Kris Maria Wanders
15 Hikes with the Best Views Near Washington D.C. and Where to Drink After
You might not think it, but there are TONS of hiking opportunities right outside the nation’s capital! If you’re local to the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) or just visiting the area and need a dose of nature, check out my favorite local hikes! Each of these 15 amazing hikes can be found on AllTrails and are within a 2 hour drive from the city (though most of them are closer). There are plenty more to choose from, these are just my personal favorites that I think offer the best views within a reasonable driving distance. Since hiking and beer go hand-in-hand for me, I've also included where you can stop for a brew (and a bite) after your outdoor adventure!
A Few Important Tips
Before I go any farther, I want to note that these trails are all OUTSIDE the district. Aka, you will need a vehicle to get to these. Now, that isn’t to say there aren’t great trails to check out within city limits. Some of my favorite running and biking (and sort of hiking) trails in DC are Rock Creek Park, Roosevelt Island, the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown (runs to Bethesda, MD), the Washington and Old Dominion Trail (as well as connecting trails like the Custis Trail & Mount Vernon Trail), the C&O Canal Trail and Towpath, and the Potomac Heritage Trail (you could hike this from Georgetown to Great Falls Park if you wanted).
Preparing for a Hike
No matter the distance or difficulty of the trail, it’s important to Plan Ahead and Prepare (Principle 1 of Leave No Trace). Getting into the habit now will be key in the long run! Be sure to familiarize yourself with the route, the area, and anything you might encounter. You should also carry the 10 essentials! I've listed them for you below:
Navigation: map, gps, etc.
Headlamp or flashlight
Sun protection: sunglasses, sun protective clothing, sunscreen
First aid: a first aid kit
Knife or multi tool
Emergency Shelter: plastic tube tent, jumbo plastic trash bag or bivy sack
Nutrition: pack more food than you think you’ll need
Hydration: bring more water than you think you’ll need
Layers: non-cotton, moisture wicking
Being a Responsible Visitor of the Outdoors
It's really important to be mindful when we're outdoors so that we can help preserve our favorite natural spaces for years to come! As visitors to these beautiful places, we all have a responsibility to leave them better than we found them. A few simple things that make a big difference are staying on established trails (to prevent damaging soil and vegetation), packing out all waste (even food scraps, and especially pet waste ), respecting wildlife, and leaving what you find. Visit the Leave No Trace website for information more on the 7 principles of Leave No Trace and how you can help.
15 Hikes with the Best Views Near Washington, DC
1. Bears Den
Location: Bluemont, VA
Distance from DC: 45 minutes-1 hour
Hike Distance: 1.5 miles
Elevation: 300 ft
Bear’s Den is the perfect spot for NOVA or DC residents to catch the sunset without having to drive far. This short hike along the Appalachian Trail is only 1.5 miles out and back, gaining just 300 feet in elevation. It’s a great one for the whole family! The West-facing overlook gives an incredible view of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. Just be careful, as there are plenty of rocks and tree roots along the trail to navigate over.
Try this as an after-work hike during the week for more solitude, or make an entire weekend adventure by visiting some of the many wineries in this region!
Post-hike: Stop at nearby Bear Chase Brewery (does also serve food).
2. Raven Rocks
Location: Bluemont, VA
Distance from DC: 45 minutes-1 hour
Hike Distance: 5.7 miles
Elevation: 1,550 ft
Also located in Bluemont, VA, Raven Rocks is the more challenging "sister hike" to Bear's Den. Like many hikes on the Appalachian Trail, the terrain can be quite rocky, and on this one, there are some fairly steep sections. Locals have referred to this hike as the "roller coaster" for sections of the trail that wind up and down over ridges. These sections, along with stream crossings, give this hike its "hard" rating on Alltrails. I definitely recommend sturdy hiking boots or shoes for this one, substantial water/food, and plenty of time. The final view at the top is fantastic, but it really wows in the fall when the leaves have changed. It's a sea of color and one of the best fall hikes in Virginia.
Post-hike: Head over to Bear Chase Brewery nearby, or drive a short distance to Purcellville, VA where you'll find breweries like Adroit Theory and Belly Love. I also highly recommend Monk's BBQ!
3. Prince William National Forest Park
Location: Triangle, VA
Distance from DC: 45 minutes
Hike Distance: Varies
This quiet park in Triangle, VA (near Quantico) is actually the largest protected natural area in the DC metro region! The park offers camping, cabins, 21 miles of bike trails and 37 miles of hiking trails through its 15,000 wooded acres. When it comes to hiking here, there are several short trails that can be done separately or combined for a longer hike.
I personally recommend combining a few trails to walk along Quantico Creek and out to Quantico Falls! Starting at the visitor center, you can take Laurel Loop trail to the South and then North Valley trails to reach the falls. Once you hit the cascades, cross the creek and follow a slightly overgrown path until you hear the falls. One way, this route is 2.5 miles. You can head back the way you came or make a longer loop back down on some of the connecting trails. Grab a park map at the visitor center!
Note: Entry fee is $20 per vehicle, or you can use your Annual National Parks pass.
Post-hike: Head into Woodbridge and stop at Brew Republic and/or Waters End Brewery.
4. Annapolis Rock (and Black Rock)
Location: Boonsboro, MD
Distance from DC: about 1 hour
Hike Distance: 5.0 miles out and back
Elevation: 797 ft
Likely due to its proximity to DC, this is a very popular day hike located in South Mountain State Park, Maryland. The trail is a steady, yet gradual, incline until you reach the ridgeline. Then, it's a pleasant walk the rest of the way. From the overlook, you'll be able to see Greenbrier Lake below, as well as Black Rock Cliff. I recommend this one in the summer or fall when the trees are full of leaves. It's a West-facing overlook, so sunset is the way to go.
Check out the hike up to Black Rock summit as well!
Post-hike: Head to Edler Pine Brewing or Loan Oak Farm Brewing afterward for brews.
5. Scott’s Run River Trail to Scott’s Run Falls
Location: McLean, VA
Distance from DC: ~30 min
Hike distance: 1.5 miles
Elevation: 150 ft
Scott's Run Nature Preserve in McLean, VA (near Great Falls Park) is the perfect option if you don’t want to go very far or work very hard. It’s also pretty special with a very unique biological ecosystem. Half a mile off I495 on Georgetown Pike is a parking lot that gives easy access to the trail/waterfall. Be careful if navigating from Alltrails, as it may not take you to the right parking lot. The waterfall is roughly .75 miles or so from the trailhead, with a short (but steep) uphill and then downhill segment just before it. There are two stream crossings that can get dicey in the winter, so be careful! At the waterfall, you can take a right and walk along the bank of the Potomac River. In .3 or so miles is Stubblefield Falls- a pretty cascade in the Potomac.
Post-hike: For craft beer, head into Tysons Corner to try Tysons Biergarten or Starr Hill on top of the Capital One building.
6. Cunningham Falls Nature Trail
Location Thurmont, MD
Distance from DC: 1 hour
Hike Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation: 413 ft
Cunningham Falls State Park is a great area to stretch your legs, but the real highlight of this park is Cunningham Falls. At 78 feet, it is the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland. I'd highly recommend trying this one on a week day or early in the morning on the weekend. It's a popular one since it's relatively accessible. Check out some of the other trails here for a longer hike, and for additional challenge, head to Catoctin Mountain Park.
Post-hike: Head to Springfield Manor Winery and Distillery in Thurmont, MD or check out Idiom, Rockwell, and Olde Mother Brewing in Frederick, MD.
7. Weverton Cliffs
Location: Knoxville, MD
Distance from DC: About 1 hour
Hike Distance: 1.9 miles
Elevation: 567 ft
The view overlooking the Potomac from this hike is one of my absolute favorites. I've been here twice when a train came through, and it was magical! The overlook is situated such that sunsets and sunrises are amazing here. Plus, the low mileage makes it ideal for getting in and out quickly (aka less hiking in the dark). In my opinion, this hike is superior to nearby Maryland Heights. It isn’t quite as crowded, but does still get busy on a nice weekend.
To the overlook and back is a short 1.9 mile hike, but you can catch the Appalachian trail at the ridgeline for some extra mileage. Even though it's short, the trail has some steep switchbacks and is very rocky for the majority of the hike.
Post-hike: There are plenty of options nearby for this one! Harpers Ferry Brewing is a great close by choice. There are also several breweries in Frederick, MD (see above), and Vanish Farmwoods Brewery in Leesburg, VA is also fantastic!
8. Great Falls Park
Location: McLean, VA or Potomac, MD
Distance from DC: 15-30 minutes
Note: Fee to enter or free entry with the Annual National Parks Pass
Since there are two sides to Great Falls Park (separated by the Potomac River), I decided to highlight a favorite hike on each side!
Great Falls via Difficult Run
Hike Distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation: 400 ft
This hike is a go-to when we want something close by and low intensity. It follows the River Trail along the Potomac, offering great views of Mather Gorge. After about 2 miles (just past the kayak launch), the trail splits to Difficult Run. I enjoy this section of trail quite a bit, as it’s quieter, and it follows a beautiful stream with a few small waterfalls! You can park at the main area of Great Falls of at Difficult Run for this one. I may be biased, but I personally think the VA side of Great Falls Park has the better waterfall viewpoints.
Billy Goat Trail (NOTE: THIS TRAIL IS PRESENTLY CLOSED 1.16.23)
Hike Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation: 249 ft
The Billy Goat Trail is arguably the most popular trail among DC locals, and the most talked about in Great Falls Park. It's just the right amount of challenge before weekend brunch! The trail is largely along the Potomac River and involves several sections with rock scrambling. In some places, you'll even see people climbing. This loop hike takes you on Billy Goat Trail Sections A, B, and C before looping back to the main area of the park along the C&O Canal Trail. Even though it doesn't appear that difficult "on paper," it's a tiring one- especially in the summer! Do check for trail closures before heading out- different sections of this trail have closed to repair damage over the past several years.
Post-hike: See number 5 above (Tyson's Corner, VA). Another great option right outside of the park is Old Anglers Inn.
9. Harpers Ferry via Maryland Heights
Location: Harpers Ferry, WV
Distance from DC: 1.25 hours
Hike Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation: 1,100 ft
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. With several historic sites and quaint shops and restaurants, this is one of the best day trips from DC.
The hike up to Maryland Heights overlook is rated moderate, as its gains over 1,000 ft in a relatively short distance. From the parking lot (if you can get a spot), you'll cross the bridge over to Harpers Ferry Road (getting a great look at the rail tunnel) where you'll take the C&O canal trail a short distance to the trailhead. From here, it's mostly uphill with some steep and rocky sections. Take your time and watch your footing! The view from the overlook is really spectacular. I personally enjoy the old bridge ruins that are visible to your left.
Post-Hike: Head to Harpers Ferry Brewing to enjoy a craft brew in a beautiful outdoor setting. This brewery is perched on a hillside overlooking the river (right by Harpers Ferry Adventure Center).
10. Buzzard Rock
Location: George Washington National Forest (Front Royal, VA)
Distance from DC: 1.5 hours
Hike Distance: 3.8 miles out and back
Elevation: 700 ft
Buzzard Rock is a relatively short, moderate hike with a huge payoff. It’s a thing of beauty in every season, but the snow in the winter gives it that extra wow factor! The last mile or so is probably the most difficult, with a steep climb to the ridgeline, and a bit of maneuvering over rocks. After a short ways along the ridge, you'll reach these massive rock slabs resembling knife blades where hawks, falcons, and even bald eagles fly. This is Buzzard Rock! The trail continues on for quite a ways along the ridge, eventually becoming the Tuscarora Trail. Other nearby hikes I'd recommend if you're up for a challenge include Meneka Peak and Signal Knob.
Post-Hike: There are really endless options in the nearby town of Front Royal, VA. A few of my favorites include Front Royal Brewing Company (also serves food), Honey and Hops Brew Works (a meadery), and the Apple House in Linden (known for their bbq and apple cider donuts).
11. Mason Neck State Park
Location: Lorton, VA
Distance from DC: 1 hour
Hike Distance: 1.3 mile loop
Elevation: 68 ft
Mason Neck State Park is definitely a Northern Virginia gem. It was so peaceful on a summer weekday when hardly anyone was out, and the water was still. Being on a Peninsula formed by Pohick Bay, Belmont Bay and the Potomac River, Mason Neck is a great spot to launch a kayak or SUP. It's also full of wildlife! There are several easy hiking trails, including a lovely boardwalk trail through the marsh (the Bayview trail). If you're into bird watching, the park is known for bald eagles, along with great blue herons and osprey. I'm pretty sure we even saw an owl! For families, there's a visitor center, playground, beach area, and plenty of places to picnic! Check out this post for more summer adventure ideas in Virginia.
Post-hike: Head to Fair Winds Brewing Company for a beer afterward.
12. Compton Peak via the Appalachian Trail
Location: Bentonville, VA
Distance from DC: 1.5 hours
Hike Distance: 2.3 miles out and back
Elevation: 705 ft
This is one of my absolute favorite hikes in the Northern section of Shenandoah National Park. The trailhead is just 10 miles from the Front Royal Entrance Station, so it's also one of the closest summit hikes to DC. This short hike comes with an awful lot of rewards. Basalt formations can be found throughout Shenandoah, but none quite like this one! Those columnar rocks are the result of lava flows some 800 million years ago. Similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, they formed as exposed lava flows quickly cooled, contracted and fractured into hexagonal joints. In addition to this geological wonder, you’ll also find a summit view from Compton Peak (the northern most high peak in the park and closest to DC).
Post-hike: Head into Front Royal to check out any of the places under number 10 above!
13. Mary’s Rock (Northern Approach)
Location: Sperryville, VA
Distance from DC: 1.5 hours
Hike Distance: 3.4 miles out and back
Elevation: 1,200 ft
No matter which route you take up to Mary's Rock in Shenandoah National Park, you won’t be disappointed with the views. From the summit, you’re 1,000 feet above Thornton Gap entrance station below. There are also some fun rocks to climb if you’re into that sort of thing. The hike is great all year round, but we really hit the jackpot here in early November of 2021 with peak foliage! The Northern Approach route described here is probably the most popular. Beginning at the Panorama parking area, it's a solidly moderate hike with some steep sections on the ascent. This is a solid option for a quick day hike, but if you have more time, I actually prefer the approach from Pinnacle Picnic area. The total hike is 7 miles out and back (similar elevation gain) with great views the whole way. I also highly recommend checking out Mary's Rock Tunnel, as it is the only tunnel in Shenandoah National Park..
Post-hike: For great food and beer with a total 80's vibe (think a carousel and arcade games), stop at Headmasters Pub. Pen Druid Brewing also serves up some very eclectic brews in a great outdoor setting.
Check out this post for more fall hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
14. Big Schloss via Wolf Gap
Location: George Washington National Forest (Lost City, WV)
Distance from DC: About 2 hours
Hike Distance: 4.3 miles out and back
Elevation: 1,046 ft
Many people don’t know this National Forest even exists (since it’s so close to Shenandoah National Park), but it’s full of great hikes! I especially love this one in the snow (surprise, I know). Right on the VA/WV border, it’s a reasonable drive from DC. Interestingly, the trailhead for this one is located in West Virginia, while the summit itself is in Virginia. The trail starts out steep (most of the elevation gain is in the beginning), but levels out at the ridgeline where you’ll get beautiful views on your way up to the summit. You'll have to cross a wooden bridge and do a bit of rock scrambling to reach the summit, but you get nearly 360 degree views from the top! The parking area at Wolf Gap Campground has restrooms, which is a rarity for most hikes around.
Post-hike: Head to one of my favorite VA small towns (Woodstock, VA) and grab beer and food at Woodstock Brew House. I also highly recommend Woodstock Cafe.
15. Overall Run Falls via Thompson Hollow
Location: Bentonville, VA
Distance from DC: 1.5 hours
Hike Distance: 2.1 miles out and back (or 6.3 miles out and back)
Elevation: 390 ft (or 1,400)
This easy-moderate hike from Thompson Hollow is just one mile each way with a big reward. It's also one of my favorite Virginia summer adventures! Starting in Bentonville, VA, just outside park boundaries, it leads to a total hidden gem within Shenandoah National Park. With multiple cascades and blue pools along the stream, there's usually room for everyone to enjoy this place. Even though this hike is just a mile, you'll probably want the Alltrails app open. It's easy to get confused with the trail forks and intersections just before the pools. You can also add a few miles (and a lot of elevation) to your hike by heading up to Overall Run Falls! At 93ft, it's the tallest waterfall in the park! I think it's one of the best waterfall hikes in Shenandoah National Park.
Tip: Be careful with parking at Thompson Hollow. You will get ticketed or towed if you're in a no parking zone!
Post-hike: Head on into Front Royal for a plethora of options, or if headed south, I recommend Hawksbill Brewing Company in Luray, VA.
I hope you now have some new hikes for your bucket list! For more hiking and adventure ideas near Washington, DC, check out some of my other posts.