Blog

15 Incredible Hikes In and Around Washington DC for All Levels

While Washington DC is an amazing city to explore, it’s totally natural to crave some outdoor time during your visit. Luckily, DC isn’t too far from some awesome parks and hiking trails… some are even located inside of the city! There are so many amazing places to go hiking near DC, we had a hard time writing this guide! Luckily, we were able to write this guide to 15 of our favorite hikes near Washington DC so you can get out and explore.


Hey, you! If you’re planning a trip to Washington, DC, you might find these posts useful:


Important Things to Know About Hiking near Washington DC

How to Get Around to Trailheads & Hikes Near DC

For the hikes within Washington DC’s city limits, you can easily get around without a car. There’s ample public transportation available in the form of the public buses and metro system. If you’d prefer, there’s also Lyft, Uber, Via, and regular taxis you can take.

However, if you’d like to go into Virginia and Maryland, we highly recommend renting a car. While there are buses that go out to many suburbs and hikes near Washington DC, you’ll often have to walk long distances and it’s kind of a logistical nightmare. Instead, we;d rent a car for the day and driving to the various hikes near Washington DC you’d like to try.

What to Bring With You for Hiking Near DC

Although it’s fairly mild for most months of the year, the weather in the Washington DC area is totally unpredictable. You can see all four seasons in a day sometimes. So, in addition to your normal hiking attire, I’d strongly recommend bringing the following:

  • A waterproof rain jacket
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • A light hoodie or fleece
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen
  • A day pack with a waterproof cover
  • Lots of water and snacks

Check out our post on things to bring on a day hike for our complete list of gear recommendations!

Scotts Run Nature Preserve - Hikes Near Washington DC
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is the perfect short hike to a picturesque waterfall!

The 15 Best Hikes Near Washington DC for All Levels

Easy Hiking Near DC

1. Theodore Roosevelt Island

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Distance: 1.6 miles (Outer Loop)
  • Highlights: Stunning views of the Potomac River, quiet forest trails, boardwalks over waterways with lots of wildlife, and dog-friendly!

Located within Washington DC, in the Potomac River, lies Theodore Roosevelt Island. This small island is a natural escape from the city, with a 1.6-mile loop trail that hikers of all levels can enjoy. This easy trail is one of the best places to go hiking in Washington DC, featuring boardwalks over marsh areas, clean wooded forest paths, and a chance to escape Washington DC while still staying within its city limits.

As it’s in the middle of the city, you can access Theodore Roosevelt Island via public transportation. From the main parking area, there’s a picturesque foot bridge across the river that leads to the island. Once you’ve arrived on the island, hop on the trail and enjoy this lovely, scenic DC hike.

2. Rock Creek Park

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Distance: Varies
  • Highlights: Quiet, forested trails, Pulpit Rock scramble, Pierce Mill, Valley Trail

One of Washington DC’s largest parks, Rock Creek Park isn’t so much a trail as it is a network of pathways through natural and historic landmarks. Upon arriving in the park, you can choose from a variety of trails and paths, some easy and some more challenging, for a perfect day of exploring what, in our opinion, is one of the nicest green spaces in the entire city.

While you’re in Rock Creek Park, head to Valley Trail for picturesque views and wooded pathways. Inside the park, don’t forget to check out some of the historic attractions, like the Pierce Mill gristmill, the Rolling Meadow Footbridge, and Miller Cabin. If you’re up for some adrenaline-inducing activities, try a rock scramble at Pulpit Rock.

If you’re interested in a full-day adventure in Rock Creek Park, this awesome Washingtonian article has got you covered.

3. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

  • Location: McLean, VA
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Highlights: Clean, wide forest trail, ends in a waterfall!

If you’re craving the tranquility of a waterfall hike but don’t want a long journey to get there, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is the perfect trail for you. One of the closest waterfall hikes to DC proper, it’s a short and easy jaunt through the forest to this riverside waterfall viewpoint.

Scott’s Run Trail is a ~2.2 mile loop through the woods, with a stream crossing and some gradual hills here and there. The trail is dog-friendly and is the perfect length for a morning stroll. Completely manageable for young kids, this family-friendly trail is definitely one of the most fun and manageable hikes near Washington DC.

YOU MAY LIKE:
How to Choose the Best Camera For Travel

4. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail

  • Location: Great Falls, MD
  • Distance: Varies
  • Highlights: Quiet trail along the canal, historic house and canal locks, spectacular views of Great Falls

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail is an easy, popular hiking zone that runs along the historic C&O canal. It’s located just half an hour from downtown DC, and is the perfect place for a forest hike, especially in the fall when the trees turn all kinds of beautiful colors. You’ll need to drive to the park, but it’s an easy drive from anywhere in the DC metro area.

While there, don’t miss the historic home located close to the parking lot, as well as the historic canal boat and the wooden locks that still line the canal. Also, be sure to take the turn onto the Great Falls lookout boardwalk, which brings you to the edge of the Potomac River to a stunning viewpoint of the massive falls.

Designated as a National Historic Park, there’s an entrance fee to get into the C&O Canal area, but once you’ve parked, you can stay as long as you want in the park.

National Arboretum - Best Hikes in DC
Springtime at the National Arboretum is the perfect time for a stroll on its many trails!

5. National Arboretum

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Distance: 8.2 miles total (west side only is 2.6 miles)
  • Highlights: Capitol Columns, Asian Collections, cherry blossoms in the spring

The National Arboretum is another lesser-known gem of a park within DC’s city limits, and is home to some of the nicest hiking near DC. The trails are beautiful and well-maintained, perfect for hikers of all levels or people who simply want to get outside for a stroll.

While the park is best known for the historic Capitol columns, there are several trails here through gardens and wildlife areas that are worth exploring on foot. The Asian Collections are our personal favorite, but there are several different garden areas that you can wander through if you have the time.

6. Mount Vernon Trail

  • Location: Arlington, VA
  • Distance: 18 miles total, but can be shortened
  • Highlights: DC skyline views, paved paths for biking, connects with many other regional trails in the area

While not exactly a “wilderness” trail, the Mount Vernon Trail deserves a spot on any list of places to go hiking near DC. This walking, hiking, and biking path extends for 18 miles from Mount Vernon (yeah, George Washington’s birthplace) all the way to Theodore Roosevelt Island.

On certain parts of the trail, you can catch excellent views of the Washington, DC skyline. Accessible without a car, the Mount Vernon Trail is perfect paired with a day trip from DC to Mount Vernon, or simply as a short hop away from the city.

Moderate Hikes Near DC

7. Maryland Heights Trail

  • Location: Harpers Ferry, WV
  • Distance: 4.5 or 6.5 miles
  • Highlights: Stunning view of the merging of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, old Civil War fortress

One of our favorite hikes near Washington DC, the Maryland Heights Trail offers the best views of Harpers Ferry, a National Historic Park and important landmark of the Civil War. Here, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, as do the borders of three states – Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, don’t let this forested, rural area fool you – Harpers Ferry is just an hour away from Washington DC.

There are two trails available that stem from the Maryland Heights trailhead – the overlook and the full trail. If you’re strapped for time or want to spend the afternoon exploring the town of Harpers Ferry, we recommend opting for the shorter trail, which brings you to the most stunning viewpoint in the entire park. The viewpoint is full of boulders and captures a bird’s eye glimpse of the convergence of the rivers, as well as the town of Harpers Ferry and the historic iron bridges that lead into it.

Maryland Heights Harpers Ferry - Hiking Near Washington DC
The Maryland Heights trail offers stunning views of historic Harpers Ferry.

8. Whiteoak Canyon

  • Location: Shenandoah National Park, VA
  • Distance: 7.3 miles
  • Highlights: This trail passes through 8 (yes, EIGHT) waterfalls! Need I say more?

Arguably one of the most epic waterfall hikes near Washington DC, the Whiteoak Canyon Trail is a moderately difficult and stunningly beautiful 7.3-mile trail where you’ll definitely get your fill of waterways and falls. Located in Shenandoah National Park, this trail is perfect as a Washington DC day trip or as part of a longer weekend trip in the park.

During the course of the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, you’ll get to see a total of 8 waterfalls of varying sizes and strength. If you’re hoping to catch some good photography opportunities, go during the fall when the leaves turn all kinds of bright and beautiful warm colors.

9. Dark Hollow Falls

  • Location: Shenandoah National Park, VA
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Highlights: A beautiful waterfall to reward you after this short, steep hike!
YOU MAY LIKE:
25 Beautiful Castles in Slovenia That Are Right Out of a Fairytale

One of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Parks, Dark Hollow Falls has the advantage of being both challenging and short, meaning you can pair it with another day hike in the park (or with a visit to a local brewery or winery after!). This steep uphill hike leads to one of the most stunning waterfalls in the entire park – a giant fall made up of several smaller cascades.

10. Sugarloaf Mountain

  • Location: Dickerson, MD
  • Distance: 5.9 miles to summit and back
  • Highlights: Beautiful mountaintop views of the rolling hills and valleys below, wildflowers in the spring and summer

A stunning mountaintop hike, Sugarloaf Mountain is an awesome place to go hiking near DC in Maryland. Within the Sugarloaf Mountain hiking area, there are several different trails you can choose from, including the Blue, White, and Purple trails. Here’s a hiking map of the entire Sugarloaf area.

Most of the trails are moderately difficult with uphill trails leading to spectacular views of the fields and rolling hills of pastoral Maryland.

11. Wolf Rock & Chimney Rock

  • Location: Catoctin Mountain Park, MD
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Highlights: Amazing views on a picturesque rocky outcropping!

A moderately steep, shorter trail located in Catoctin Mountain Park, MD, Wolf Rock & Chimney Rock Trail is a family-friendly but challenging hike up to a few rocky views of the nearby mountains. It’s the most difficult trail in the park, and while we’ve rated it moderate, you should be careful as the trails are quite narrow and can get icy and slippery in wet or cold weather.

Shenandoah National Park - Hikes Around Washington DC
Hiking in Shenandoah is a fantastic day or weekend trip from Washington DC.

Difficult/Challenging Hikes Near Washington DC

12. Old Rag

  • Location: Shenandoah National Park, VA
  • Distance: 8.6 miles
  • Highlights: Summit views of Shenandoah National Park, rock scrambles, and bragging rights!

Possibly the most popular (and one of the most challenging) hikes in Shenandoah National Parks, and can get fairly crowded during the summer months. But for good reason – Old Rag Mountain offers some of the most spectacular views of Shenandoah National Park, and possibly the best on this entire list of hikes near Washington DC. It’s a whopping 8.6 miles from start to finish, largely uphill, so be sure you’re well stocked with water and snacks before you begin.

Also, it’s important to note that you might think you’ve reached the summit a dozen times before you actually do. Old Rag likes to play tricks on hikers with several false summits. The real summit comes after several scramble areas and has a sign designating it as Old Rag Mountain. You can breathe a sigh of relief once you finally see it!

13. Billy Goat Trail

  • Location: Great Falls, MD
  • Distance: 1.5 to 4.5 miles
  • Highlights: Stunning Potomac River and Great Falls views, an epic rock scramble up a cliff

One of the best hikes near DC, the Billy Goat Trail is a fun and adrenaline-inducing rock trail that runs alongside the Potomac River, right near Great Falls. The entrance/trailhead starts at the parking lot of the C&O National Historic Park – you’ll need to walk a bit along the canal before the official entrance to the Billy Goat Trail itself. Once you are on the trail, you can choose from a few different sections and trails, each ranging from 1.5-2 miles in length.

After you’ve started on the trail, it’s a bit of climbing and hopping over the rocky cliffside of the river before getting to the large, “famous” scramble up the side of a cliff. Leave your trekking poles at home – you’ll need your hands AND feet for this hike!

14. Loudoun Heights

  • Location: Harpers Ferry, WV
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Highlights: Stunning views of Harpers Ferry, challenging uphill climbs

Located near Maryland Heights Trail in Harpers Ferry, the longer Loudoun Heights Trail is a perfect companion to Maryland Heights for a weekend trip to the Harpers Ferry area, or a perfect day hike for those short on time. This mountainside hike offers amazing views of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, as well as the historic iron bridges that connect Harpers Ferry to the other sides of the waterways.

15. Little Devil’s Stairs

  • Location: Shenandoah National Park, VA
  • Distance: 5.3 miles
  • Highlights: Amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, bragging rights for having completed one of the hardest trails in Shenandoah National Park!

Don’t let the name freak you out – Little Devils Stairs is one of the most fun and thrilling hikes near Washington DC. Located in Shenandoah National Park, the trail passes through streams, by waterfalls, and scales a few rocky scramble passes. It’s probably the #1 most difficult hike on our list, but also one of the most rewarding.

We’d only recommend this trail to experienced hikers – the trails can get difficult to cross. Bring trekking poles and lots of snacks and water. Little Devils Stairs is not too long but it sure is exhausting!


Did you enjoy this post? Pin it for later!

Hiking is a great way to escape the city and get outdoors. Some of the best things to do in Washington DC are actually outside of the city! Luckily, there are tons of great hikes near Washington DC to enjoy. We wrote this compete guide to 15 amazing national and state parks near DC that have hiking trails. Pack your backpack and lace up your boots! #Hiking #WashingtonDC #USA #Travel

Kay is a full-time media professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare day of time to travel the world. In the last year alone, she's visited over 10 different countries and taken a dozen short trips in between. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

1 Comment

  1. LOL the names of these trails are hilarious, like “Old Hag.” These look like such fun! Especially the Maryland Heights trail – I’m a sucker for bird’s eye views.

Write A Comment