Explore the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley on these adventurous trails.
It’s time to get outside again. With winter safely in the past, take advantage of the sunny and mild days to come by lacing up your hiking boots and hitting the trails. There’s plenty of great exploring to be had in the DC area, thanks to its proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley and easy access to the Appalachian Trail. So if you’re looking for a little something beyond the (also worthy) trails of Rock Creek Park, here are five great hikes in the greener pastures of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia.
Billy Goat Trail
Distance from DC: About 14 miles
There is possibly no more iconic and popular hiking trail in the DC area than the Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side of Great Falls in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. And the Billy Goat Trail is for everyone, offering three sections for a choose-your-own adventure kind of hike. Section A is the most difficult, a 1.7-mile hike that involves a lot of rock scrambling, while Section B is more moderate, and Section C is an easy wooded walk. The National Park Service notes that the “B” portion of the Billy Goat Trail is especially good if you’re interested in birding.
Distance from DC: About 60 miles
The Catoctin Trail stretches across 26.6 miles east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but you’ll particularly want to spend time on the northern portion of the trail that runs through Cunningham Falls State Park and the Catoctin Mountain Park. The National Park Service notes that the Catoctin Trail runs through the wilder side of the park, meaning there should be plenty of wildlife and wetlands to see on your journey. Other notable features? The Catoctin Trail passes near Camp David, the presidential country retreat, and a slight detour will earn you a glimpse of the 78-foot Cunningham Falls.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park/The Appalachian Trail
Distance from DC: About 66 miles
If you’re looking to get out of DC and explore the Appalachian Trail, your best first stop should be in Harpers Ferry. This West Virginia town—with its 4,000-acre national park—serves as the mid-point for the iconic East Coast trail. Follow the Appalachian Trail itself past Jefferson Rock and John Brown’s Fort—and possibly out to Weverton Cliffs if you’re up for a nine-mile trek. Or, strike out on other of the many other hiking trails available at the park, such as the difficult Maryland Heights Trail (with a detour on the Civil War Stone Fort Trail) or the Bolivar Heights Trail with its astounding views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley.
Old Rag Mountain
Distance from DC: About 86 miles
Old Rag Mountain is one of the more challenging hikes that Washingtonians love to conquer. It’s a slightly longer journey out to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, but worth it for the nine-mile circuit up Old Rag Mountain. One of the best features of this hike is that it has you scrambling over rocks and boulders for a full mile and a half on your way to the summit, where you’ll have a 360-degree view out over the wild and beautiful Shenandoah. Of course, that same rock scramble is what makes Old Rag one of the more dangerous hikes in the park, so be sure to prepare for your trip in advance.
Sky Meadows State Park
Distance from DC: About 62 miles
There are 24 miles of hiking trails at the Sky Meadows State Park, including access to the Appalachian Trail. To get to that famous trail, head out on the Blue Ridge trails—the North Ridge being the most challenging—passing sites like the Piedmont overlooks and checking out the wildlife from woodpeckers to warblers along the way. You can also follow the Lost Mountain trails across the Rolling Meadows and up the mountain ridge, passing wild animals and equestrian explorers. Even better, a trip to Sky Meadows State Park brings you into proximity with Virginia wine country and the state’s traditional fox hunting grounds.