The 5 Best Hikes Within an Hour of Washington, D.C.

5 great hikes all within an hour's drive of our nation's capital.

Washington D.C., the nation's capital. When people think of D.C., they usually conjure up images of Capitol Hill or the White House, with political big wigs moving about the city passing laws concerning our wild places with seemingly tenuous connections to them. Thankfully, although it may not seem like it, there are countless beautiful places to explore just outside the beltway all within a 1-2 hour drive from the city. So whether its the parks directly in the city or the valley and ridge of the Shenandoah, it's easy to find a wild spot or two just outside the District. 

1. Bears Den Overlook


Photo: Robbie O'Donnell

Bears Den Overlook is a beautiful campground and stop off the Appalachian Trail that looks down into the northern extent of the Shenandoah Valley. Either park at the bottom and hike the mile to the overlook or drive to the top and walk the short trail to the outcrop. Go during sunset for the best light and photo opportunities. 

2. Raven Rock


Photo: Robbie O'Donnell

Raven Rock overlook is located across the highway from Bears Den right off the Appalachian Trail. Park in the small parking lot where the AT heads back into the woods and hike the ~2 miles to the top for an different view of the valley. There are a few campsites along the trail, making this hike ideal for backpacking and overnight trips.

3. Maryland Heights Trail


Photo: Elyse Clark

Maryland Heights Trail is a beautiful mile long trail that leads to a great overlook of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park at the top. The trail is located a short walk from the park and is just off the Appalachian Trail, making it perfect for backpackers or day trippers. Park in the town of Harpers Ferry to explore the great history and shops in the downtown or park at the base of the trail and hike the short mile to the top. Go at sunset for a great view of the sun setting over the town.

4. Great Falls and the Billy Goat Trail


Photo: Elyse Clark

Great Falls and Billy Goat Trail are both a quick drive just outside the city, with Great Falls being on the Virginia side of the Potomac River and the Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side. Head to Great Falls for multiple views of the falls and a leisurely hike along the river. Head over to the Billy Goat side for a more challenging trail along the river that involves multiple rock scrambles and unreal views of the river in the morning and at dusk.

5. Rock Creek Park


Photo: Erin Johnson

Rock Creek park is an amazing park right in the middle of the city. Located along the Rock Creek Parkway you can access it from many different locations and feel like you're exploring the wild even though you're in the middle of the city. Aim to visit in the fall or spring for changing leaf colors and peak cherry blossom season at the tidal basin, which is a short drive from the park. Or bring your bike or trail runners for a nice ~9 miles hike/bike with great views along the river.

You don't want you or your date to go hungry on the trail. Check out these tasty snacks from our friends at Chowhound: 7 Trail Mix Recipes to Get Your GORP On

Published: December 6, 2016

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations.

Robbie O'Donnell

Wilmington

Coastal Geologist // Photographer

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