Allow more time if you’ve arranged tickets to the Holocaust Museum or BEP.
Stop 6: American History Museum – another of the must-see Smithsonian Institutions, we recommend making sure you at least hit the highlights. The stop is on the Constitution Ave side of the museum.
Stop 7: Natural History Museum – this is just the next museum over, so again, don’t hop on between Stop 6 and 7- just walk!
Stop 8: Newseum – a highly rated museum, this one has ticketed price but its worth it! From here, you can also cross the street to visit the National Gallery of Art.
Only get off at this stop if you’ve gotten tickets to the Newseum (give yourself a few hours here!) or the National Gallery of Art (if you just want to do the highlights, 45 minutes is often a good amount of time)
Stop 9: Chinatown and Verizon Center – it’s hard to say what is “downtown” in DC, but Chinatown is one of the contenders. Don’t expect the same experience as New York’s Chinatown – with quaint spice shops and lots of authentic Chinese restaurants. You’ll find just as many hamburger joints and Italian restaurants. If you hop off here, make sure you go to the National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian) and if you wanted to go the International Spy Museum, this is your stop.
This is a good stop for lunch if you don’t want to eat at a museum cafe or a refreshment stand at the memorials.
Stop 9 & 10 are in walking distance so don’t wait for the next bus, just mosey on over to 10th Street NW.
Stop 10: Ford’s Theatre – the site of Lincoln’s Assassination, Ford’s Theatre is open as a working theatre but also a museum. We highly recommend this as a stop, but we also discuss this (from outside) on our Lincoln Assassination walking tour.
A visit to Ford’s requires tickets and it depends on what kind of tour you get how long you’ll be there – give yourself an hour and half time if you have a Ranger Talk and Museum, and Peterson’s Boarding House. Less time if you only get one or two of the above.
Stop 10 & 11 are in walking distance so don’t wait for the next bus, just mosey on over to 10th Street NW.
Stop 11: Hotel Harrington – NOTE: The map lists this as a stop for Madame Tussauds, but that is actually much closer to Stop 10.
Stop 12: The White House – Now, don’t expect a driveway drop off. For obvious security reasons, you’ll still have to walk to get to the White House from the stop, but it isn’t far. Interested in touring the White House?
If your plan is to hop off and see the White House and then get right back on, you can do this in 30 minutes!
Stop 13: Jefferson Memorial – This stop is a great one to use the bus for as it is far from most other sites. Our All in One walking tour ends at the Jefferson Memorial, so you can just hop on the bus to get to your next stop.
Most guests spend about 30 minutes here, which includes a little walk from the bus drop off to the actual memorial.
Stop 14: FDR & MLK Memorials – you can walk here from Jefferson and on especially nice days, this is the way to do it as its a beautiful walk along the Tidal Basin. To do it best, skip Stop 13 Jefferson Memorial and hop off at this stop to visit FDR Memorial and MLK Memorial, then continue walking to get to Jefferson. Once you’re finished, hop on at Stop 13 and stay on past Stop 14 since you’ve already been there.
Since there are two memorials here and one is rather large (FDR), you’ll likely need about 45 minutes. If you take our advice above, give yourself 1.5 hours to see all three memorials and walk between them.
We suggest doing all three stops together in about an hour.
Stop 16: Arlington National Cemetery – This is a great way to get to and from the cemetery, but the bus route does not tour inside the cemetery itself. You can always take our Arlington Cemetery Walking Tour, though!
You’ll need at least 1.5 hours at Arlington, probably longer now that they’ve started security. Our tour of Arlington lasts 2.5 hours.
Stop 17: Vietnam Veterans Memorial – hopefully, you visited this memorial while at the Lincoln Memorial. If you don’t have plans to go to Arlington National Cemetery, save some time and just use this as a hop on stop after you’ve finished “The Big Three” Memorials.
Stop 18: WWII Memorial – if its a nice day, similar to Jefferson, we’d suggest just walking here from Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s about a 10-minute walk but through the park.
With just one stop and a short walk from the bus drop off, you can easily visit this in 30 minutes and get back for the next bus.
Stop 19: White House Visitors Center – if you can’t get inside the White House, the Visitor Center is a great alternative!
Only hop off here if you want to go inside the Visitor Center. Most people spend about 30-40 minutes inside.
Stop 20: National Archives – as long as you don’t follow Nicholas Cage’s suit and try to steal it, here you can view the Deceleration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, among other great documents.
The National Archives is a popular stop. You can spend up to an hour in line if you don’t have advanced reservations and its a busy day. And once inside, there is so much to see. You can see the main documents in 30 minutes but you ought to spend a little more time to see the exhibits.
How long do I have to wait for a bus?
This will depend on how busy they are, it seems. They advertise 20-30 minutes between buses but based on reviews, during busier times of year (holiday weekends), the wait may be longer.
How long of a pass should I get?
That depends on how many stops you want to explore. Reviews make it seem that 3-4 stops could be done with a 24-hour pass. Keep in mind, that the buses only run until 530pm, even on weekends! If you want to visit more, get a 48-hour pass. However, be sure to confirm with the company that they are running buses on the two days you want to use. Past guests have complained that there are certain days they don’t run tours, usually on holidays. See how site list above for how long we recommend at each stop.
How do I know where the pickup spots are?
This is a concern is some of the reviews. Not all the spots are well signed so it is recommended to be observant when getting off the coach but also ask the driver about the pickup.
How long should I plan for the bus tour?
If you were to stay on and never get off, it would take about 2 hours – but we don’t recommend that! At some of the sites, you just cannot see them from the road. Most of the reviewers suggest around 4 hours to get off at the sites most important to you. If you want to get off at each site and explore, you’ll likely need more than a day!
Which stops should I get off at?
That will vary from each person. However, if you plan on doing the hop on tour during the day and taking their night tour, you can plan it so you don’t do the same things!
The night tour visits the White House, WWII Memorial, FDR & MLK Memorials, Lincoln Vietnam Korea, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. With this tour, you’re on the same bus and guide the entire time and you’ll get off the coach with your guide.
Do you have to start your hop on hop off tour at Stop One?
No! If you purchased your tickets online you can present your ticket to the driver at any of the 20 stops around the city. However, if you’re taking the guided Grand All Day Tour or the Twilight Bus Tour – this is where you’ll begin. You cannot hop on at any other stop on these two guided tours, only the hop on hop off tour.
This option is very similar to the company’s hop-on, hop-off option without the risk of waiting for the next bus. This tour features the same charter bus and guide throughout the day. The length at each stop will vary with an additional stop at Pentagon City Mall intended for lunch. Unlike the hop-on, hop-off option this tour features just 5 stops which you will not be able to customize a route for.
Reviews for DC Trails: Grand All Day Tour:
This day tour taken most often by families and couples features a majority of positive reviews via TripAdvisor. The tour guides generally received the same approving write-ups from users who praise them for high energy, clear speaking and interesting narratives. There are much less negative reviews for this tour as there are no wait times for the bus. Each stop has a departing time which typically runs on schedule and participants know when to be back at the bus. Users also seem partial to having a consistent guide throughout which eliminated the possible repetition of narratives.
While the length at each stop and the route may vary depending on conditions in the city, your coach and guide will take you to visit:
During the afternoon, you will have a lunch stop (food not included) at Pentagon City Mall.
Highlighting 5 major sites in the city, DC Trails Twilight Tour takes participants on a night excursion that allows the city’s monuments to light up the trail. This 3.5-hour tour is narrated by an onboard guide who shares the stories that brought together the nation’s capital. The tour is held on one of the company’s double-decker buses that feature panoramic windows allowing guests to maximize their viewing opportunities. These buses are wheelchair accessible and feature an onboard restroom. This tour is consistently rated very high and is considered a standout experience for anyone visiting the city. This evening bus tour is very similar to the Grand All Day Tour, except you will not have a lunch break or visit Arlington National Cemetery.
Reviews for DC Trails: Twilight Tour
Their evening tour is undoubtedly the higher-rated of the tours the company has available. Of the many reviews gathered from both TripAdvisor and Yelp, the Twilight Tour has drawn consistent favor for the guides and general comfort of the tour. Again, generally, families and couples are the most common embarking on this tour. Parents report bringing children as young as 10 along who also found the trip enjoyable. Guides are said to be very enthusiastic about the city and even comical. It is noted that each stop is about 20 – 40 minutes wherein the guide will give a detailed account about the destination. There are a very limited number of negative comments about the night tour. These generally seem to focus on weather conditions which are of course outside of the control of the company. It should be noted it appears the night tour runs rain or shine, so keep this in mind when scheduling your booking.
Mount Vernon Bus Tour
Mount Vernon is one of the highlights of the DC area, especially for Presidential history buffs, but it is hard to get to without a car (but not impossible!). DC Trails offers a great alternative with their Mount Vernon by Bus Tour. In addition to getting a ride, you won’t have to worry about getting tickets or the timed entry visit to the mansion as that is taken care of for you!
You’ll meet the coach at the tour start for a driving tour of Old Town Alexandria (and all its George Washington connections) on the way to Mount Vernon. Once there, you’ll have time for a self-guided exploratory tour of the grounds, museums and of course, the house. Read our guide to Mount Vernon as a compliment to this tour.
This unique tour takes participants to the hometown of one of America’s founding fathers, George Washington. By bus, users will be transported to the fascinating grounds where they will embark on a 5-hour adventure. Explore Washington’s mansion, surrounding plantation outbuildings, Marsha Washington’s Garden’s, and an excellent gift shop featuring unique treasures. This living museum features period-dressed actors who bring the history to life. Participants will be thrilled to watch as the colonial ways of America’s past are re-enacted.
Reviews for DC Trails: Mount Vernon Bus Tour:
While there are a limited number of reviews for this tour it comes well recommended. Users via the TripAdvisor community share positive experiences about both the driver and staff on the Mount Vernon grounds. The ride over is said to be relatively short and highlights many landmarks along the way. There is an option to tour the mansion and outbuildings on a guided or self-guided tour which allows guests to maximize their time. The tour is said to provide an abundance of knowledge about Washington, some citing the mansion as the better of presidential home tours. Users describe the re-enactments as both tasteful and entertaining enough to bring along the kids.