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  • Writer's pictureKris Maria Wanders

10 Best Weekend Road Trips From Washington D.C. for Outdoor Adventures (VA, MD, WV, PA)

Tired of that city grind and needing a place to escape for the weekend? Whether you’re looking for a backwoods adventure or to simply sit back and relax among nature, there are plenty of incredible places within driving distance of Washington, DC. As a resident of Northern Virginia, I like to escape civilization as often as possible, so you can sort of call me an expert in weekend road trip adventures! I'm passing on years of road trip experiences from the DMV in this one post to help you plan your own incredible nature getaway! This post contains 10 of my favorite outdoorsy getaways from the DC area and what you should do while there. These destinations span Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and are all within a 3 hour drive. Not too bad, right!?

1. Harpers Ferry, WV

Driving Distance from DC: 1 hour

Harpers Ferry is the easternmost town in West Virginia, sitting where two rivers and three states meet (West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia). This historic town was also the northern-most point of Confederate territory during the Civil War. Its location made it an important strategic point for the South. Stonewall Jackson actually disabled the railroad for almost a year when he basically destroyed it to prevent the Union from entering. Speaking of railroad, the first rail bridge over the Potomac was built here in 1836, after the ironic end of the ferry in 1824. Visitors to Harpers Ferry can explore several historic sites, hike the Maryland Heights Trail for an amazing overlook of the town, explore the quaint downtown, and get cozy at with a brew at Harpers Ferry Brewing- located right by Harpers Ferry Adventure Center. I would consider this getaway a good family-friendly option and convenient for just a day trip.

Tip: Another great hike nearby is Weverton Cliffs, MD. It overlooks the Potomac River and is a beautiful sunset spot (Middle photo above).

2. Front Royal, VA

Driving distance from DC: 1 hour

As a gateway town to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Front Royal is one of the best (and closest) getaways for residents of the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia). Front Royal is home to the Northern-most entrance to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, and is conveniently situated among other great parks like George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah River State Park (just to name a few). I’d recommend this destination for pretty much any season, as there are a myriad of outdoor activities to be found all year round. Hiking is definitely a constant, and there are plenty of shorter/easier hikes for all ages and ability levels (E.g., North Marshall Mountain and Compton Peak Trails in Shenandoah National Park). Speaking of all ages, a visit to Skyline Caverns is a must for anyone. One of nine commercial caverns in Virginia, Skyline is one of the only places in the world where you can see anthodite formations. In the spring, summer and fall months, a float on the Shenandoah River is a must! You can rent kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, or just grab an inflatable tube from Front Royal Outfitters. Don’t forget to stop at Spelunkers in town for a cavern burger and a shake or PaveMint for the best BBQ you've ever had!

3. Harrisonburg, VA

Driving Distance from DC: 2 hours

This historic Virginia city in the Shenandoah Valley is definitely a college town, but its location just outside of Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest makes it a great outdoor adventure destination! My idea of a perfect road trip here is to hike Virginia’s most popular (and challenging) mountain- Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park (known for its 1.5-mile rock scramble)- marvel at the Natural Chimneys in Mount Solon (incredible limestone rock formations), and then grab a craft beer at Brothers Craft, Pale Fire, or the Friendly Fermenter. Natural Chimneys Park and Campground is a great place to stay with water and electric hookups and has a lot of recreation areas for the family. An alternative to hiking in Shenandoah National Park is the quieter George Washington National Forest, where I highly recommend the Fridley Gap trail. If you do like moderate or difficult trails, the 6.2 mile route on is a challenging, yet beautiful hike. It also has a swimming hole roughly .5 miles from the trailhead.

4. Luray, VA

Driving Distance from DC: 2 hours

Another gateway town to Shenandoah National Park and less than 2 hours drive from DC, Luray, VA is a great adventure destination for DMV residents (+ visitors)! No trip to Luray is complete without visiting Visit Luray Caverns- the largest caverns in the East and home of the great stalagpipe organ. If you're with kiddos, check out Toy Town Junction and the Garden Maze. Luray is situated between the mountains of George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah national Park, which provides plenty of opportunities for hiking. A few favorites in GWNF include Copernicus Ridge, Strickler Knob, Duncan Knob, Kennedy Peak, and Massanutten Storybook Trail. Nearby hikes in Shenandoah include Hazel Falls & Caves, Mary’s Rock, Stony Man Summit and South River Falls. As far as food and drinks go, grab fresh coffee at Broad Porch Coffee Co., craft beer at Hawksbill Brewing, and hand made sandwiches at West Main Market. For a nice dinner and drinks, check out the Speakeasy Restaurant and Bar located in the historic Mimslyn Inn.

5. Happy Valley, PA

Driving Distance for DC: 3 hours

Of all the getaways on this list, Happy Valley is probably the most underrated. The outdoor recreation opportunities here are incredibly overlooked. Most people think State College when they hear Happy Valley, but the area is so much more than that! Two of my favorite state parks right outside State College are Bald Eagle State Park and Black Moshannon State Park. There are several gentle hiking trails for all ages and ability levels. I strongly suggest seeing PA’s largest bog in Black Moshannon State Park and the largest recorded Swamp White Oak tree in PA in Bald Eagle State Park. The Nature Inn, located right in Bald Eagle State Park, offers a ton of wildlife viewing and is a great spot to base your stay. For more ideas on what to do in Happy Valley, PA, check out my post "8 Best Things To Do in Happy Valley, PA for Outdoor Lovers."

6. Dolly Sods, WV

Driving Distance from DC: 3 hours

Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia is an outdoor lovers’ dream. Did you know that Dolly Sods is the highest plateau east of the Mississippi River? That isn't all that makes the area special, though. It’s also known for its remarkable variation in ecosystems and plant life reminiscent of what grows in eastern Canada. I recommend this area for those looking to get off the grid and get deep into nature. Some must-do’s in the area include catching sunrise at Bear Rocks Preserve (no hiking required), hiking or backpacking through Dolly Sods Wilderness (this is for more advanced hikers, as it’s a challenging area to navigate), and exploring Blackwater Falls State Park- one of the most photographed places in the state. Two major attractions in Blackwater Falls State Park include the 57-foot Blackwater Falls and smaller Elakala Falls. Both are very easy to access. For those seeking relaxation, it’s hard to beat a cabin in the woods here. If you’re looking for adventure, also check out Seneca Rocks (a 900-foot tall jutting rock formation), Spruce Knob (the highest point in the state), Nelson Rocks (a via ferrata), and North Fork Mountain. In the winter, Canaan Valley Resort is a great place to ski or snowboard, and I recommend the mountain towns of Davis and Thomas for fantastic Appalachian cuisine. Check out this post for my detailed Dolly Sods itinerary!

7. Raystown Lake, PA

Driving Distance for DC: 3 hours

Raystown Lake is roughly 30 minutes from State College and is a must-visit. It’s the largest man-made lake in the state, and its shimmery blue water will have you thinking you’re way out West. In the summer, you can hike, swim, paddle, kayak, and even cliff jump here! I strongly recommend catching sunrise or sunset from Hawn’s Overlook. If you’re more adventurous, several segments of the Standing Stone Trail lead to incredible overlooks. You’ll probably have to cross some boulder fields along the way, but that’s all part of the adventure. I personally loved the Throne Room, Thousand Steps Trail to Shorb’s Summit, and Stone Mountain Hawk Watch. This part of PA is Amish country, so make sure to get a famous whoopie pie!

8. Deep Creek MD

Distance from DC: 3 hours

Deep Creek, MD truly has something for everyone. The main attraction is Deep Creek Lake, which offers boating, kayaking, paddling, and sandy beach for relaxing. You can chase waterfalls or hunt for hidden gems in one of the many state parks and forests nearby (e.g., Swallow Falls State Park, Deep Creek Lake State Park, and Garret State Forest). Wisp Ski Resort has a Mountain Park and Adventure Sports Center in the summer that is great for all ages. It’s also a beautiful spot to catch the sunset. If you are a pizza lover, definitely visit Brenda’s Pizzeria. Moon Shadow’s scratch kitchen is also fantastic with great craft beer options. Finally, satisfy your sweet tooth with some Glazed and Confused donuts!

9. Ohiopyle, PA

Driving Distance from DC: 3 hours

This is a great trip for water lovers (especially waterfalls) and those looking for a small-town vibe. Ohiopyle State Park in Southwest PA is the southern gateway to the Laurel Highlands- one hour from Pittsburgh and three hours from Washington DC. The park is over 20,000 acres and offers several activities, including hiking, biking, camping and white-water rafting! We spent hours exploring the trails and chasing waterfalls (Cucumber Falls, Jonathan Run Falls, and Sugar Run Falls). The Youghiogheny River runs through the center of the park, offering great white-water rafting! There are several nice spots to relax and take a dip, and even a natural water slide for the daring ones. Snag a spot at the Kentuck campground, known for amazing star gazing. This is a great family-friendly getaway options! The trail town of Ohiopyle is not to be missed either. Make sure to stop at Falls City Pub for food and brews.

10. Gwynn's Island, VA

Driving Distance from DC: 3 hours

If you're looking for a coastal getaway that's off the beaten path (aka not Virginia Beach), this is your place! This small is located north of Virginia Beach in the Chesapeake Bay in Mathews County, VA. We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb on the water with a private dock that was convenient for morning coffee views as well as water activities like kayaking in the bay. The island has a private beach and is great to explore by kayak or bike. There are also plenty of adventures to be had nearby too like kayaking to New Comfort Point Lighthouse and hiking at Haven and Bethel Beaches (just to name a few). Head to downtown Mathews for locally made products and great food. Southwind was our favorite, as they have excellent pizza and bang bang shrimp, and mahi bites. Don't miss Hole in the wall either for dinner and drinks with a view!

With ten great and different options, hopefully you're ready to plan the perfect adventure road trip from DC! I think all of these locations have something to offer in every season and would make great holiday weekend trips when you can spend just a littleeee more time. If you're spending time exploring outdoors, be sure to always follow the principles of Leave No Trace. It is all of our responsibility to leave natural spaces better than we found them!

Happy Travels!



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