UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
We love hiking at fan-favorite Shenandoah. But there’s so much more to explore around DC. From popular waterfall destinations and quiet trails that let you get away from it all, these are our go-to hikes in the DMV.
Right in the midst of metropolitan DC is Rock Creek Park, a green haven offering over 2,000 acres of trails and fresh air. Popular routes include the roughly five-mile Western Ridge Trail, Valley Trail loop, which offers woodland paths and easy hiking. Before you head out, stop by the visitor center to pick up a map and scope out the picnic areas. Oh, and your pooch is welcome, too!
This island, situated in the Potomac between DC and Virginia, features scenic trails that wind past unique historical sites. With its short, easy, and well-kept paths, it's a great place for a day trip without having to travel far from downtown DC. Lace up your boots or comfortable sneakers to enjoy a nature-filled hike with river views, wildlife, and must-see sites, including the remains of the George Mason family mansion and a 17-foot statue of Teddy Roosevelt.
The Mount Vernon Trail stretches 18 miles from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate to Theodore Roosevelt Island and offers paved paths for hikers and bikers. It's relatively flat (great for beginners) with views of the Potomac River and DC skyline. And if you want to keep your adventure going, it connects to other popular trails like Potomac Heritage and Woodrow Wilson Bridge. You might want to bring a snack!
Walk as far as you like on this 184-mile stretch along the Potomac. You can pick up the trail in Georgetown and follow along the canal. Take the dirt towpath or go for the paved Capital Crescent Trail — which is mostly known as a bike path. But if you don’t want to hike all the way to Maryland, there are plenty of shorter treks, too. Check out the challenging Billy Goat Trail Section A, with scrambling technical climbs, or head out to more moderate trails like the Goldmine Loop and Goldmine Spur.
Columbia Island is situated in the Potomac right across from the Lincoln Memorial, connected by the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and is often overlooked as a go-to hiking destination. But if you're looking for light, easy hiking conveniently close to Downtown DC (like Metro close), this is the place. While the trail does have some views of the Pentagon and the memorials, it also borders highways for parts of it, lending to an urban jungle feel.
This flat, moderate trail features peaceful paths and quiet woods. It can be tackled as an out-and-back, totaling about six miles, or you can follow the trail one way and finish at the Tenleytown metro. And because it's a forested, shady path, it's great for getting away without leaving the city.
Where the Potomac drops over 75 feet in less than a mile through Mather Gorge, you’ll find swift rapids and rocky crags that will make you forget you’re only 18 miles from the DMV. And with over 15 miles of trails, there's no shortage of opportunities for outdoor adventuring. Check out the Great Falls River Trail for 1.5-miles of technical hiking along the water and up to Mather Gorge.
Bull Run Regional Park has over 1,500 acres of open-air space ripe for exploration. If you’re down for an adventure, check out the 17.4-mile Bull Run Trail, a difficult, but well-maintained stretch climbing nearly 1,400 feet of elevation. If something mild is more your jam, check out the Bluebell Trail, a 1.8-mile loop that is surrounded by beautiful wildflowers in the spring and early summer. The trails here are dog-friendly, so go ahead and bring the pup along.
About an hour and a half outside of DC, this is a go-to destination for newbie and veteran outdoor enthusiasts alike. And when we say there are countless hiking trails to explore, we're not exaggerating. For a moderate-length trek (3.2 miles roundtrip) that includes an awesome waterfall, go for the Jones Run Falls Trail. If you're looking for a challenge, you can go wrong with a trip up Old Rag mountain. Just be warned, it is strenuous, heavily trafficked, and will take all day, so bring lots of water and plan accordingly.
Editor's note: COVID-19 may have affected the operations of these areas, check with the parks service before heading out.
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