9 Easy Hikes In and Near Washington, DC that are Perfect for Beginners
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated November 17, 2022
Washington DC is one of those cities that has a surprising number of unique things to do outdoors, including hiking! If you’re a beginner, it’s natural to worry about whether a hike is easy enough to accomplish. Good news – there are a lot of beginner-friendly trails perfect for people wanting to tackle some of the easy hikes near DC. Does this sound like you? If so, read on for our complete list of beginner-friendly, easy hikes in Washington, DC.
Beginner-Friendly, Easy Hikes Near DC
1. Theodore Roosevelt Island
Location: Washington, DC
Distance: 1.6 miles (Outer Loop)
Highlights: Stunning views of the Potomac River, quiet forest trails, boardwalks over waterways with lots of wildlife, and dog-friendly!
Located within Washington DC, in the Potomac River, lies Theodore Roosevelt Island. This small island is a natural escape from the city, with a 1.6-mile loop trail that hikers of all levels can enjoy. This easy trail is one of the best places to go hiking in Washington DC, featuring boardwalks over marsh areas, clean wooded forest paths, and a chance to escape Washington DC while still staying within its city limits.
As it’s in the middle of the city, you can access Theodore Roosevelt Island via public transportation. From the main parking area, there’s a picturesque foot bridge across the river that leads to the island. Once you’ve arrived on the island, hop on the trail and enjoy this lovely, scenic DC hike.
2. Rock Creek Park
Location: Washington, DC
Highlights: Quiet, forested trails, Pulpit Rock scramble, Pierce Mill, Valley Trail
One of Washington DC’s largest parks, Rock Creek Park isn’t so much a trail as it is a network of pathways through natural and historic landmarks. Upon arriving in the park, you can choose from a variety of trails and paths, some easy and some more challenging, for a perfect day of exploring what, in our opinion, is one of the nicest green spaces in the entire city.
While you’re in Rock Creek Park, head to Valley Trail for picturesque views and wooded pathways. Inside the park, don’t forget to check out some of the historic attractions, like the Pierce Mill gristmill, the Rolling Meadow Footbridge, and Miller Cabin. If you’re up for some adrenaline-inducing activities, try a rock scramble at Pulpit Rock.
Highlights: Clean, wide forest trail, ends in a waterfall!
If you’re craving the tranquility of a waterfall hike but don’t want a long journey to get there, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is the perfect trail for you. One of the closest waterfall hikes to DC proper, it’s a short and easy jaunt through the forest to this riverside waterfall viewpoint.
Scott’s Run Trail is a ~2.2 mile loop through the woods, with a stream crossing and some gradual hills here and there. The trail is dog-friendly and is the perfect length for a morning stroll. Completely manageable for young kids, this family-friendly trail is definitely one of the most fun and manageable hikes near Washington DC.
4. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail
Location: Great Falls, MD
Highlights: Quiet trail along the canal, historic house and canal locks, spectacular views of Great Falls
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trailis a popular recreation zone that runs along the historic C&O canal. It’s located just half an hour from downtown DC, and is the perfect place for a forest hike, especially in the fall when the trees turn all kinds of beautiful colors. You’ll need to drive to the park, but it’s an easy trip from anywhere in the DC metro area.
While there, don’t miss the historic visitor center located close to the entrance, as well as the historic canal boat and the wooden locks that still line the canal. Also, be sure to take the turn onto the Great Falls lookout boardwalk, which brings you to the edge of the Potomac River to a stunning viewpoint of the massive falls.
Designated as a National Historic Park, there’s an entrance fee to get into the C&O Canal area, but once you’ve parked, you can stay as long as you want in the park.
5. National Arboretum
Location: Washington, DC
Distance: 8.2 miles total (west side only is 2.6 miles)
Highlights: Capitol Columns, Asian Collections, cherry blossoms in the spring
The National Arboretum is another hidden gem of a park with lots of easy hikes in DC. Here, the trails are beautiful and well-maintained, perfect for hikers of all levels or people who simply want to get outside for a stroll.
While the Arboretum is best known for the historic Capitol columns, there are several trails here through gardens and forests that are worth exploring as well. The Asian Collections are a Skyline Adventurer favorite, but there are several different areas that you can wander through if you have the time.
6. Mount Vernon Trail
Location: Arlington, VA
Distance: 18 miles total, but can be shortened
Highlights: DC skyline views, paved paths for biking, connects with many other regional trails in the area
The Mount Vernon Trail deserves a spot on any list of places to go hiking near DC, but is especially great for beginner hikers. This walking, hiking, and biking path extends for 18 miles from Mount Vernon (yeah, George Washington’s birthplace) all the way to Theodore Roosevelt Island.
As you hike here, you’ll see planes zooming overhead as they land and take off from Ronald Reagan National Airport, with stunning views of the Potomac River and the DC skyline. Accessible without a car, the Mount Vernon Trail is perfect paired with a day trip from DC to Mount Vernon, or simply as a short hop away from the city.
7. Great Falls Park
Location: Great Falls, VA
Distance: 15 miles of trails total, Patawmack Canal Trail is 2.5 miles
Highlights: Views of Great Falls and Mather Gorge
Great Falls Park is one of the DC area’s best (or worst?) kept secrets. It’s far enough away from the city center to deter the die-hard urbanites, but close enough to get to in less than an hour (with DC traffic). The best part? Great Falls Park is home to some of the best easy hikes in DC, and boasts some of the most beautiful views.
There are 6 trails on the Great Falls Park premises, with even more on the C&O Canal side (in Maryland). Try the Patawmack Canal Trail for an easy, gravel pathway that runs parallel to the river, providing tons of nice views of Great Falls and Mather Gorge, as well as offshoots onto some of the park’s moderate and difficult trails.
8. Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
Location: Eastern Washington, DC
Distance: 20 miles total (can be shortened based on how long you want to hike)
Highlights: River views, picturesque bridges and trails
Located along DC’s lesser-known river, the Anacostia, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is one of DC’s coolest multipurpose trails. It’s paved and perfect for beginners, making it one of the best easy hikes in Washington DC for those wanting to explore the eastern side of the city.
Currently, the trail extends ~20 miles along the river, with a few bridges and offshoots that you can take. From the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, you can connect to the Rock Creek Pakr Trail as well as the Oxon Hill Farm Trail. However, the trail is still being expanded and eventually will extend all the way to the Arboretum.
9. Glover-Archbold Park Trail
Location: Glover Park, Washington, DC
Distance: 3.1 miles
Highlights: Beautiful, forested pathways and vibrant fall foliage
If you’re looking for a short, urban hike that doesn’t feel urban at all, the Glover-Archbold Park Trail might just be the perfect spot for you. It’s one of our favorite easy hikes in DC because it is accessible by public transportation and is beginner friendly, but it’s fully forested and feels like a rural hideaway.
The trail itself is completely surrounded by greenery and is especially beautiful in the fall, when the leaves start to turn bright red, orange, and yellow. You can head here on the DC Metro via the Tenleytown stop (on the red line).
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