Washington DC, the capital of the United States, is not only known for its iconic monuments and historical landmarks but also offers a variety of great trails and hiking opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Within and near the city, there are several trails and parks that cater to hikers of all levels, providing picturesque views and opportunities to connect with nature. Some of the best hikes are not too far from the city and if you don’t mind driving you can also check out the hikes that are further away in Shenandoah National Park. You will find the skill levels for each hike listed below as well.
Top Pick: C&O Canal Trail (Easy To Moderate)
The C&O Canal Trail, also known as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, is a 184.5-mile-long hiking and biking trail that runs along the C&O Canal from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. The trail follows the path of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which operated from 1831 to 1924, and offers visitors the opportunity to explore the canal’s rich history and natural beauty.
The C&O Canal Trail is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Along the way, the trail passes through several historic sites, including lockhouses, aqueducts, and mills, as well as scenic landscapes such as forests, meadows, and riverbanks. The trail is divided into sections, with each section offering a unique hiking or biking experience.
Georgetown To Great Falls, Virginia
The Georgetown to Great Falls section of the trail is the best part of the entire trail. This 14-mile section of the trail runs from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Great Falls Park in Maryland, offering scenic views of the Potomac River and the canal’s historic locks and towpath.
Top Pick: Mount Vernon Trail (Moderate Hike)
The Mount Vernon Trail is a scenic hiking and biking trail that spans approximately 18 miles, running from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia to Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington D.C. The trail is situated along the Virginia side of the Potomac River and offers stunning views of the water and surrounding natural beauty.
The trail is popular among both locals and visitors and is well-maintained, making it accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. The trail is mostly flat, with a few moderate hills and some sections that are unpaved. The trail is also stroller and wheelchair-friendly, with several access points and picnic areas along the way.
The Mount Vernon Trail passes through several parks, historical landmarks, and scenic vistas, making it a great way to explore the area’s rich history and natural beauty. Some of the notable landmarks along the trail include the Alexandria Waterfront, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, and the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
This is the best hike to have great river views for almost the entire trail. You can also get a great view of the Washington Monument on this hike and other famous DC landmarks. The best time to explore this is during the spring or the fall when temperatures are not extreme. You will find many locals and tourists on this trail and it tends to be a personal favorite amongst many DC natives.
Rock Creek Park (Easy & Moderate)
Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre urban park in Washington, DC, and it offers a variety of hiking opportunities for visitors. The park boasts over 32 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. Some of the most popular trails in Rock Creek Park include:
This easy trail follows the path of Rock Creek and offers a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city. The trail is about 4 miles long and is ideal for families with children or those looking for a leisurely hike. (Easy Hike)
Western Ridge Trail
This moderate trail offers stunning views of the park and the city skyline. The trail is about 3.5 miles long and includes some steep climbs, making it a good option for those looking for a more challenging hike. (Moderate Hike)
Billy Goat Trail (Moderate & Hard)
The Billy Goat Trail is a popular hiking trail located in Great Falls Park, Maryland, just a short drive from Washington, DC. The trail is known for its rocky terrain and challenging climbs, but also for its stunning views of the Potomac River and Great Falls.
There are three sections of the trail, each with varying levels of difficulty. Section A is the most challenging, with steep rock scrambles and narrow ledges, making it suitable for experienced hikers only. Sections B and C are less challenging, but still offer a fun and rewarding hike for those with some hiking experience.
Overall, the trail is about 4 miles long, but can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete, depending on the section and hiker’s experience level. The trail is also very popular and can get crowded, especially on weekends and holidays, so it’s best to arrive early to avoid crowds and to ensure parking availability.
The Billy Goat Trail is located within Great Falls Park, which also offers other hiking trails, picnic areas, and a visitor center with information about the park’s history and natural resources. The park is open year-round, but access may be limited during the winter months due to snow and ice.
If you’re an experienced hiker looking for a challenging and rewarding hike with stunning views of the Potomac River, then the Billy Goat Trail is definitely worth considering.
Shenandoah National Park (Easy, Moderate & Hard)
Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of hiking trails that wind through the park’s stunning landscapes, ranging from easy strolls to challenging multi-day backpacking trips. These trails offer visitors the opportunity to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems, from cascading waterfalls and rocky mountaintops to lush forests and meadows.
In addition to hiking trails, Shenandoah National Park also offers a variety of other outdoor activities, such as camping, fishing, and horseback riding, among others. The park’s trails and outdoor activities make it a popular destination for visitors from around the world who want to experience the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Shenandoah National Park is located approximately 70 miles west of Washington, DC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The park is easily accessible by car via several major highways, including I-66, I-81, and US-29. Depending on traffic and route, the drive from DC to Shenandoah National Park can take between 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
If you do not have access to a car, there are several public transportation options available to get to Shenandoah National Park from DC, including shuttle services and private tours. Additionally, several hiking clubs and outdoor groups in the DC area organize trips to Shenandoah National Park throughout the year.
There are several easy hikes in Shenandoah National Park that make it one of the best places beginners and families with young children. Some of the best easy hikes in the park include:
This easy 1.3-mile loop trail is located near the Swift Run Gap Entrance and is suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities. The trail passes through a forest of hemlock and hardwoods, and is wheelchair-accessible.
This easy 1.6-mile out-and-back trail leads to the highest peak in the park and offers beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail is suitable for beginners but can be steep in places.
Dark Hollow Falls
This moderate 1.4-mile out-and-back trail leads to a picturesque waterfall and is ideal for families with children. The trail is well-maintained, with stairs and handrails along the way.
This easy short hike of 1.6 miles leads to the second-highest peak in the park and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The trail is suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities.
Potomac Heritage Trail (Easy, Moderate, Hard)
The Potomac Heritage Trail has 710 miles of trails. This extensive trail network follows the Potomac River from the Chesapeake Bay to the Allegheny Highlands in Pennsylvania. The trail passes through a variety of landscapes, including forests, wetlands, historic sites, and urban areas, and offers hikers, bikers, and equestrians a chance to explore the natural and cultural resources of the Potomac River region.
The Potomac Heritage Trail is a partnership effort between the National Park Service, state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations to preserve and promote the natural and cultural heritage of the Potomac River. The trail network includes a variety of trails, including footpaths, multi-use trails, and water trails, that offer a range of hiking experiences, from easy strolls to challenging backpacking trips.
Along the Potomac Heritage Trail, hikers can explore a variety of historic and cultural sites, including colonial towns, Civil War battlefields, and Native American sites, among others. The trail also passes through several national parks, including Great Falls Park and Shenandoah National Park, and offers stunning views of the Potomac River and its surrounding landscapes.
The Potomac Heritage Trail is a great way to explore the rich natural and cultural history of the DC area and the Potomac River region. Depending on which part of the trail you decide to explore, the difficulty level will vary.
Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
There are several hiking opportunities near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, at the border of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Some of the popular hiking trails in and around Harpers Ferry include:
Maryland Heights Trail
This strenuous 4.5-mile trail offers stunning views of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, as well as the historic town of Harpers Ferry. (Difficult Hike)
Loudoun Heights Trail
This moderate 6.6-mile trail offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, including the Potomac River and Maryland Heights. (Moderate Hike)
The Appalachian Trail passes through Harpers Ferry, offering hikers the opportunity to explore this iconic 2,190-mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. (Easy to Difficult)
Virginius Island Trail
This easy 1.2-mile trail loops around Virginius Island, offering views of the Potomac River and historic ruins of the island’s industrial past. (Easy Hike)
Best Hikes In Washington DC
Washington, DC is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes that offer visitors a chance to escape the city and explore the great outdoors. The Mount Vernon Trail and the C&O Canal Trail are two of the best hiking trails near Washington, DC. Both of these are well maintained, offer a variety of difficulty levels and have great views of the DC monuments and attractions along the hike.