Do you know where to find some of the best hiking near DC? This is the hiking guide for you!
DC is bursting with history and charm. I had no idea it was also bursting with mountains waiting to be explored! DC is conveniently nestled outside of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east coast of the United States. Its prime mountainous location makes DC a highly underrated adventure destination.
Washington DC borders Maryland and Virginia. The best hiking near DC is set in these two surrounding states, or neighboring West Virginia.
The best hiking trails near DC range from easy 30 minute trails to extended weekend trips. There are trails to accommodate all hiking styles in the greater DC area.
Let’s dive into 6 of the best hikes near DC!
Table of Contents
DC Hiking Planning Details
DC has three major airports: Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
I highly recommend renting a car prior to completing any of your hikes. Public transportation near hiking areas is historically scarce, and this is the case in the DC area as well.
Weather in DC
The East Coast of the United States experiences all four seasons. The surrounding DC area has relatively mild weather.
I highly recommend checking local weather reports prior to leaving for your trip. While DC itself experiences relatively mild weather, mountainous regions can significantly fluctuate. This is especially important to take into consideration in the winter.
How many days
I recommend spending at least two days exploring hiking trails near DC. I also recommend combining hiking trails into your DC itinerary. Hiking trails range from under an hour to a full day, so there is something for everyone.
Best Hiking near DC
These are some of the best hiking locations near DC. Several of the locations feature parks where there are limitless trails to choose from. This article will have an emphasis on one of the trails at each of the scenic destinations. I highly encourage you to visit AllTrails to choose the trail that is best for you!
Several segments of the famous Appalachian Trail are accessible from DC. The Appalachian trail spans through 14 states and covers over 2,190 miles. It is a treat to be able to set foot exploring on the infamous trail.
Shenandoah National Park: Mary’s Rock
Length: 3.4 miles
Distance from DC: 1 hour 30 minutes
I LOVE any opportunity to visit a national park. So it is perfect that there is one less than 2 hours from DC! Shenandoah National Park is an absolutely beautiful testament to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Trail.
Most hikes within the park are accessed from Skyline Drive. The road itself is beautiful and worthy of scenic stops along the way.
While Old Rag is the most popular hike in Shenandoah, Mary’s Rock is a great alternative. It has significant elevation gain so make sure you have snacks, plenty of water, and take breaks as needed. I visited on a cloudy day so didn’t have too many mountain views, but it felt like I was walking in the clouds.
Other top hikes at Shenandoah include:
Sustainable tourism note: National Parks have HUGELY increased in popularity since the COVID Pandemic. It is more important now than ever to do our part to follow leave no trace principles and take care of the land to the best of our ability. For this reason, the NPS has begun instituting trail permits for popular routes such as Old Rag in order to limit the number of visitors on a trail per day. Check the NPS website prior to your trip.
Where to Stay: Skyland provides cabin-style lodging on Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive.
Great Falls Park: River Trail Mini Loop
Length: 1.6 miles
Distance from DC: 25 minutes
Great Falls Park is a beautiful gem 15 minutes outside of Georgetown. In my opinion, it is one of the most ideal outdoor escapes within the DC area due to its extremely close location and national park experience.
While Great Falls is not a national park itself, it is run through the NPS and nationally protected. Entrance is covered with an Annual National Parks Pass or costs $20 per vehicle for a standard entrance pass.
There are two full service bathrooms with running water at the entrance.
I visited Great Falls directly after a storm, so my hiking options were limited. River Trail Mini Loop was the best option for me so I could experience some of the best viewpoints within Great Falls without worrying about slippery trails.
I highly recommend the River Trail Mini Loop for visitors on a time crunch looking to see the best viewpoints. I recommend this trail most for children and families.
The most highly rated trail on AllTrails at Great Falls Park is River Trail Loop. While I haven’t completed this trail myself, I recommend it for eager hikers anticipating a challenge.
Where to Stay: Lake Fairfax Park is the closest campground to Great Falls Park. It is open year round. Alternatively, consider staying a 15 minute drive away in Georgetown.
Billy Goat Trail: Section C
Length: 2.8 miles
Distance from DC: 30 minutes
Located 30 minutes by car from Washington DC, Billy Goat Trail provides a beautiful morning or afternoon get-away. It is located in the Ohio Canal National Historical Park along the Potomac River.
Billy Goat Trail is divided into three trails, better known as subsections A, B, and C. Each section can be hiked individually or combined together for an 8 mile hike.
Section A is considered the most scenic due to its end location at the Great Falls overlook. It is also known as the most strenuous.
Section C is my recommendation for a hiking trail because it is the least strenuous and has not had any trail closings within the past year (as of October 2023).
Swimming in the Potomac River along the trail is not permitted. Pets are allowed on Billy Goat sections B and C only. Check the National Park Service website for safety conditions and closures prior to beginning your hike.
Where to Stay: Marsden Tract Campground located within the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is a popular option for hikers on the Billy Goat Trail. Book your campsite in advance online. Alternatively, stay at a hotel in the DC area.
Sky Meadows State Park: Piedmont Overlook Loop
Length: 5.5 miles
Distance from DC: 1 hour
Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Virginia is home to 24 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails, including a slice of the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. As you hike, you’ll revel in views of both forest and farmland. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Washington-Dulles International Airport!
One of the most popular hikes at the park features three scenic overlooks along a moderate 5.5-mile loop. Begin by parking the visitor center. From here, it’s a short walk to the park office where the trail begins. It is on the green-blazed Boston Mill Road (a hiking trail / service road).
On this loop hike, you’ll make stops at the Piedmont Overlooks (lower and upper), then the Whitehouse Overlook.
rom the Whitehouse Overlook, you’ll see a sign that reads “Paris View.” In fact, the tiny town of Paris, Virginia (population of 50) is a mere stone’s throw from Sky Meadows State Park!
A $10 entry fee is required to enter Sky Meadows. Post-hike, celebrate on the outdoor patio at Barrel Oak Winery & Brewery in Delaplane.
Where to Stay: There is a hike-in campground with unbundled firewood and vault toilets at Sky Meadows State Park. It’s an easy one-mile hike from the parking lot. The fee is $20-25 per site.
Suggested by Erin Gifford of Go Hike Virginia
Length: 5.5 miles
Distance from DC: 1 hour 15 minutes
Weverton Cliffs is a fun, beautiful hike located on the Appalachian Trail. I LOVE completing various segments along the Appalachian! This historically famous route goes through a whopping 9 states.
The approach to Weverton Cliffs is a bit tricky to find. From the main parking lot, you have two choices that bring you to the same trailhead:
Option 1: Walk all the way out of the parking lot and turn right, until you cross the street and arrive at a set of stairs.
Option 2: Take a left on the trail in the parking lot, and walk straight until you get to the same street and arrive at the same set of stairs.
This out and back trail took me approximately 60 minutes to complete. It is mostly uphill with flat terrain throughout, providing balance between challenge and ease. The full hike up is mostly surrounded by trees with a couple of mountain teasers tucked in between.
At the top of the trail, there are several look-outs spaced between large rocks. It is the perfect location for a picnic lunch!
This is an out and back trail so you can follow the same route on the way back. The trail signs will indicate you staying on the Southern Appalachian trail. For a longer trek, consider continuing along the Northern Appalachian trail. This will not lead you back to the parking lot.
Where to Stay: For a quaint night of relaxation in a historic setting, consider The Town’s Inn located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It is located 3 miles from the trail.
Harper’s Ferry: Appalachian Trail Loop
Length: 1.8 miles
Location: West Virginia
Distance from DC: 1 hour 30 minutes
Harpers Ferry National Historic area is one of my favorite underrated day trips from Washington DC!
Bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, Harper’s Ferry is a unique destination in its own right. Tack on hiking with incredible mountainous views, and you’re in store for a wonderful day.
It helps that it’s located within the Appalachian Trail (You know how I feel about the Appalachian!) I love the Appalachian Trail Loop at Harper’s Ferry because you get to explore the historical town on the way, pass ruins and historical markers along the trial, and it has incredible views of the town and mountain landscape.
Other popular trails in Harpers Ferry include:
- Maryland Heights via Harpers Ferry
- Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail Loop
- Loudon Heights Trail to Split Rock
Dogs on leash are allowed on the trail!
Harper’s Ferry accepts the Annual National Parks Pass for entrance. If you do not have this pass, a standard three day entrance pass is required for purchase upon entry. The cost is $20 per car.
Where to Stay: Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast provides a quaint, private stay for visitors in the Harpers Ferry area.
DC Hiking Packing List
Here are a couple of can’t-miss items to toss into your bag when hiking near DC
Hydration Backpack– Consider packing your water into a hydration backpack or similar water carrier bag like a Camelback. I have found this much less strenuous on my back, and there are still enough side pockets to hold your camera, snacks, and a sandwich.
Packable Backpack– Alternative to a Camelback. Packable backpacks are GREAT because you can roll them up and throw them into a suitcase or carry-on bag, and they take up LITERALLY no room at all. They provide an ample amount of room for one day of adventures.
For the chilly weather…
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