I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for over 10 years. I’ve had a chance to explore most of the iconic hikes near Washington D.C. When I say near D.C., I mean around 2 hours or less. D.C. is a metropolitan area, and so aside from one hike on this list, I recommend taking a drive to get to some really beautiful hikes.
These are my personal rankings for the best hikes near Washington D.C.:
8. Sugarloaf Mountain, MD – 1 hour away
Starting off the list is Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. Sugarloaf has some great views, but the crowds are what put this hiking area at the bottom of the list. It only requires about a .25 mile steep climb for anyone to reach the top of the mountain from the closest parking lot. Luckily, there’s several trails to get away from crowds and make a custom loop, depending on how much length is desired. I recommend making a loop out of the blue, green, and red trails to see both the top of sugarloaf, as well as an alternate lookout point at White Rocks that is much less crowded will equally great views.
7 . Catoctin Mountain, MD – 1.25 hours away
Catoctin is up near the Pennsylvania border and a very similar hiking experience to Sugarloaf. However, it’s less crowded and has more views, including several lookouts and a small cascading waterfall. Catoctin is on NPS land so there is a fee unless you have the annual pass (which is only $80!) I’d recommend hiking the full 8.5 mile loop CCW to see all the major sites in the park.
6. The Shenandoah Shorties (Stony Man, Dark Hollow Falls, Hawksbill Mountain), VA – 2 hours away
So the Shenandoah Shorties aren’t an actual term, I just made it up haha. But these three hikes are some of the best short and sweet hikes in Shenandoah NP! They’re all about 1.5 miles in length and easy to moderate in difficulty. Hawksbill Mountain and the Stony Man circuit both provide beautiful views of the Shenandoah Valley. And Dark Hollow Falls is a very popular hike to a pretty cascading waterfall. The only reason these hikes are lower on my list is because they are all so short. However, since they’re all near each other, I’d recommend trying to knock them all out in one session! Keep in mind, parking is limited on Skyline Drive. These hikes all have an entrance fee unless you are an NPS annual pass holder.
5. Harpers Ferry, VA MD WV – 1.25 hours away
Harpers Ferry is where Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia all meet and you can see the confluence (where 2 rivers combine) of the Shenandoah River and Potomac River. There’s two great hikes here and I can’t really decide which is better since they are both moderate in difficulty and view the same area from two different perspectives. Loudon Heights Trail is a 6 mile there and back on the VA side, and Maryland Heights is a 5 mile loop on the Maryland side. Can’t go wrong with either!
4. Raven Rocks, VA WV – 1 hour away
The Raven Rocks trailhead is in VA, with the view point in WV. It’s a 5.3 mile strenuous out and back with a roller coaster of ups and downs and a net elevation gain of 1600 feet. There are some pretty nice views at the end, and you could run into some Thru Hikers on the AT or some rock climbers at the view point.
3. White Oak Canyon – Shenandoah NP, VA – 2 hours away
White Oak Canyon is a 9.5 mile there and back with 6 waterfalls along the way. From the lower parking lot up to Skyline drive is about 2800 feet of elevation gain, but unless you have 2 cars, it’s not worth doing the entire hike after you’ve seen all the waterfalls. The trail can be customized depending how many waterfalls you want to see as well as how strenuous of a hike is desired. I’d say the lower falls are the best of the bunch, and only 2 miles in from the lower parking area. The lower falls also have an excellent swimming hole area for the summer months. This hike has an entrance fee unless you are an NPS annual pass holder.
2. Billy Goat Trails – Great Falls, MD – 20 minutes away
The Billy Goat trails in Great Falls are the closest hiking spot to D.C. and also one of the best in the area! There are three billy goat trails that hike along the Maryland side of the (occasionally raging) Potomac River. Section A is the hardest (and most fun), followed closely by section B, and then section C is fairly moderate. For more information on where to park and how to get to the Billy Goat Trails check out the NPS website, these trails can frequently be closed due to rainfall. This hike has an entrance fee unless you are an NPS annual pass holder. Just a reminder, these trails are on the Maryland side, you can’t get to the Billy Goat Trails from the VA side!
1. Old Rag – Shenandoah NP, VA – 2 hours away
Old rag is hands down the best hike in Shenandoah National Park. In fact, this hike is in my top 10 hikes of all time. Not only are there great views at the top, there is also moderate boulder scrambling for the last mile, which makes this hike really fun and unique. You don’t need any special gear for the scrambling, just shoes with a good grip. (I wouldn’t recommend this hike for anyone that has poor balance or doesn’t want to occasionally use their hands to climb up rocks.) To make this trail a loop I recommend going up the Ridge Trail (which has the boulder scrambling and is much easier to do climbing up then down) and then hike back down to the parking lot via the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. This turns Old Rag into a nice 9.5 mile circuit hike. More information on Old Rag can be found on the NPS website. This hike has an entrance fee unless you are an NPS annual pass holder.