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A Local’s Guide to the Best Hiking Near Washington D.C.

A Local’s Guide to the Best Hiking Near Washington D.C.

One of the many things to do in Washington D.C. is visit monuments, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian museums. There is no doubt that a weekend in D.C. is full of walking, but if you want to enjoy a scenic walk outside museums and monuments, there are plenty of great parks to go hiking near Washington D.C.

We LOVE hiking! From hiking Machu Picchu to castles in Kotor, we are always looking for an opportunity to hike. So as a (previous) local, one of the best parts about living near Washington D.C. is the array of amazing hiking trails.

These trails range from within Washington D.C. city limits to three different states. Some places are four hours away for a great road trip from D.C., while others are only 30 minutes away.

Whether you are looking for an easy hike or rock scrambling – I have it all! From a U.S. National Park to parks dedicated to a previous president and chasing a cascading waterfall – my local’s guide has all of the best hiking near Washington D.C.

So grab your hiking gear, camping equipment, and favorite snacks – here are the top 8 places to go hiking near Washington D.C.!

Hiking in Washington D.C.

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Distance from Washington D.C. – 0 miles
Hiking level – easy

One of our favorite little hiking spots near D.C. is Theodore Roosevelt Island. In a city that is always hustling and bustling, you truly feel like you have escaped somewhere far away in the wilderness. When in reality, the city is just outside the towering trees and across the Potamic River.

Theodore Roosevelt Island is a quaint little island on the Potomac River across from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Virginia border. It is an island full of hidden gems. During your leisurely hike, you will come across wooden bridges, a swamp, and a national memorial of Theodore Roosevelt. There are three very short trails on the island – two run through the island, whereas the most popular route is the Swamp Trail encircling the island. The Swamp Trail is a quick and easy 1.5-mile loop.

Hiking Near Washington D.C. in Maryland

Great Falls Park

 Distance from Washington D.C. – 17 miles (30 minutes) 
Hiking level – easy to moderate

Great Falls Park is one of the most popular places to go hiking near Washington D.C. for both locals and visitors because it is only a short drive away. If you ask any local what is the BEST hike at Great Falls Park, they will tell you the Billy Goat Trail.

The Great Falls cascading down the Potomac River with colorful trees in the distance from the Virginia side. This is a local favorite for hiking near Washington D.C.

The Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls Park on the Maryland side is a beloved hike by thousands of visitors. Though it is a little strenuous with some rock scrambling, it is a very fun and beautiful hike along the Potomac River. The trail is around 8-miles long that starts and finishes on the C&O Canal. 

With that said, the Billy Goat Trail is broken into three sections that can be completed individually or all together. Hiking Billy Goat Trail Section A is the local favorite – though it is the most strenuous section, it is also the most fun with a lot of rock scrambling.

Section B is a more moderate hiking trail with a little rock scrambling. Whereas, Section C is the easiest part of the trail. Overall, you will not be disappointed with this fun hiking experience near Washington D.C.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Distance from Washington D.C. – 40.8 miles (55 minutes)
Hiking level – moderate

One of the most stunning hiking trails near Washington D.C. in Maryland is Sugarloaf Mountain. When you hike to the top of this summit, you reach an elevation of 1,282 feet with rewarding views of Maryland’s countryside and farmland. The Sugarloaf Mountain has four different marked trails. The two trails enjoyed by locals are the yellow trail (7 miles) and the blue trail (5 miles). All trails lead to the beautiful Sugarloaf Mountain overlook. Furthermore, if the views were not rewarding enough, you can also celebrate with a glass of wine at the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain Winery.

Like this post? READ...  A Local's Guide to the Best Day Trips from Washington D.C.

Hiking Near Washington D.C. in Virginia

Great Falls Park

Distance from Washington D.C. – 15.8 miles (27 minutes)
Hiking level – easy to moderate

You may be wondering why I have included Great Falls Park again. Yes, it is one of the best places to go hiking near Washington D.C. but moreover, I have included it twice because the park is uniquely different from its respective states. Yes, Great Falls Park is within two states – Virginia and Maryland. So when you visit Great Falls Park, you must choose which stateside you want to enter. One cannot simply just walk over to (Mordor) the other side, you have to drive 20 minutes to each entrance.

The Potomac River from the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls Park with orange and yellow leaves on the trees - great hiking near Washington DC.

While the Maryland side has the famous Billy Goat Trail, Great Falls Park on the Virginia side has a wonderful hike along the Potomac River with three amazing overlooks of the majestic waterfall. The most popular hike is the 1.25-mile Patowmack Trail because it is easy and has three overlooks to get scenic views of the Great Falls. This trail was actually our very first hike when we moved to Washington D.C.! If you want to extend your hike, the River Trail is a great addition. The trail is a little moderate because of some rock scrambling along the top of the cliffs, but it is definitely worth it because of the scenic views along the Potomac River.

Insider Tip – Great Falls Park is very popular amongst locals and visitors. So leave plenty of time to get into the park. Every time we visit, we have to wait at least 10 minutes to enter.

Prince William Forest Park

Distance from Washington D.C. – 34.5 miles (45 minutes)
Hiking level – easy

For some lovely hiking near Washington D.C., head to Prince William Forest Park. This 15,000-acre park is one of the most peaceful parks we have ever hiked. Prince William Forest Park has 37 miles of hiking trails in its dense forest. Moreover, the vast amount of towering trees is what makes hiking in Prince William Forest Park so peaceful. All you hear is the sound of the wind brushing the leaves and birds chirping.

A lot of the trails at Prince William Forest Park will meet together at one point or the other. Our favorite hiking trail is the 1.4-mile Laurel Loop Trail because it follows Quantico Creek, has beautiful bridges, and overall we enjoy the distance of the hike. So if you are looking to escape the city and enjoy easy walks with Mother Nature, Prince William Forest Park is the perfect park.

Shenandoah National Park

Distance from Washington D.C. – 110 miles (2 hours and 22 minutes) 
Hiking level – easy to streneous

Our absolute favorite place to go hiking near Washington D.C. is Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah National Park has several short hiking trails you can take to reach magnificent views in just a short amount of time. Though we love a long and fun hike to the top of summits, we enjoy Shenandoah because we can hike 4 – 6 trails with scenic views within two days. Moreover, although these trails may be shorter, they are slightly moderate because of the elevation and steep trails.

A woman sitting on the edge of a rock and a man standing next to her looking out into the majestic view of the Blue Mountains at Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah National Park remains one of the best place to go hiking near Washington D.C.

Some of our favorite trails that should not be missed include Dark Hollows, Stony Man, Bearfence, Hawksbill, and Old Rag. The Dark Hollows has a magical waterfall, whereas the other trails reward you with mountainous views. The Old Rag trail is the most popular and most difficult trail with ample rock scrambling. In fact, it is one of our favorite hikes ever because of all the fun rock scrambling. I felt like Indiana Jones at times crawling under and over rocks or squeezing between small spaces.

With that said, you will need a full day to complete it. So even though it is one of the best U.S. day hikes, plan accordingly. I also recommend camping at Big Meadows Campground if you wish to hike a majority of these trails within two days.

A beautiful photo of the blue ridge Parkway curving into the beyond with yellow and orange trees towering the road.

Lastly, though Shenandoah National Park has some of the best hiking near Washington D.C., visitors do not always need to hike to enjoy stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are countless overlooks where you can see the Shenandoah valleys and farms for miles. During the fall season, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in America with the most colorful trees you have ever seen. You simply cannot miss it!

Cascade Falls

Distance from Washington D.C. – 290 miles (4 hours and 20 minutes) 
Hiking level – easy

This is the farthest hiking trail from Washington D.C. on my list, but I had to add it because this waterfall is absolutely magnificent. In fact, it is one of the best waterfall hikes in Virginia and one of my favorite hikes to date. The best time to hike to Cascade Falls is during the summertime because as soon as you enter the park, the temperature drops at least ten degrees. Moreover, when it’s hot, jumping into the waterfall is the perfect way to cool down.

A 69 ft. waterfall cascading down rocks and into a natural swimming pool. This park is called Cascade Falls and is a great place to go hiking near DC.

The Cascade Falls is a 69 ft. tall waterfall literally cascading down into a little swimming hole. The 4-mile hike is fairly easy and marked well. The trail follows the river with slight elevation at times until you reach the Cascade Falls. Once you arrive, you will be completely mesmerized by its sheer beauty. I recommend packing a picnic, towel, and swimsuit to truly enjoy Cascade Falls.

Hiking Near Washington D.C. in West Virginia

Harper’s Ferry

Distance from Washington D.C. – 67.3 miles (1 hour and 16 minutes) 
Hiking level – moderate to strenuous

One of the best day trips from Washington D.C. to go hiking is Harper’s Ferry. Everyone loves going to Harper’s Ferry because it is almost a little blast from the past. Harper’s Ferry offers visitors the opportunity to partake in workshops which teaches the 19th-century trades and skills. Moreover, hiking is incredible at Harper’s Ferry! Just outside the little 19th-century town are mountains ranges.

A high point view of a quant city called Harpers Ferry with a river and surrounding trees adjacent to the town.

The most strenuous and popular hiking trail at Harper’s Ferry is the 6.5-mile Maryland Heights. This round trip trail rewards hikers with a gorgeous panoramic view of Harper’s Ferry. In addition, there are other trails at Harper’s Ferry which include a portion of the epic Appalachian Trail. Needless to say, Harper’s Ferry is a great place to go hiking near Washington D.C.

I hope you have enjoyed my list of the best hiking near Washington D.C. Each park is special and offers something unique. Whether it’s scenic views overlooking mountains and valleys or being mesmerized by waterfalls – one thing always remains the same, you get to be in the great outdoors and feel the joy of escaping the city.

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