DC is the United States’ bustling capital city and is home to some world-famous monuments, museums, and memorials. But something people often don’t realize is that the DC area is also home to some of the best outdoor activities in the East Coast, many which are accessible without a car! DC and its suburbs are home to some excellent hiking trails and parks to explore, boasting waterfalls, rocky crags, streams, and forests. There are so many hikes near DC, it was hard to narrow down our list for this article! Here are just a few of our picks for the best places to go hiking near Washington, DC.


Hiking Trails in DC’s City Limits


1. Rock Creek Park


As the largest park in DC, Rock Creek Park is home to a network of hiking trails through forested, hilly, rocky terrain. The park’s 1,754 acres surround Rock Creek, a beautiful stream that winds through a ravine in the middle of the city. Upon arriving in Rock Creek Park, you can choose from over 30 miles of trails and paths, some easy and some more challenging. For a perfect day of hiking in DC, Rock Creek park won’t disappoint.


There’s a variety of paved and unpaved trails in Rock Creek Park to cater to any experience level. There are also several historic landmarks to explore, like the old Capitol Stones, Boulder Bridge, Pierce Mill, and Miller Cabin. Northern sections of Rock Creek Park, like the Juniper Trailhead, offer a bit more respite from the more crowded sections in the center. If you’d like to pair hiking in DC with other outdoor activities, you can also try archery and horseback riding in Rock Creek Park.


Several trailheads connect the city streets to the heart of Rock Creek Park, so the entrance you use will depend on what section of the park you’d like to try. For a complete park map & list of trailheads for hikes in Rock Creek Park, you can view our guide here.


  • Location: 38.9577° N, 77.0454° W (Open in Google Maps)
  • Transportation: Metro – Cleveland Park or Van Ness (Buses available also); Parking available near Pierce Mill or the Rock Creek Park Visitor Center
  • Official Website: Rock Creek Park (NPS)


A quiet view of Rock Creek near the Juniper Trailhead. (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



2. National Arboretum


The National Arboretum is a vast garden, park, and learning center located in Northeast DC. Most famous for its historic Capitol Columns, many people come to visit simply to see those. However, if you look a bit deeper, the park is also home to a variety of hiking trails that will take you through the park’s various sections, all the way down to the shores of the Anacostia River.


The forested trails in this urban park are beautiful and well-maintained, perfect for hikers of all levels or people who simply want to get outside for a stroll. Here, you can learn about the various trees and plants that grow natively in the DC area in one of the park’s many gardens and trails. There’s also a visitor center with more information and events throughout the year, and a Bonsai Museum where you can view bonsai trees that are hundreds of years old.


Start at the Capitol Columns, then follow the park’s streets to different areas and trailheads of the grounds. Towards the Anacostia River, you’ll find the Asian Collections (one of our favorite areas), the Conifer Collections, and even a pathway to the river. Each of the trails boasts beautiful, sprawling trees and shady benches you can sit on to immerse yourself in nature, read a book, or even try forest bathing.


To avoid the crowds, we’d recommend visiting early in the morning or on weekdays. While the park is open year-round, spring and fall are especially stunning.



The Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum - Best Hikes in DC
The old Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum. (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



3. Glover Archbold Trail


One of DC’s most fun and scenic hiking trails is the Glover Archbold Trail, located in Glover Archbold Park. Situated in a valley that cuts through some of the city’s bustling neighborhoods, you might be surprised to find creeks, forests, and tiny waterfalls dotted all over the park. In the fall, you’ll enjoy beautiful fall colors in the trees – it’s our favorite time of year to tackle this DC hiking trail.


No matter the time of year, Glover Archbold Trail is one of our absolute favorite hikes in DC because it’s longer (almost 6 miles out and back) and has some elevation gain. It’s also accessible on public transportation and is close enough to Rock Creek Park to be combined with some of the trails there. Most of the trails are made of dirt and can get muddy after rain or snowfall, so we’d recommend waiting a day or two after heavy rain before hiking this trail.


Note: The southernmost section of Glover Archbold Trail is closed until further notice due to fall hazards from the Foundry Branch Trolley Trestle Ruins. The last section of the trail nearest Georgetown is currently closed off to foot traffic, but you can walk on the surrounding streets to get from the Glover Archbold Trail to the C&O Canal Trail.



A small waterfall in a stream near Glover Archbold Trail. (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



4. C&O Canal Trail


The Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Trail is an easy, popular hiking, running, and biking path that runs along the historic C&O Canal. The path, in total, is 180+ miles long and connects Georgetown with Cumberland, in western Maryland. However, the areas most accessible to DC locals are the Georgetown entrance near the Key Bridge, and the entrance near Great Falls at the C&O Canal National Historic Park. If you’re looking for a long, mostly flat walking path that runs through scenic waterways, historic sites, and forests, the C&O Canal is one of the best DC hiking trails to explore.


If you don’t have a car, we’d recommend beginning at the Georgetown/Key Bridge entrance. You can take the metro to Foggy Bottom and walk (~20-25 minutes) or you can take the Circulator Bus into Georgetown and get off near the Key Bridge. To get to the C&O Canal Trailhead, you’ll walk underneath the Key Bridge, pass the Key Bridge Boat House on your left, then find the gravel trail straight ahead.


For folks with a car, you can visit the Great Falls entrance and begin your hike or ride there. The C&O Canal Trail connects to the Great Falls Overlook Trail and the Billy Goat Trail, so if you’d like to extend your adventure, these are some excellent hikes to try as well. Designated as a National Historic Park, there’s an entrance fee to get into this section of the C&O Canal Trail, but once you’ve parked, you can stay as long as you want in the park. National Parks Pass holders can enter for free.


  • Location: Entrances in Georgetown (Open in Google Maps) and at C&O Canal National Historic Park (Open in Google Maps)
  • Transportation:
    • Georgetown Entrance: Metro – Foggy Bottom; Buses available; Street parking available
    • C&O Canal National Historic Park (Great Falls) Entrance: No public transportation available; Parking available on site
  • Official Website: C&O Canal (NPS)


An overlook on the C&O Canal Trail. (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



5. Theodore Roosevelt Island


Located in DC on a stretch of the Potomac River, Theodore Roosevelt Island is one of the most beloved hikes in DC. This small island is a natural escape from the city, with a historic monument of Theodore Roosevelt and a few trails that hikers of all levels can enjoy. This easy, mostly flat trail system is one of the best places to go hiking in Washington DC no matter your experience level. The island features boardwalks over marsh areas, clean wooded forest paths, and a chance to escape Washington DC while still staying within its city limits.


Hikers can access Theodore Roosevelt Island via public transportation or by car. From the main parking area, there’s a picturesque footbridge 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.



A dark grey monument of Theodore Roosevelt surrounded by trees on Theodore Roosevelt Island in DC; one of the most famous spots for hiking in DC.
The historic monument on Theodore Roosevelt Island (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)




Hiking Trails Near DC


6. Turkey Run Trail


Turkey Run Trail is quite possibly our favorite of all of the hikes near DC. Located off of the scenic George Washington Parkway, this hiking trail packs a punch in terms of difficulty, views, and proximity to the city. While it may look unassuming from the start, Turkey Run boasts varied terrain, some tricky roped sections, and a few rock scrambles. Additionally, you’ll find small waterfalls, large boulders, and sweeping views of the Potomac dotting the entire trail.


The entire Turkey Run Trail is a loop. In the beginning of the trail, you’ll hike through the woods behind neighborhoods and through steep ravines. Then, you’ll cross a stream and continue through the woods. On the far side of the loop, you’ll encounter a waterfall area with boulders and views of the Potomac River (pictured below). Once complete, you’ll walk along the river, turning right to take the stairs back up to the parking lot where you began.


One thing to note about Turkey Run is that the trail is VERY poorly marked. The yellow and blue trail markers are painted onto rocks and trees, but haven’t been updated in a long time and can be difficult to see. Because of this, it’s important to go with someone who knows the trail well or can navigate through uncertain conditions.



A small set of waterfalls with boulders on the Turkey Run Trail. - Best Hikes near DC
A boulder-filled ravine you can scramble on during the Truke



7. Great Falls Overlook & Billy Goat Trail


If you want to escape the city without having to go too far away, the Great Falls section of Chesapeake & Ohio National Historic Park is an excellent adventure that’s just 30 minutes away from DC’s city center. There are two sides to Great Falls – the Maryland side and the Virginia side – which are both equally beautiful and fun in their own ways. However, for hiking, the Maryland side (part of the C&O Canal National Historic Park) takes the cake.


Here, our favorite trails are the Great Falls Overlook Trail and the Billy Goat Trail. Technically, the Great Falls Overlook Trail and the Billy Goat Trail are two separate hikes near DC. But we’ve lumped them together in this article because it’s worth doing both at once if you have the time.


For stunning views of Great Falls, head to the Great Falls Overlook Trail. This short, mostly flat trail will take you over gravel paths and wooden boardwalks to some of the more beautiful rapids and waterfalls of the area. The views of Great Falls from the overlook point are stunning.


If you’d like to embark on a more challenging adventure, head to the Billy Goat Trail. Section A is the most popular section of the Billy Goat Trail, where you’ll find rock scrambling, rocky terrain, and a trail that offers a bit more adrenaline than the average DC area hike.



The view from Great Falls Overlook in the C&O Canal National Historic Park (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



8. Great Falls Park


Located on the other side of the Potomac River from the C&O Canal National Historic Park, Virginia’s Great Falls Park is home to a lot of great trails and hikes like its Maryland counterpart. Boasting some gorgeous views of the Great Falls cascade, many visitors head to the overlook point then leave. However, if you’re up for exploring, Great Falls Park is home to 15 miles of hiking trails that occupy much of the surrounding riverfront.


If you’re looking for stunning views of the water, head down the River Trail, which travels along the water and offers great views of Mather Gorge. This trail involves some scrambling, so we wouldn’t recommend it for hiking beginners. There are also a few historic trails, like the Potowmac Canal Trail and the Old Carriage Road, that are much flatter and travel past some historic landmarks within the park. Dogs are welcome on all trails as long as they are leashed.


  • Location: Great Falls, VA
  • Transportation: No public transportation available; Parking available on site
  • Official Website: Great Falls Park




9. Lake Artemisia


Lake Artemisia is a beautiful, man-made lake with a paved trail system that borders the metro. Located in College Park, MD, the lake was originally used as a private goldfish farm before it was converted into a recreation area. While it’s not exactly the most remote DC-area hiking spot, it is a lovely, quiet park to take a walk, run, or bike ride that’s easily accessible on DC’s public transportation system.


In the warmer months, you can see all kinds of birds, turtles, and fish in the lake. You’ll often come across people casting their fishing rods, as the lake is stocked with bass and trout. Additionally, it’s a popular spot for dog parents to walk their pups, and you’ll almost always find furry friends on the park’s trails. Because the entire area is flat and paved, it’s accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, too.



Lake Artemisia on a cold winter day. (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



10. Scotts Run Nature Preserve


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, it’s a short and easy jaunt through the forest to this riverside waterfall viewpoint. However, you’ll need a car to get here if you want to hike around the Scott’s Run area.


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. Accessible to children of all ages, this family-friendly trail is definitely one of the most fun and manageable hikes near Washington DC.


  • Location: McLean, VA
  • Transportation: No public transportation; Limited parking available on-site
  • Official Website: Scotts Run Nature Preserve



11. Brookside Gardens


If you’re looking for a garden-type hike through manicured forests, fields, and greenhouses, Brookside Gardens is an excellent choice. This garden, located in Wheaton, MD, boasts 54 acres of trails, park areas, gardens, and greenhouses to explore. For those wanting a family-friendly (but not dog-friendly) outdoor hiking spot, Brookside Gardens is definitely worth the short trip from DC.


Similar to the National Arboretum, Brookside Gardens is more of a garden and research facility than it is a true recreation and hiking area. However, with year-round programming and a network of hiking trails through various terrain and exhibits, it’s a treat for the senses just to be here. The park boasts water features, paved and unpaved trails, and several sections of trees and flowers that change with the seasons.



Brookside Gardens is absolutely beautiful in the fall. (Photo credit: Kay Rodriguez)



12. Greenbelt Park


Closed following a windstorm in 2022, Maryland’s Greenbelt Park is finally open to the public once again! This park, accessible by the Greenbelt metro, is home to a sizable campground and several hiking trails that weave through the grounds. It’s best known for being the closest campground to downtown DC, but it’s also great for a weekend picnic or a long hike through the woods.


At Greenbelt Park, you’ll find small, charming creeks, lots of forested trails, and tranquility that’s hard to come by in the DC area. Dogs are welcome in all areas of the park, so be sure to bring your furry friends along for the adventure.


  • Location: Greenbelt, MD
  • Transportation: Metro – Greenbelt (green line); Parking available on site
  • Official Website: Greenbelt Park



13. Buddy Attick Park


If you’re craving a waterfront walk, Buddy Attick Park is an excellent choice. Located in Greenbelt, MD, this park features a 23-acre lake, a few grassy picnic areas, a playground, and a flat walking trail around the lake’s perimeter. The trail is flat and spans 1.25 miles, perfect for hikers of any experience level, strollers/wheelchairs, and bikers.


Buddy Attick Park has a very “neighborhoody” feel and is a perfect spot to escape the city for some fresh air. You’ll often find bird watchers, dog walkers, and families strolling the lake path on sunny days, with people fishing off the lake’s banks in the heat of the summer.


  • Location: Greenbelt, MD
  • Transportation: No public transportation available; Parking available on site
  • Official Website: Buddy Attick Lake Park


Buddy Attick Park is a quiet, peaceful area for a walk or a picnic. (Photo Credit: Kay Rodriguez)



14. Sugarloaf Mountain


A beautiful hike located in Maryland, Sugarloaf Mountain is a fantastic place to go hiking near DC. Home to some of the best hikes near DC, Sugarloaf’s trails offer stunning views of Maryland’s countryside. Within the Sugarloaf Mountain hiking area, there are several different trails you can choose from, including the Blue, White, and Purple trails. Click here for a hiking map of the entire Sugarloaf area. Most of the trails are moderately difficult with uphill trails leading to spectacular views and rocky outcroppings.




15. Wolf Trap National Park


Wolf Trap is one of the most popular and unique performance venues in the DC area. With several amphitheaters hosting outdoor music, theater, opera, and more during the warmer months of the year, Wolf Trap is often bustling with life from the DMV area. However, it’s not just the shows that make Wolf Trap magical – it’s also home to a bunch of wooded trails and creeks worth exploring as well.


There are two main trails in Wolf Trap National Park – the Wolf Trap Track Trail (1.5 miles) and the Wolf Trap Trail (2.5 miles). The Wolf Trap Track Trail is a short, flat trail that’s geared toward beginners and families. Its longer companion, the Wolf Trap Trail, spans a variety of the park’s ecosystems, from woodlands to wetlands, and circles the entirety of the premises.


If you’re going in the summer, pair a hike with a show! Or if you prefer to avoid crowds, head to Wolf Trap during the colder months of the year for a quieter, more peaceful experience.




16. Cunningham Falls


Located about 90 minutes from DC, Cunningham Falls State Park is home to stunning waterfalls and trails. Unlike most of the hikes near DC, there are actually trails with some elevation gain in this park. Situated in the Catoctin Mountains, the park offers 9 miles of trails to explore. Most of the trails in the area pass by the park’s namesake waterfall, a 78-ft cascade in the woods. The trails here span from less than one mile to over 6 miles, depending on your appetite for elevation gain and distance.


  • Location: Thurmont, MD
  • Transportation: No public transportation; Parking available on site
  • Official Website: Cunningham Falls State Park


Cunningham Falls boasts gorgeous waterfalls. (Photo Credit: Kelly Verdeck)



17. Harpers Ferry


Note: As of May 10, 2023, many of the trails at Harpers Ferry are closed due to nesting Peregrine falcons. Maryland Heights remains open, but check the official website for the most up to date information.


At just over an hour from DC, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is one of our favorite day trips from the District. Featuring a small, historic town, stunning views, and fun hiking trails, this is one of the best places to get outdoors near DC.


One of our favorite hikes near Washington DC, the Maryland Heights Trail offers the best views of Harpers Ferry, a National Historic Park and important landmark of the Civil War. Here, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, as do the borders of three states – Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, don’t let this forested, rural area fool you – Harpers Ferry is just an hour away from Washington DC.


There are two trails available that stem from the Maryland Heights trailhead – the overlook and the full trail. If you’re strapped for time or want to spend the afternoon exploring the town of Harpers Ferry, we recommend opting for the shorter trail, which brings you to the most stunning view in the entire park. The viewpoint is full of boulders and captures a bird’s eye glimpse of the convergence of the rivers, as well as the town of Harpers Ferry and the historic iron bridges that lead into it.



Harpers Ferry is the perfect blend of nature, recreation, and history. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)



BONUS: Shenandoah National Park


Shenandoah National Park is the closest “official” national park to DC, and is home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails. With over 200,000 acres of protected lands in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park’s hikes boast waterfalls, forests, and views of the spectacular mountain silhouettes.


To make the most of your trip, stay a few days in the area to do a few of the park’s most iconic hikes, including Little Devils Stairs, Dark Hollow Falls, Whiteoak Canyon, Old Rag, and more. There are several campsites you can book inside of Shenandoah National Park, as well as nearby towns with hotels and inns.






Hiking Near DC – FAQs


How much experience do I need to go hiking near DC?

None at all! Many of the hikes on our list are great for first-timers. We’ve also got another post here with even more beginner-friendly trails.

Do I need a car to get to hiking trails in DC?

Not all of them, but for some, yes. We’ve specified all of the hikes accessible via public transportation with a bus icon.

I’ve done all of these. Are there any more hikes in DC you’d recommend?

If you’re looking for even more recommendations for hikes near DC, check out our entire database on the Outerly app.

What should I bring on hiking trails in the DC area?

Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!

Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.

Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.

Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.

A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.

Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.

Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.