Best Hiking Trails in the Washington, D.C. Area

Including Hundreds of Miles of Hiking Trails in Maryland and Virginia

Catoctin Mountain Park
••• Catoctin Mountain Park. © Rachel Cooper

The Washington D.C. area has dozens of parks with great hiking trails offering scenery ranging from woodland views to mountain vistas. The best time to hike in this region is spring and fall, as summers can be oppressively hot and humid. Here is a guide to the best places to hike in the capital region.

  • Rock Creek Park - Over 25 miles of trails stretch from Washington, D.C. to Montgomery, County Maryland. Hikers may pick up the trail at Beach Drive, Meadowside Nature Center or Lake Needwood. Park rangers lead free educational programs that discuss the natural and cultural features of the park. Historic landmarks include Pierce Mill and Old Stone House.
  • Appalachian Trail - The 2,179 mile hiking trail passes through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. The middle of the Appalachian Trail crosses through the Mid-Atlantic region, including, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia and offers a great opportunity for short treks or extensive hikes amid some beautiful scenery. Some popular destinations for day hikes in the capital region include South Mountain State Park, Greenbrier State Park, Washington Monument State Park, Gathland State Park, Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah National Park.
  • Black Hill Regional Park - The large regional park, located in Boyds, Maryland, offers hiking trails and spectacular views of Little Seneca Lake. Natural areas within the park can be explored on foot, mountain bike or horseback. The park offers a wide range of outdoor recreation activities and is a great place to picnic.
  • Catoctin Mountain Park - The recreational area located in Maryland is part of the National Park Service with 25 miles of hiking trails and scenic mountain vistas. The east side of the park features stunning vistas, challenging terrain, and access to Cunningham Falls. The west side of the park is the wilder side with more wildlife, wetlands, and an up-close view of nature. The park has picnic areas and backcountry shelters that connect with the trails.
  • Cunningham Falls -  The beautiful state park in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland features a 78-foot cascading waterfall. The trail is one of the most popular in the region.
  • Great Falls - An 800-acre park has 14 miles of hiking trails located along the Potomac River upriver from Washington DC. Visitors see gorgeous vistas and can explore the falls from the Maryland and the Virginia sides of the river. There is no cross-over between states. The Billy Goat Trail offers spectacular scenery and is one of the most challenging hiking trails in the Washington DC area.
  • Sugarloaf Mountain - A Registered Natural Landmark, the small mountain features hiking trails and scenic views in Dickerson, Maryland. The property is privately owned but open to the public with four well-marked hiking trails available: a 1.5-mile, 2.5-mile, 5-mile or 7-mile loop.
  • Bull Run Regional Park - The park in Centreville, Virginia has hiking trails, picnic areas, a swimming pool, a playground, campgrounds, and a miniature golf course. The park has three trails: the 17-mile Bull Run-Occoquan Trail that rises over steep wooded hillsides and crosses numerous streams, the 1.5 mile Bluebell Trail with over 25 varieties of wildflowers and the 2.5 mile White Trail that winds through the woodlands along the northern end of the park.

Rachel Cooper is the co-author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C. The book profiles the region's best day hikes with the history of the park; a map of the trail; directions and information about hours, facilities and restrictions; as well as the flora and fauna hikers are likely to see on the trail.