Enjoy the fantastic Fall colors and get exercise with these 8 Washington DC area hikes. All of the parks are within 30 miles of the District, so you won't have to spend most of your day traveling. All are perfect for a day trip!
You don't even have to leave the city to enjoy fantastic Fall colors. Ambitious folks can see the vast majority of what the park has to offer by picking up the Western Ridge Trail near Peirce Mill and walking north to the DC/Maryland Border. From there, cross Beach Drive and the Boundary Bridge, and pick up the Valley Trail to take you back where you started. All in all, this hike stands in at about 10 miles. The hike does feature some rough terrain, mostly on the Valley Trail side. If you want something shorter, cut east before Maryland and cross the creek at the Rapids, Boulder, or Rolling Meadows Bridges.
Here is a printable map of Rock Creek Park that will get you on your way.
From the National Arboretum website: "If you are looking for your fall foliage fix, you don't have to go very far. In fact, stunning fall foliage is closer than you think at the U.S. National Arboretum! The season begins in late September as dogwoods begin their subtle transformation to red and purple, and often lasts through early December with Chinese fringetree and willows casting a golden light on the landscape. Check out the arboretum's Asian Collections, Fern Valley Native Plant Collection and Gotelli collection, in particular, for some fantastic fall foliage. Fall color is generally at its peak in mid- to late October in the Washington, D.C., area."
Old Rag Shenandoah National Park
Old Rag is one of the iconic Mid-Atlantic hikes. The hike is about 9 miles long and requires serious rock scrambling. It also gets really crowded, so either plan to get there early or play hooky and hike it on a weekday. However, it is a lot of fun and offers fantastic views! Just make sure you are prepared. Note that the Park recommends that you allow 7-8 hours to complete the hike.
Shenandoah is located about 90 miles west of Washington DC. This post includes more helpful Old Rag hiking tips.
Potomac Heritage Trail at Riverbend Park
Located just north of Great Falls Park, Riverbend Park features about 10 miles of hiking trails, as well as opportunities for cycling and kayaking. The Yelp reviews of the park are universally positive and hail the park's friendly atmosphere. Walk the Potomac Heritage Trail (~2.5 miles long) from nice views of the river and for access to Great Falls Park, where you can get a good view of the Falls without having to wait in one of Great Falls Park's long weekend lines.
Catoctin Mountain is located approximately 60 miles northwest of Washington DC. The park is probably best known as the home of Camp David, and offers a variety of activities for outdoor lovers including fishing, rock climbing, and hiking.
Chimney Rock, Thurmont Vista, the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook, Hog Rock, and Cunningham Falls all provide great photo opportunities. The Catoctin Mountain website has a great list of hikes with maps. If you have time, we recommend the 8 Mile Loop as it takes you to each of the above mentioned sites. The park is popular, so get there early on the weekends to secure parking and avoid large crowds.
View from Sugarloaf Mountain. Photo from Spring 2013.
Enjoy a challenging 6-mile hike at Sugarloaf Mountain (FDR wanted the mountain for a presidential retreat) and then head over to the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard for a nice glass of wine and live music. The Washington Post Express named Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard the #1 Washington D.C. area Vineyard in 2013.
Billy Goat Trail A
Great Falls, as viewed from the Overlook at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. Make sure to visit the Overlook before hitting the Billy Goat Trail A. Photo from 2012.
The Billy Goat Trail A at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park is one of the most beloved and challenging trails in the metropolitan DC area. The hike takes you over angled rocks and rough terrain while providing great views of the Potomac River. Start the hike by visiting the Great Falls Overlook and snapping some pictures of the Falls. Though fun and beautiful, the hike is considered physically strenuous and is not for everyone.
The trail and return to the parking lot is about four miles including the walk back to the parking lot along the toll path. You can tack on additional mileage with other trails at the Park. Read more on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park website, check out a trail map, and read Billy Goat Trail A specific tips.
Located just south of Georgetown and west of GW, Theodore Roosevelt National Island offers an excellent opportunity for a weekend stroll in the woods. The Swamp Trail is a gentle, ~1.3 mile trail that extends along the perimeter of the island and offers views of the Potomac. Make sure you stop in the Memorial Plaza to see the large statue of Teddy and read some favorite quotes embedded in the stone memorial. You can extend your hike by picking up the 18 mile Mt. Vernon Trail that extends from the island to Mt. Vernon.
The island is accesible via public transportation and is about a 15 minute walk from the Rossyln Metro. For more information visit the Theodore Roosevelt Island Memorial website and print out a trail map.