Great Falls is hands down one of the best hiking spots near DC only thirty minutes away

17 Best Hiking Spots Near DC (by a former Washingtonian)

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Washington DC has a lot of great attractions, but I know that when I lived there, I was always on the lookout for great places to hike to get outside to escape the city. Even though there were some beautiful places to hike nearby, I often had to dig around online to find them. If you’re in the same position where you’re looking for where to hike in the area, I’ve put together a list of 17 of the best hiking spots and trails near DC.

Photo in Rock Creek Park

Best Hiking Near DC: An Overview

Nobody wants to spend the same amount of time researching hiking spots as they do hiking. Yet, I found this happening to me in DC repeatedly. To help you spend less time searching for the best hiking near DC, I’ve compiled a list of 17 locations to steer you in the right direction. Before we dive in, here’s an overview of all the spots we’ll be covering today:

17 Best Hiking Spots and Trails Near DC

Now that we’ve covered our bases, we can dive into these seventeen best hiking spots (and trails!) near DC. I’ve separated the different hiking spots/trails by location. You can easily navigate to the best hiking in DC or near DC in Virginia, Maryland, or West Virginia. Let’s get to it!

Best Hiking in DC

If you’re looking for hiking not too far away, you’ve lucked out because there are some great spots within the city! There are a few fantastic outdoor spaces at your fingertips that you can easily access. These spaces are great for escaping city life without traveling too far. They also show you sides of DC you may not have known existed before!

Let’s get into some of these places! 

Rock Creek Park is one of the best hiking spots in DC near the city

Rock Creek Park

Starting strong, we have Rock Creek Park. Rock Creek Park is a large urban park that covers 1,754 acres in the northwest portion of Washington DC. Some places in Rock Creek make you forget you’re in a major city, let alone the capital!

Rock Creek has plenty to do, but hiking is a great place to start. There are over 32 miles of hiking trails and paved paths for visitors to use and enjoy. Dylan and I took advantage of this massive urban outdoor space whenever we needed to de-stress for work and school.

There’s plenty to explore in Rock Creek, but we wanted to help narrow your search for some of the more popular hikes people enjoy. That way, you can get off the internet and onto the trail fast! Here are three well-liked trails in the park:

Sam hiking in DC in Rock Creek Park
  • Valley Trail (5 miles one-way, Out & Back, Moderately Challenging)

Valley Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Rock Creek because of the beautiful scenery it encompasses along the river. The trail is narrow, only open to foot traffic, and has blue trail markers for guidance. There are three restrooms located at different picnic areas along the way.

The trail begins at Boundary Bridge on the Maryland border and ends south at the paved section of the Western Ridge Trail. This trail is a bit bumpy and windy due to it following the river and experiencing a bit of elevation changes. It’s a great trail for seeing the wildlife but is popular at certain times of the year!

Bridge in Rock Creek Park
  • Western Ridge Trail (5+ miles one-way, Out & Back, Moderately Challenging)

The Western Ridge Trail is another one of the major trails in Rock Creek Park that runs north to south. It follows along a ridge west of the park and has green blaze trail markers. The Western Ridge Trail is wide and partially paved. Restrooms are available at the Nature Center, behind Pierce Barn, and Picnic Grove #1.

Western Ridge Trail starts at the Boundary Bridge on the Maryland Border and ends south at the Bluff Bridge. From Pierce Mill before Bluff Bridge, hikers can choose one of two ways: a moderate or challenging route. The moderate route summits exposed rock and has elevation changes, whereas the challenging route requires visitors to climb the exposed rock with a difficult-to-navigate trail.

Dylan jumping over some rocks in Rock Creek Park
  • Southern Loop (Loop, Distance, and Difficulty Dependent on the chosen route)

The Southern Loop Trail is another great hiking trail in Rock Creek in the southern hemisphere of the park. Begin your trip at Picnic Grove #13 towards the Western Ridge Trail. The nice thing about this trail is that there are different routes to complete the loop. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure trail, depending on the difficulty and type of views you’re looking for!

Option one is to return via Black Horse Trail, following along Rock Creek. The second is to take the more rugged and challenging Roosevelt Spur trail that provides views of Boulder Bridge. Lastly, you can take a relaxing stroll on Beach Drive back on Saturdays and Sundays.

Theodore Roosevelt Island is one of the best hiking spots in Washington DC near Georgetown

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island is another fantastic place within DC for hiking. Dylan and I stumbled upon it accidentally during one of our favorite DC drives along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In the 1930s, landscape architects designed the island to imitate the national forest that once covered the space!

While you can only reach the island from Virginia, it is part of DC because it’s on the Potomac near the Key Bridge. You can access it via car, foot, bike, or the Rosslyn metro station! Theodore Roosevelt Island is a woody swampland perfect for a day hike. The island has three trails, each relatively short in distance:

Sam on Theodore Roosevelt Island
  • Swamp Trail – The Swamp Trail is the longest at 1.5 miles, wrapping around the island on a boardwalk and gravel path through the woods and marsh.
  • Woods Trail. – The Woods Trail is only a third of a mile gravel path that passes through a memorial plaza with fountains and a statue.
  • Upland Trail – Lastly, the Upland Trail is three-fourths of a mile that passes through a forest and around the former site of the Mason Mansion.
Dylan at Glen Echo Park in a hammock near the river

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

Next, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail goes through Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. For the sake of this post, we’ll only be talking about the DC portion of the trail. In DC, there are three sections of the trail: The Civil War Defenses of Washington Trail, Rock Creek Park, and National Capital Parks East.

  • The Civil War Defenses of Washington Trail

The Civil War Defenses of Washington Trail is perfect for Civil War history buffs. Along the trail, you can find a collection of 17 historic sites composed of original forts and batteries. This section can be hiked or biked.

  • Rock Creek Park

Although we previously mentioned the hiking opportunities at Rock Creek Park, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail also passes through the park! The hiking path is just under five miles, but hikers can fork off onto other trails to make their hiking journey longer.

  • Northeast Capitol Region East

The Northeast Capital Region East has 14 different regional parks in eastern DC. The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail connects the regional parks to other historical sites and forts. It connects the Piscataway Park to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

Beautiful view of the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial during Cherry Blossom season

The Tidal Basin

Last, we have the Tidal Basin. While the Tidal Basin is near the National Mall, the basin is surrounded by Cherry Blossom trees, giving you a brief reprieve from the city. It’s shaded, grassy, near a body of water, and is a great spot to hang out during the day.

While I would consider the Tidal Basin more of a walking path I didn’t want to leave it off the table. The Tidal Basin is a perfect combination of experiencing the attractions and history of Washington DC while still escaping to some green spaces in a prime location. Here are potential loops you can consider taking:

  • The Tidal Basin to Hains Point

Make the Tidal Basin walk a loop by walking around East Potomac Park to Hains Point to see where the Potomac and Washington Channel converge!

Picture of the National Monument at sunset
  • National Mall Walk

Add more historic places and attractions by checking out the National Mall before unwinding on the grass at Tidal Basin!

  • Other City Routes

Hop off the metro, park your car, or leave your bike at another part of the city you hope to enjoy (DuPont Circle or Chinatown)!

Up Next >> 52 Romantic Things To Do in DC

Rocks in Shenandoah National Park overlooking the mountains

Best Hiking in Virginia

If you’re willing to explore outside of DC, there are some fantastic places to hike in Virginia. Virginia has beautiful hiking trails through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Virginia is a great state to explore for its evergreen forests and rolling hills. Let’s discuss some of the best hikes within 2 hours of DC!

Shenandoah National Park

Distance from DC: 75 miles | 1 hour and 20-minute drive

First off, if you want to explore outside of the DC area, schedule a day (or a weekend) to explore Shenandoah National Park! When Dylan and I lived in DC, we went once for a day hike and once more for a weekend camping trip. Both are great options because there are plenty of hiking trails to experience!

Shenandoah has 200,000 acres of waterfalls, wildlife, panoramic views, open fields, woodlands, and 500 miles of hiking trails! It’s a huge national park, so you’ll want to decide which part to explore. Below, we’ll cover three of the most popular hiking trails.

One of the best hiking trails near DC is summiting Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park
  • Old Rag Mountain

Old Rag is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah for its panoramic views, rock scrambles, and steep incline. It’s a challenging hike but very rewarding once you reach the top. You’ll need to purchase a day-use ticket in advance to hike Old Rag!

You can hike Old Rag in two ways: by completing the circuit or summiting via Berry Hollow.

  •  The Circuit Hike: 9.4 miles, Loop, Very Strenuous, 2,348 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 7 hours and 30 minutes.

The Circuit Hike is one of the hardest hikes near DC but one of the best hikes in Virginia!

  • Via Berry Hollow: 5.4 miles, Out & Back, Strenuous, 1,760 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 6 hours and 15 minutes
Dylan swimming under the waterfall at Whiteout Canyon
  • Whiteoak Canyon

Whiteoak Canyon has two popular hikes near DC with cascading waterfalls – Whiteoak Falls Lower and Whiteoak Falls Upper! The canyon is located in the central part of the park and is dog-friendly. This hike does not require the purchase of a day-use pass, but you will still need to purchase the park entrance fee.

  • Whiteoak Falls Lower – 2 miles round trip, Easy, 500 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Whiteoak Falls Upper – 4.6 miles round trip, Moderate, 1,060 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 3 hours and 30 minutes
View of a waterfall in Shenandoah
  • Overall Run Falls

Last but not least, we have the Overall Run Falls. This hike is the best of both worlds because it brings you to an overlook of the tallest waterfall in the park! Unless there has been a lot of rain, the 93-foot waterfall may be minimal.

  • Overall Run Falls – 5.1-mile round trip, Moderately Strenuous, 1,291 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 4 hours

Prince William Forest Park

Distance from DC: 35 miles | 1 hour drive

The Prince William Forest State Park is a quiet, relaxing, peaceful retreat an hour south of DC. It has beautiful flowing streams, forested woodlands, and 37 miles of hiking trails. In addition to that, the scenic drives will lead you to nearly all of the park’s trailheads! Here are three popular trails:

View of a bridge overflowed with river run off in Virginia
  • Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine Trail (.3 miles – easy). This trail takes you to an open field above Quantico Creek at a former Pyrite Mine!
  • Farms to Forest Trail (1 mile – easy). This is one of the easy hikes near DC. It takes hikers through an old farmland that has reverted to the natural forest.
  • South Valley Trail – 9.7 miles, Out & Back, Moderately Challenging, 510 feet elevation gain, average time of 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete (one-way)

The South Valley Trail is the longest in the park. There are plenty of things to see on this trail –  historic cabins, a dam, an arching footbridge, small cascades, and more.

Scotts Run Nature Preserve is one of the best hiking spots near DC that's not well known

Scotts Run Nature Preserve

Distance from DC: McLean, VA – 15 miles | 25-minute drive

I discovered Scott’s Run Nature Preserve one day accidentally and became obsessed. This hidden nature oasis in McLean is a mile off the Georgetown Pike Beltway. It’s one of the few nature reserves in the county, and native plants and wildlife flourish in the area.

The Nature Preserve is smaller, but there are numerous hikes so you can experience it differently on many occasions. My favorite hike in the preserve is to the Scott’s Run Waterfall near the Potomac River. However, you can also visit popular attractions like the Burling Cabin Site and Stubblefield Falls Overlook!

View of Virginia from Theodore Roosevelt Island

Mt. Vernon Trail

Third, the Mount Vernon Trail is a paved walking and biking path that stretches eighteen miles from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This multi-use trail is extremely popular and connects DC to Alexandria. It’s also fantastic because there are great attractions to see and enjoy at each endpoint!

Mason Neck State Park

Distance from DC: Lorton, VA – 26 miles | 45-minute drive 

Also in Alexandria, Mason Neck State Park is on a peninsula formed by the Potomac River, Pohick Bay, and Belmont Bay. It’s also next to many culturally historic areas, including the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Wildlife Refuge, Pohick Bay Regional Park, and George Mason’s Historic Site. It has over 1,800 acres for visitors to explore and enjoy.

Mason Neck State Park is home to ospreys, bald eagles, blue herons, and more fantastic wildlife, making it an enjoyable place for birders and hikers. There are nine hiking trails, each offering unique takes on this beautiful outdoor area. Most trails are easy, and a few are moderately challenging.

Bird along the Potomac River

Buzzard Rock

Distance from DC: Front Royal, VA – 78 miles | 1 hour 20 minute drive 

Buzzard Rock is a popular hiking destination because it’s short and easy yet brings hikers a breathtaking view of a ragged rock formation. It provides spectacular views over Fort Valley and has some backcountry campgrounds on the way up! Starting at the Buzzard Rock Parking Area, follow the white trail markers as they guide you to the summit.

  • Buzzard Rock – 4 miles, Out & Back, Moderately Challenging, 650 Feet Elevation Gain, average hiking time of 1 hour and 30 minutes
Dylan overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National park

Bears Den

Distance from DC: Bluemont, VA – 58 miles | 1 hour 3 minute drive

Lastly, one of the best hiking spots near DC in Virginia is Bears Den. Bears Den is an overlook that faces the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley on the Appalachian Trail. It’s a popular destination for thru-hikers because there is a lodge en route, though it is also well-liked as a day hike option!

The overlook sits at 1,350 feet and is arguably one of the best fall hikes near DC. Bears Den has a few sitting rocks that are great for watching the sunrise or sunset. You can access Bears Den from the Route 7 parking lot or the Bears Den day-use parking lot ($3 fee). From either parking lot, the hike is short, but to lengthen it, just follow the Appalachian trail!

Great Falls is hands down one of the best hiking spots near DC only thirty minutes away

Great Falls Park

Distance from DC: 18 miles | 30-minute drive

Out of all these hiking spots I’ve listed Great Falls is my absolute favorite. Great Falls is an 800-acre National Park Service site along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland and is a spectacular gorge that provides excellent panoramic views of the river. There are steep and jagged rocks that will blow your mind!

There are fifteen miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Since it is a National Park, you’ll need to pay to enter, or you can utilize your America The Beautiful Pass for free entry. Here are two of the more popular hiking trails in the beautiful Great Falls:

Dylan on a trail in Great Falls National Park looking at the river
  • Billy Goat Trail (Located on the Maryland side of the park)

The Billy Goat trail has three sections – A, B, and C ranging from 1.4 to 1.75 miles. All sections of the Billy Goat Trail follow the rocky shoreline of the Potomac River. It is the most visited trail in Great Falls.

  • Difficult Run (Located on the Virginia side of the park)

Difficult Run trail is .7 miles one-way, an out & back, and moderately challenging. This trail is narrow and rocky, and it follows the stream until it meets the Potomac.

Sam overlooking Great Falls National Park

Best Hiking in Maryland

If you’re headed north, there are great hiking spots near DC in Maryland! If you make the short drive to Maryland, you can find some spectacular hiking spots to hit the trail. Maryland has some great cities to explore, but many overlook its outdoor areas! Take advantage of Marylands hiking for less crowds and beautiful scenery.

Cunningham Falls State Park

Distance from DC: 63 miles | 1 hour 25 minute drive

If you’d like to escape the unbearable summer DC humidity, look no further than Cunningham Falls State Park. It’s home to a 43-acre lake and the largest waterfall in Maryland. After exploring the hiking trails, head to the shoreline to cool off in the water!

The Cunningham Falls Nature Trail is the most popular hiking trail in Cunningham Falls State Park. It takes visitors from the Visitor Center to the falls and back. It’s a perfect option for a day hike. There are uneven surfaces and rocky terrain, so have steady hiking boots for ankle support!

  • Cunningham Falls Nature Trail – 5.1 miles, Loop, Moderately Challenging, 994 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 2 hours 30 minutes
Overview of the mountains in Shenandoah National Park

Sugarloaf Mountain

Distance from DC: 38 miles | 55-minute drive

Next up, Sugarloaf Mountain is a privately owned mountain but is open to the public. This small yet beautiful mountain sits at 1,238 feet near Frederick and Barnesville. There are various hiking trails, though I’d recommend hiking to the summit for panoramic views of the area via the Northern Peaks trail.

Sugarloaf Mountain is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. Because the mountain is privately owned, the operation relies on voluntary donations from visitors. Please respect the property, practice Leave No Trace principles, and check the website for more rules and regulations.

View of cool rocks in Shenandoah National Park

Annapolis Rock

Distance from DC: 36 miles, 1 hour drive 

Annapolis Rock is another popular hiking destination in Maryland on the Appalachian Trail. The overlook provides views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is spectacular on a clear day. It’s also a popular area among rock climbers and campers, as there are opportunities for both hobbies here.

Annapolis Rock is a great trail to take during the fall as you overlook the lush forest and nearby natural water sources. It’s in South Mountain State Park near Greenbrier and Myersville. Check out Black Rock, another great overlook on your route, too!

cliffs overlooking Harpers Ferry

Weverton Cliffs

Distance from DC: Knoxville, MD – 60 miles | 1 hour 10 minute drive 

Weverton Cliffs is another beautiful overlook on the Appalachian Trail (are you recognizing a pattern for Maryland hikes yet!?). It’s a short and pleasant hike to reach the cliffs. The overlook provides breathtaking views overlooking the Potomac River. Weverton Cliffs is a fantastic hike near Harpers Ferry, which we’ll discuss next!

  • Weverton Cliffs – 1.9 miles, Out & Back, Moderately Challenging, 567 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 1 hour 18 minutes
View of The Point from Harpers Ferry, a town that has some of the best hiking near DC

Best Hiking in West Virginia

To end this post, let’s cover the last state near Washington DC – West Virginia! The hiking spot we’ll cover is Harpers Ferry, a town near the border of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Therefore, this hiking spot is still within two hours of drive time and is worth checking out for more than just its hiking trails!

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Distance from DC: 63 miles | 1 hour 20 minute drive

Harpers Ferry is known as a Civil War historical town and there are also fantastic hiking opportunities. Dylan and I took a day trip to Harpers Ferry and had a blast hiking the trails and learning about the area’s history. After you check out some of the trails, head into town to grab a bite to eat and visit some historical museums!

If I were to recommend a single trail in Harpers Ferry, it would be Maryland Heights. This trail takes you up the steep incline through the shaded forest and rocky terrain to an overlook of the town. It’s a bit challenging but is worth every view at the top.

  • Maryland Heights – 4.5 miles round trip (with the option to extend), Out & Back, Moderate, 1,154 feet elevation gain, average hiking time of 3 hours and 20 minutes 
Maryland Heights, a trail in Harpers Ferry, is one of the best hiking trails near DC in our opinion!

FAQs: Best Hiking Near DC

Now that we’ve discussed some of the best hiking near DC let’s cover some frequently asked questions.

Is Washington DC good for hiking?

Washington DC has a few hiking spots like Rock Creek Park and Theodore Roosevelt Island. However, you can travel to Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia for more great hiking spots.

Where can I hike outside Washington DC?

Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all have fantastic hiking. Our favorite hiking spots are Great Falls National Park, Harpers Ferry, and Shenandoah National Park. 

How close is DC to the mountains?

DC is close to the Blue Ridge Mountains in neighboring states such as Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Drive less than a hundred miles to hike the mountains. 

Does Virginia have good hiking trails?

Virginia, home of the Blue Ridge Mountains, has fantastic hiking trails. You can find popular hikes like the Appalachian Trail and great parks like Shenandoah National Park. 

Dylan walking through the best hiking near DC in Rock Creek Park

Wrapping Up: Best Hiking Spots Near DC

There you have it: seventeen best hiking near and in Washington DC. Hopefully, this blog post has given you some ideas on where to hit the trail next! Whatever city or state on this list you choose, you’re in for a great hike!

Happy trails!