Best Day Hikes Near Washington D.C.

February 11, 2016

The following day hikes come from AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington D.C. For more information, check out the book.


National Mall

This hike explores the beauties of nature to be found in many lesser-known, peaceful urban nooks and landscaped gardens along the National Mall.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Rating: Easy to Moderate
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: –70 feet (downslope)
  • Estimated Time: 3.0 hours
  • Features: Family-friendly, dogs allowed, public transportation, X-C skiing, snow-shoeing
  • Maps: USGS Washington East, Washington West

Short Trail Description (for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington D.C.)
Exit the Capitol South Metro station and walk left to the corner of First and C streets SE. Continue uphill one block along First Street SE, cross Independence Avenue, then follow the path leading diagonally left toward the Capitol’s dome. These grounds are considered a jewel of landscape architecture by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York’s Central Park. Along this path, note how Olmsted’s ironwork viewing shelter is placed perfectly for appreciation of the dome. Also look for the dozens of memorial trees planted over the Capitol grounds. Many are official trees of various states; others are dedicated to historical figures and events. Unfortunately, some of these special trees have succumbed over time to storms or to construction of the Capitol’s visitor center beneath your feet.

Myths regarding the memorial to Lincoln, and fascinating “coincidences” about his life, abound. Despite stories to the contrary, there is not one step here for each year of his life (although there is at his Kentucky birthplace). Nor has he turned his back on the South (although Robert E. Lee lived for many years just across the Potomac at Arlington Plantation, now Arlington National Cemetery); Lincoln’s statue actually faces east. Look down on one of the step landings for the plaque marking the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood as he delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.



Manassas Battlefield

The rolling hills of Manassas National Battlefield Park offer the perfect mix of nineteenth-century historical interpretation and opportunities for forested solitude.

  • Location: Manassas, VA
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 900 feet
  • Estimated Time: 3.0 to 3.5 hours
  • Features: Fee, family-friendly, dogs allowed, X-C skiing, snow-shoeing
  • Map: USGS Gainesville

Short Trail Description (for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington D.C.)
The open hills and forested patches of Manassas National Battlefield Park offer the intrepid hiker food for thought as well as a physical workout. The terrain in this hike had an important effect on the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861—the first major battle of the Civil War. Bull Run forced advancing Union troops to waste valuable time searching for a ford, and the hills to the south offered the Confederates high ground on which to inflict punishment and eventually drive the bluecoats back. First Manassas Trail, a 5.4-mile trek over this terrain, visits Bull Run and several of the most hotly contested points of the battle. Even those not interested in military history will feel a tangible link to the past standing on ground where 38,000 Federals and 32,000 Confederates fought with savage intensity.

There is a fee of $3 per person for park entry, but children under sixteen are admitted free. The National Park Service gives daily tours of both the First Manassas and Second Manassas battlefields. Visit the website at for a tour schedule and to download podcasts about the two battles. During winter, the hiking trails, rolling hills, and bridle paths draw crosscountry skiers and snowshoers.



Patapsco Valley

Cascade Falls on the ridge east of the Patapsco River is the highlight of this hike.

  • Location: Elkridge, MD
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet
  • Estimated Time: 3.0 hours
  • Features: Fee, dogs allowed
  • Maps: Waterproof Maryland Park Service trail maps available at Avalon Visitor Center; USGS Relay

Short Trail Description (for a complete description, see AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington D.C.)
The park extends along nearly 35 miles of the Patapsco River in Maryland, from Elkridge in the east to Woodbine in the west. The river valley encompasses more than 14,500 acres and is divided into multiple recreation areas. This hike is in the eastern section, known as the Avalon, Hilton, Glen Artney, and Orange Grove areas, all named for long-gone mill towns.
Though the mills are no longer here, the river valley remains a transportation corridor. Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) trains rumble across the breathtaking 704-foot Thomas Viaduct, which was the largest bridge in the nation at the time of its completion in 1835 and remains the oldest stone arch railroad bridge still in use.

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Beth Homicz

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.