15 Incredible Hikes In & Around Washington For All Skill Levels

As the capital of the United States, Washington DC is a city full of beauty, history, and national importance. People come from all over the world to visit, and there is most definitely plenty to see!

However, Washington DC isn’t just beautiful for the city itself, it also boasts of beautiful nature, plenty of parks, and some absolutely jaw-dropping hiking trails. So if that’s more your scene, DC has you covered.

15 Of The Most Beautiful Hikes In and Near Washington DC

Whether these hiking trails are in Washington DC, or nearby, all of them are pretty accessible, with many ways of accessing the start and finish points.

Also, there are hiking trails suitable for every hiking level, so there is something for everyone.

If you love exploring, and want to test out some hikes in Washington DC, keep on reading.

We’ve compiled a list with our favorite 15 hikes in and near Washington DC, which are some of the most beautiful.

And we’ve even split them up into categories so that you know which ones are easy, which ones are moderate, and which ones are more challenging in their level.

Does this sound like something you’re interested in? Then let’s get right into it!

Easy Hikes In And Near Washington DC

If you want a family-friendly hike that is accessible, easy, and ideal for an enjoyable walk through nature, take a look at these easy hikes that are found in and near Washington DC.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail

Chesapeake And Ohio Canal Trail

As a big hiking area, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail doesn’t really have a set length. You can pick and choose what trails to go down, and for how long, making it perfect to adapt to your own level!

As a whole, the area is beautiful and relaxing, with some amazing views of the Great Falls. Plus, you will be able to see the canal locks, and a historic house, if you find them!

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail is one of the most popular hiking zones near Washington DC, located just half an hour from the city.

It is best known for its beautiful colors during the fall season, and it is full of forest views. The downside is that you need a car to access the park, but it’s very close to the DC metro area.

Apart from nature and pleasant hiking, you will find a historic home, a historic canal boat, and wooden locks.

Plus, you can go to the edge of the Potomac River and reach a viewpoint of the Great Falls which is stunning!
Oh, and have we mentioned it is a National Historic Park?

This does mean that there is an entrance fee unless you have the National Parks Annual Pass, in which case it is free.

Mount Vernon Trail

Mount Vernon Trail

The Mount Vernon Trail has plenty of walking, with a full 18 miles of hiking. However, the distance can be very easily shortened to what suits you, which is why we have classed it as an easy trail.

Some of our favorite things about this specific trail are that it has paved paths for cycling, and beautiful DC skyline views.

Not to mention that it connects to other regional trails, so there is plenty to explore!

Now, it’s true that the Mount Vernon Trail isn’t exactly as wild or as full of nature, but it’s perfect as an accessible hiking area for families, runners, and bikers.

It extends from Mount Vernon to Theodore Roosevelt Island, so you could access it from within the middle of the city, and it has some stunning city skyline views, especially if you catch them during the sunrise or sunset!

National Arboretum US

National Arboretum

The full hiking trail length of the National Arboretum is 8.2 miles, however, if you only do the west side, then it becomes an easy 2.6 miles.

Some of the highlights for this trail are the capitol columns, the Asian collections that can be viewed along the way, and some beautiful cherry blossoms if you go there during the spring season.

Found within the city limits of Washington DC, the National Arboretum is a beautiful urban park full of trails that is well-maintained and accessible.

However, it is a less-frequented gem, meaning it is perfect for a relaxing escape from the city. It is perfect for all levels, as it is very easy, and throughout the hike, there is plenty to see and do.

From a visitor center to events throughout the year, and all sorts of learning opportunities about the trees native to the area.

There are also plenty of historical finds, such as the Capitol columns and the Asian collections. Just be aware that these areas will be the most crowded within the Arboretum as a whole.

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park

The Rock Creek Park doesn’t have a set length, as rather than a specific hiking trail, it is more of a network of pathways within the whole park, allowing you to pick and choose where you go!

The best thing about this hiking option is that it is full of quiet and magical forest trails.

Rock Creek Park is one of the biggest parks in Washington DC, so it is no wonder that there are so many trails to explore within it.

Some of them are more challenging, but there are plenty of easy and accessible areas that are perfect for beginners, and for a fun family day out.

Also, apart from being beautiful and calm, the park is full of historical attractions such as the Pierce mill, the Rolling Meadow Footbridge, and the Miller Cabin.

And you can even try out the rock scramble at Pulpit Rock, for some extra adventure!

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

The Scott’s Run Nature preserve hike is a short and sweet 2.2 miles, perfect for beginners.

The best things about this hiking trail are that it is spacious and clean, with beautiful forest views. And there’s a reward at the end, as it leads to a stunning waterfall!

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is by far one of the closest hikes to Washington DC city in which you will get a waterfall.

And as it’s short and sweet, it’s perfect as a quick getaway adventure. As a beautiful loop through the forest, you’ll get some gorgeous views, with streams and hills scattered around.

It’s ideal for children, families, and is also dog-friendly.

The only downside is that you do need a car in order to access the starting point!

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This hiking trail, if you are doing the full outer loop, is 1.6 miles in length.

Throughout this hike, you get beautiful views of the Potomac River, as well as quiet forests, boardwalks over waterways, and plenty of wildlife. Plus, it’s dog-friendly!

Theodore Roosevelt Island is located within Washington DC itself, in the Potomac River, and it is a small escape from the city without having to leave the city!

The trail, which is a 1.6-mile loop, is suitable for all levels and is completely accessible to beginners. It is very easy, and very beautiful.

And as it is in the middle of the city, you can access the start points with public transport, making it incredibly convenient.

Moderate Hikes In And Near Washington DC

Let’s level it up a little, and look at some moderate hikes in and near Washington DC.

These are perfect for those that enjoy hiking every now and then, and that are looking for something that feels a little more like a proper hike, rather than a simple walk.

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls is a short hiking trail of just 1.4 miles. But before you complain about it being too easy, we will say that it is of moderate difficulty due to its steepness. So prepare to work those legs!

Oh, and it’s absolutely worth making it to the top, as the reward is a stunning waterfall at the end of the trail!

This is by far one of the most popular hikes within the Shenandoah National Parks, as it is short and sweet, but challenging.

And the steep hill leads to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the entire park, making it well worth the effort for many people who desire to see it in person.

Maryland Heights Trail

Maryland Heights Trail

There are two variations to the Maryland Heights Trail. The first is around 4.5 miles long, and the second is a little longer at around 6.5 miles in length.

Our favorite thing about this particular hiking trail is that you will see the merging of the Potomac River with the Shenandoah River. Oh, and you will also find an impressive old Civil War fortress too!

The Maryland Heights Trail is a rural area of beauty and wilderness, found just one hour away from Washington DC city.

And as an important landmark of the Civil War, it is within this trail that you will find a fortress, perfect for brushing up on history.

Oh, and from this trail, you can also access the borders of three different states: Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia!

As we mentioned, you can pick the shorter or the longer variation of the trail, depending on what you feel up to.

But just as a pro tip, the shorter trail is the one that will lead you to the best views, with a bird’s eye of the two rivers and the town of Harpers Ferry.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain

The Sugarloaf Mountain hiking trail has a distance of 5.9 miles, and that includes making it to the peak and back.

The best part about this hike is making it to the top and seeing all of the stunning views of the valleys below. Not to mention that, during the spring and summer seasons, the trail fills with wildflowers and wildlife!

Located in Maryland, near Washington DC, the Sugarloaf Mountain is an area full of trails that lead to the peak, with some of the most popular trails being the Blue, the White, and the Purple.

They are all moderate in difficulty, as they are uphill and require effort. But making it to the top is an absolute reward for the stunning views that you will be met with.

Whiteoak Canyon

Whiteoak Canyon

The Whiteoak Canyon hiking trail covers a distance of 7.3 miles.

The main highlight, and what this trail is best known for, are all of the beautiful waterfalls that you find along the way. With no less than eight of them! So a magical experience is essentially guaranteed.

The Whiteoak Canyon hiking trail is seriously one of the most epic and rewarding, for the waterfalls alone. It has a moderate level of difficulty and is stunning in its views.

Perfect as a day trip, or a weekend getaway. It is also located in the Shenandoah National Park, so there is plenty more to see and do.

All of the waterfalls that you will come across are different and unique, and they offer a perfect opportunity for nature photography.

Not to mention that this area is gorgeous during the fall season, thanks to all the bright and warm colors it fills with!

Wolf Rock And Chimney Rock

Wolf Rock And Chimney Rock

The Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock hiking trail is another one that comes across as easy, due to the short distance of just 3.5 miles. However, it is steep, and that is where the challenge lies!

The main highlight is all the rocky views that are picturesque and impressive, great if you like photographing nature and landscapes!

Located in the Catoctin Mountain Park, near Washington DC, the Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock trail is family-friendly but in a more challenging way.

In fact, it is the hardest trail in the park! It is narrow and steep, and in cold or rainy weather it can also get quite slippery and icy, so be careful of that!

That being said, it is a beautiful trail full of spectacular views, so it is well worth the effort.

Challenging Hikes In And Near Washington DC

If you go hiking regularly, and enjoy a good challenge that requires more effort and a bigger sense of adventure, then it’s time to look at the more challenging and difficult hikes in and near Washington DC city.

Let’s get into them!

Billy Goat Trail

Billy Goat Trail

The Billy Goat Trail is a hike of around 1.5 miles to 4.5 miles, depending on how long you want to keep going.

The main things we love about this hiking trail are the views of the Great Falls, and of the Potomac River.

Not to mention that there is also a pretty epic rock scramble to get up a cliff, perfect for those with a sense of adventure.

The Billy Goat Trail is one of the most fun of all hikes near Washington DC, especially thanks to the rock scrambling you have to do.

The trail itself starts at the parking lot of the C&O National Historical Park, and you can then choose from the many different trails, which all vary in distance.

Many people want to explore this trail, but beware that you’re going to need both your hands and feet to get up the side of the cliff, so it is no easy feat!

That being said, if you feel up to it then we absolutely recommend you give it a go, as it is full of stunning views and a unique hiking experience.

Little Devils Stairs

Little Devils Stairs

If you want to brag about a cool hike near Washington DC, you have to try Little Devils Stairs, with a distance of 5.3 miles.

It is one of the hardest hiking trails in all of Shenandoah National Park, and it has some of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains that are simply breathtaking.

The name might freak you out a little, but Little Devils Stairs is actually a very fun and beautiful hike, full of waterfalls, streams, and some exciting rock scramble passes.

It is physically challenging and hard, but very rewarding and thrilling. It is suitable for experienced hikers that know what they are doing, and you’ll need plenty of water and snacks.

Plus, you should choose the right season, and avoid bad weather. But it is seriously worth it, and we cannot recommend it enough.

Not to mention that completing this hiking trail gives you massive bragging rights!

Loudoun Heights

Loudoun Heights

The Loudon Heights hiking trail has a distance of around 7 miles.

Our favorite things about this particular hike are the stunning views of Harpers Ferry, and the uphill climbs, which is what adds to the challenging difficulty.

Located near the Maryland Heights Trail, the Loudoun Heights trail is perfect as an additional challenge during a weekend trip to the Harpers Ferry area.

It will offer you incredible views of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac River, and all the historic landmarks of the area.

The hike can be quite physically demanding, which is why we classed it as a challenging level, but it is highly rewarding in its entire experience, not only for the nature and views but for the history that surrounds it all.

Old Rag

Old Rag

The Old Rag is a very popular hiking trail, with a distance of around 10 miles, give or take.

The main highlight is the stunning summit views that you will get of Shenandoah Park as a whole, and the ability to brag about actually making it to the top!

It is by far one of the most popular hikes in this National Park, and one of the most challenging too, due to the steepness and distance.

You absolutely have to make sure you have enough water and snacks, and that your legs are prepared for the hike!

During the summer it gets pretty crowded, so you might want to avoid this season. But don’t go when it’s too cold, or else it starts to become a little trickier to complete.

Another thing that is important to know about this hike, is that it lies to you. You will feel as though you have reached the summit quite a few times, but these are all fake.

You will know when you reach the real summit because there will be a sign of “Old Rag Mountain”.

Getting To And From Hikes In Washington DC

The good thing about hiking trails that are in or near Washington DC city, is that they are a lot more accessible than hikes found in the middle of nowhere, somewhere out in the wilderness.

Not to mention that it means it is easier to make a quick getaway for a day or two, to go hiking, while you’re in Washington DC visiting the city.

But the best thing is that being close to the city makes these hiking trails a lot more accessible, as on average, it is easier to get to the starting and finishing points.

If the hike is within the city, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Island hike, you can either walk to it from within the city or use public transportation.

If it is just outside the city, most of them are also accessible through public transport, or by driving to them, with plenty of spacious car parks and amenities.

If you’re visiting and the hiking area requires access by car, you can either rent a car or take a taxi or similar.

If you’re going to be in the area for a few days, and want to explore, renting a car will probably be more convenient. But if not, just take a taxi to get there, there will be plenty available as you will be so close to the city!

Tips And Tricks For Hiking In Washington DC

If you want to go hiking in or near Washington DC, here are some tips and tricks that might help make the experience all the better for you.

Pick The Right Hike For You

Don’t go to the hike that is popular, go to the hike that appeals to you, personally, the most. Find something that suits your level, and your preferences.

Plan Ahead For The Right Season And Weather

During the summer season, hikes can get very crowded. But during the winter season, the weather is rarely good for hiking conditions, making it harder. We recommend spring or fall, but it’s up to you!

Take Accessibility Into Account

Think ahead about how you are going to get there, and how you are going to get time, looking up timetables for public transport, car parks, and similar.

Have The Right Equipment

Whenever you go hiking, it is important that you have the right things on you, especially if the hike is more challenging.

The exact equipment will of course depend on where you are hiking, the weather, the time of year, and your specific needs and preferences.

However, here is a standard list of some hiking essentials:

  • Comfortable and practical hiking clothes
  • Hiking boots or appropriate shoes (this is so important to keep your feet protected!)
  • Trekking poles (can come in very handy!)
  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen (regardless of the season, especially if you are hiking up a mountain)
  • Energetic snacks
  • A first aid kit (you could also just keep this in the car if you prefer)
  • A comfortable and sturdy backpack to carry everything

Final Thoughts

Washington DC is a beautiful and impressive city, with plenty to do or see.

But if you want to take a break and escape into nature and wilderness, it also has plenty of hiking trails to offer, for those that are adventurers at heart.

From easy trails that are within the city itself to moderate or hard hiking trails that are just outside the city or nearby, there is plenty to choose and pick from!

Emily Winters