Best Hikes Near DC – Best Hikes Including Waterfalls Trails


Best Hikes Near DC

Want to get away from the city but still be in the city? Today we have compiled an awesome list with the best hikes near DC.

If you thought DC was an urban jungle, think again. The DC area is full of hiking trails and many of them are really close to the city. You might need to drive to some of the hikes we are going to list today but some of them are accessible by foot, bike, or bus. The reserves sprawl across state boundaries into Maryland and Virginia and they’re still within easy driving distance.

If you love nature like me, or simply want to take some time away from the city life crazyness, we will give you some great options to go hiking, see the beautiful wildlife and great falls. You will discover the best summer hikes, uncrowded hikes and hikes with waterfalls near DC.

You could plan a weekend away and have more time to explore, enjoy the fresh air, and connect with nature.

Hiking is good for the body and soul, so why not get out there and discover some of the best hikes DC has to offer.

Let’s hike in! I mean, dive in!

#1 Theodore Roosevelt Island

Best Hikes Near DC

Highlights: Tranquil forests that you can walk to. Choice of three trails.

Located on an island in the Potomac River Theodore Roosevelt Island, this lovely forest offers an easy hike near DC. Here the trails, include boardwalks across marshes and paths that meander through cool, shaded forests.

The Park was designed by landscape architects and conservationists who did an excellent job of converting the neglected Masons Island into an island of tranquility. The forest that they created from overgrown farmland was designed to look like the forest that once grew there naturally.

The Park has three trails. Each trail passes through a particular habitat and is named for that environment. So, you can choose from the Woods, the Marsh, or the Upland Trail. At 1.5 miles, the Swamp Trail is the longest but it’s an easy walk as it is partly boardwalk and partly pea gravel.

The Island is in the city so a bus ride will get you there. It is easily accessed by a bridge approaching from the Virginia side of the Potomac River. You will find parking on the island or in a parking garage close to the pedestrian entrance. Leashed dogs are welcome.

#1.1 Mount Vernon Trail

If you still have energy after the island trails you can continue your hike along the Mount Vernon Trail. 18 miles of paved trail will take you from the island to Mount Vernon along the Potomac River. You can enjoy lovely views of the DC skyline along the route. The trail connects a number of other regional trails.

Trail length: 1.5 miles

Opening hours: 6 am to 10 pm

Entrance fee: No charge

Official Website: Click here to access the official website

#2 Rock Creek Park

Best Hikes near DC

Highlights: Design your own loop to suit your exercise needs. Historic landmarks along the way. Weekend cycling and inline skating on closed roads.

Rock Creek Park is a popular park and offers some of the best hikes near DC. Created in 1890 by an Act of Congress. Here pathways crisscross past historic landmarks, like the Pierce Mill gristmill, the Miller Cabin, and the Rolling Miller Cabin. The Park is in an urban area but it’s naturally beautiful, peaceful, and green. It covers 1754 acres. The asphalt path is a bit bumpy in some areas so be careful if you’re cycling

The 32-mile Rock Creek twists and turns through the park until it finally empties into the Potomac River. The Park has two main trails and a number of connecting paths so you can create a loop to suit your fitness level and your mood on the day. Be aware that the signage is not always what it should be, so it is possible to wander off track.

Look out for the wildlife. The Park is home to deer, foxes, and a multitude of birds. Over the weekend some of the roads are closed so that park users can use them for cycling and inline skating. You may take your dogs with you, but they must remain on a leash. There are plenty of parking spots along the route

Join a free tour if you’d like to learn something about the history of the area. The tour takes about two hours and ends at the Pierce Mill.

Trail length: 16 miles

Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset. The Park is closed on public holidays.

Entrance fee: Free of charge

Official Website: Click here to access the official website


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#3 Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

Best Summer Hikes Near DC

Highlights: The waterfall, flowers in spring including cherry blossoms.

The highlight of Scott’s Nature Preserve, is, without doubt, the waterfall. The Nature Preserve is in the Potomac Gorge. The Preserve houses a rare ecosystem in its floodplains, and valleys, and along its cliff faces. Here, in the spring, wildflowers paint the forest floor in delicate colors and blossom on the hillsides. Fragile plants hang from steep cliffsides.

The forest comprises oaks, cherry trees, and beech trees. Ancient hemlock trees remind visitors that the area was once frozen.

The waterfall is easily accessible and just a short hike through forest trails. For a longer hike, head off to Stubblefield’s Overlook. Scott’s Run is a 3.2-mile trail that meanders through the woods over a stream and into the hills. Some of the trails are particularly challenging and shouldn’t be taken on unless you are ready for the challenge.

My advice; wear waterproof shoes as there is a fair amount of mud in the area, thanks to the creek and river. The kids will love the park and you can take your dogs along as well. Unfortunately, you’ll need a car to get to the reserve. There are two parking lots in the park.

It should be noted that the Creek and River can be dangerous as they often create unexpected water flows and currents and a rapid rise of water can create hazardous conditions.

Trail length: 3.2 miles

Opening hours: 8 am to 4.30 pm

Entrance fee: No cost

Official Website: Click here to access the official website


Recommended reading for lovers of waterfalls:


#4 Great Falls

hiking near dc washington

Highlights: Wildlife and birds, The Billy Goat Trail – though it’s not for the faint-hearted

Less than half an hour from Washington DC, Great Falls offers city dwellers the opportunity to get out into the great outdoors close to home. The name of this reserve is, however, a misnomer since there are no waterfalls in the park. Turbulent and fast-flowing rapids created as the Potomac River runs through the Mather Gorge lent the park its name. They are, nonetheless quite beautiful and worth a visit.

You can get a good view of the rapids from one of three overlooks. They are just a ten-minute walk from the visitors’ center. The 800-acre park has 15-miles of hiking trails. It is also very popular amongst, cyclists, rock climbers, and paddlers. Ten miles of multi-use trails also accommodate horse riders.

There are 163 species of birds in the park so don’t forget your binoculars. The Park is also home to whitetail deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, and chipmunks. Take time off to enjoy lunch at the picnic tables or fire up a grill and get those burgers burning.

#4.1 Billy Goat Trail

Hiking trails include the Billy Goat Trail, a challenging trail that will have you climbing at least some of the way. Though the views from the trail are stunning, it is not suitable for children or animals.

Start your day at the Visitors’ Center for a ten-minute video on the history of the park and to collect trail maps. The parking lots are close to the Center.

Trail length: 15 miles of trails

Opening hours: 7 am to sunset

Entrance fee: $35 for an annual pass. If you don’t have an annual pass the fees are as follows

  • $10 per person,
  • $20 per car,
  • $15 per motorcycle

Official Website: Click here to access the official website

#5 Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail

hikes around DC

Highlights: Historical canals and locks, camping and canal house stayovers

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail is just a half-mile from downtown DC but you’ll need a car to get there. The trail runs along the C&O canal and offers a choice of lovely forest hikes.

The canal has a long history. For 100 years, it was a working canal along 184.5 miles of the Potomac River. The canal was an essential lifeline for local folk. It was used to transport commodities such as coal and agricultural products to communities living along the river.

You’ll find many historical relics in the park starting with the house close to the parking area. Wooden locks line the canal and there’s a historic canal boat berthed on the water.

A visit to the park would be incomplete if you didn’t stop over for a view of the Great Falls. A boardwalk offers a great lookout as the waters of the Potomac River cascade down the rocks. Make a weekend of your trip and stay on the banks of the canal. There is a fully serviced camping ground or you can choose to spend the night in a furnished lock house.

#5.1 Harper’s Ferry

hiking in washington dc

If you’re there for the weekend you may as well make a trip to Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park. It’s right on the C&O Canal Trail. Your reward – a healthy dose of Civil War history along with spectacular views from the Blue Mountain. There is a small museum in the town. It’s worth a visit.

Harper’s Ferry is the halfway point for those doing the Appalachian Trail. There are also other trails that loop through the area. One of these, the Maryland Heights Trail, at the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers is one of the nicest hikes within an hour’s drive of DC.

This is a National Park so you will have to pay a fee to get in unless you have a National Parks Annual Pass.

Trail length: 184.5 miles

Opening hours: 7 am to sunset

Entrance fee: $35 for an annual pass. If you don’t have an annual pass the fees are as follows

  • $10 per person,
  • $20 per car,
  • $15 per motorcycle

Official Website: Click here to access the official website


Recommended reading:

National Parks in Florida – The Ultimate Guide and Complete List


#6 Prince William Forest Park

best hikes around dc

Highlights: Acres and acres of cool forest, mine town relics add interest

Lose yourself in nature along 37-miles of meandering forest trails in the Prince William Forest Park. The trails wander through 16,000 acres of forest. The Quantico Creek winds itself through most of the forest so you’re bound to come across it.

You’ll find the remains of an old Pyrite mine in the forest. All the mines are closed but the relics of the buildings make for an interesting hike. Streams and manmade lakes teem with fish which you are welcome to catch if you have a permit. Families congregate at picnic pavilions to cook and enjoy lunch in the open air. There are a number of parking lots in Prince William Forest Park.

The Park has several trails and they all connect. Twelve miles of paved trails and nine miles of gravel trails attract cyclists. Take your dogs along. They’ll love the walk. If you choose to spend more than a day here you can camp or hire a cabin. The cabins were built in the years following the Great Depression, and they’re on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trail length: 37 miles

Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset

Entrance fee: $35 for an annual pass. If you don’t have an annual pass the fees are as follows

  • $10 per person,
  • $20 per car,
  • $15 per motorcycle

Official Website: Click here to access the official website

#7 Catoctin Mountain Park

day hikes around dc

Highlights: Camping in historic wooden shacks, restaurant and picnic areas, a wide range of hiking options

5810 acres of hardwood forest house 25-miles of hiking trails, many with lovely views of the Monocacy River Valley. The hikes range in difficulty from easy to challenging. You may also find historic remnants of settler mines, farms, and stills in the park. That’s right, the forest hid a commercial whiskey still in the days of prohibition. Placards show the raid that closed the operation. A still shows how the moonshine was made.

Take the 1.4-mile trail to Cunningham Falls. It will take you to the tallest waterfall in Maryland at 78 feet. If you’re feeling strong on the day you may want to take the challenging Chimney Rock climb up 1,418 feet.

There is a restaurant at the park and you can picnic at the Owen’s Creek and Chestnut picnic areas. Use the barbecue grills and picnic tables and enjoy your meal in natural surroundings

There are also 50 sites at the Owen Creek campgrounds if you choose to stay the night. Wooden cabins are also available to rent.

As the park has grown in popularity finding parking has become a little challenging. There are several parking lots at the park housing more than 200 parking spaces. You’ll find a list of the parking areas on the official website.

Trail length: 25 miles

Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset

Entrance fee: Entrance is free

Official Website: Click here to access the official website


Recommended reading:


#8 Sugarloaf Mountain

 

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Highlights: An easy hike that the whole family can enjoy, plenty of fauna and flora

It will take you an hour to get from Washington DC to Sugarloaf Mountain, and, boy, is the drive worth it? Hiking trails crisscross the mountain slopes and the views are stunning. Sugarloaf Mountain is a monadnock. This type of mountain is left behind when all the land around it erodes away. It’s not your most spectacular mountain but it’s a lovely hike that you can do in a half-day.

There are 500 species of plants on the mountain. The mountain slopes host forests of oaks, black gum, black birch, eastern hemlock, and tulip poplar. Expect to see wildlife along the way as white-tailed deer, flying squirrels, raccoons, cotton-tails, and red fox call this mountain home. A wide variety of birds also find refuge in the forests of Sugarloaf Mountain.

There are two parking lots in the park. They are about three-quarters of the way up the mountain and each is furnished with picnic tables. So, those who would prefer not to take a hike can still benefit from the beauty of the area. This is also a dog friendly hike, yes! Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.

Trail length: 7 miles

Opening hours: 8 am to sunset

Entrance fee: There is no entrance fee though a donation of $5 is requested

Official Website: Click here to access the official website

#9 Huntley Meadows Park

Hiking trails near washington dc

Highlights: Easy access to wildlife.

Just 32 minutes from the Washington Memorial, Huntley Meadows Park is a haven for nature lovers. Here you can watch beavers hard at work from an observation platform. The lovely forested area and beaver-created wetland is home to masses of wildlife and attracts birds by the hundred. Look out for 600 different species of plant and 200 bird species.

Boardwalks over the wetlands make it easy for visitors to enjoy the largest park of its kind in the area. Benches and watchtowers allow visitors to enjoy wildlife and bird watching in comfort. A short woodland hike/ bike trail is also popular.

There are two parking areas.

Trail length: 10 miles

Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset

Entrance fee: Entrance is free

Official Website: Click here to access the official website

#10 Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park

Highlights: So many choices when it comes to trails. Spectacular views. Lots of waterfalls and wildlife.

The sprawling Shenandoah National Park is a hiker’s Paradise. It covers 80,000 acres of forests, mountains, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls, and it’s just 75 miles from DC. In this park 500 miles of hiking trails await!

While you there, see if you can spot the white-tailed deer, black bears and reptiles.

This is one of the oldest National Parks in the country. Its most famous features are the Skyline Drive which was constructed in the 1930s along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The views from the many camping grounds, picnic areas, and lookouts along the drive are spectacular.

Shenandoah, unlike most other reserves, was once occupied by residents. This was once farmland and logging forests. To form the park state officials bought 1088 privately owned plots to form the park. Today there is little evidence of the farms or the families that once lived there.

The Park has dozens of hiking trails to choose including short walks in the forest to trails that will take you days to complete. Most of the campsites only accommodate tents so go well prepared.

Below are two of the best-known and most popular hikes at the Shenandoah National Park.


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#11 Old Rag Mountain

Old Rag Mountain

If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, the Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park is between 8 and 10 miles long. Though, not the easiest of hikes the Old Rag does take you to some fantastic viewpoints, offering spectacular photo opportunities.

This is one of the most popular hikes in the park so it does get a little over-crowded during the warm summer months. So, if you are trying to find uncrowded hikes near DC avoid this summer hike.

#11.1 White Oak Canyon

If you love waterfalls, it’s time to plan a hiking trail through White Oak Canyon. You’ll find no fewer than eight waterfalls scattered across this 7.3-mile trail. Most of the falls have a small catchment pond beneath so you can wet your feet or take a swim in the fine waterfall spray.

Trail length: 500 miles of mixed trail

Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset

Entrance fee: $35 for an annual pass. If you don’t have an annual pass the fees are as follows

  • $25 per person,
  • $20 per car,
  • $15 per motorcycle

Official Website: Click here to access the official website

Conclusion

So there you have it, the best hikes near DC. Hiking is such a lovely sport because it enables you to connect with nature, breath some fresh air and enjoy the wildlife while exercising. Hiking is a real treat for our bodies and mind.

Now, it’s your turn to let us know which hikes you have been too, and your favourite hikes near and around DC.

Happy hiking!


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