Being outdoors does wonders for our health — it takes us away from our computer screens, boosts our vitamin D exposure, gets us breathing fresh air and improves our mental well-being. Hiking is just one outdoor activity that can do all of this and more, and is also a great way to explore the DMV area.
From waterfalls to caves, here are 10 great hiking trails scattered throughout the area:
Located 34 miles north of Washington, D.C., Patuxent River State Park boasts miles of unmarked hiking trails for runners, hikers and those looking to just get outdoors. The park is located in the Maryland suburbs, perfect for city dwellers and suburbanites who need to escape the bustle of the city. Because the trails are unmarked, it is important that someone in your group is an experienced hiker.
While you don’t need to cover all 800 miles of this trail, the Potomac Heritage Trail has a rich history — you can follow in the footsteps of our nation’s first president! The trail runs through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and includes historic trails like the 18-mile Mt. Vernon Trail to the 184.5-mile C&O Towpath.
Enjoy views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and rivers as you walk and hike through the trail system at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park. The trails range from pancake-flat paths to more challenging climbs over loose terrain.
Tired of large crowds and the noise of local roads? Head to the Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, just a 50-minute drive out of D.C., and walk the three-mile trail. The park is peaceful, secluded and picturesque with its bay beaches and estuaries. And bring your binoculars; the park is home to several bald eagles.
The best way to hike and explore the Jug Bay Wetlands Reserve in Lothian, MD, is to simply go with your family and have fun! The park boasts 1,700 acres of wetlands, open water and forests, where many different animal species call home.
The Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve offers nature enthusiasts 20 miles of trails within the 725-acre preserve. The trails wrap around beautiful wetlands and rivers, and hikers can also try and spot some critters like woodpeckers and otters.
Ever seen the largest aqueduct on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal? Now’s your chance! Located in Dickerson, Maryland, the Monocacy Aqueduct is actually the halfway point on the 12.4-mile hike from White’s Ferry to Point of Rocks. The trail system traces the canal and enables some neat views.
Now’s your chance to go to Paris … Virginia! Just two miles outside Paris, Virginia, the 1,864-acre Sky Meadows State Park has a combination of scenic views, rolling hills and historic farms. The park offers 24 miles of hiking trails and access to the Appalachian Trail.
Great for novice to more experienced hikers, Black Hill Regional Park offers nearly five miles of hard surface trails, over 10 miles of natural surface trails and a water trail on Little Seneca Lake. The trails wind through the oak and hickory forests and offer spectacular views of the lake.
10. Cunningham Falls
Located in the Catoctin Mountains, Cunningham Falls State Park is separated into two unique areas, but hiking opportunities abound. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with views of a 78-foot cascading waterfall.
Beth Roessner is a D.C.-based writer and health coach.