Climbing & Hiking Trails - 21 min read

25 Best Washington DC Hikes (Historic & Lengthy!)

Alex Frick

Alex Frick, Updated September 27, 2022

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Washington DC is stitched into the very fabric of the United States. Home of the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Supreme Court, Washington DC is not only our nation’s capital, but is an incredibly scenic portrait of America’s countryside.

Fortunately, our forefathers of yesteryear recognized the stunning beauty and natural history of this area. Today, the district grows but its native scenery remains protected. Tucked away within the metro area are hundreds of miles of timeless hiking trails, waiting for the curious traveler to discover.

Here is your list of the 25 best hiking trails in the Washington DC area.

1. Western Ridge Trail

Credit: Daniel Kelly / Flickr

Directions: From Bethesda, head east on MD-410 E and drive for 0.6 miles. Turn right onto MD-185 S and continue for 1.0 miles, then slight left onto Newlands Street. Drive for 0.3 miles and turn right onto Broad Branch Road.

Continue for 0.3 miles and make a left onto Rittenhouse Street NW. After 0.2 miles, turn right onto Glover Road NW, then drive 0.2 miles and slight left onto Glover Road NW. After 0.1, turn left and the parking area will be on your right.

The Western Ridge Trail is one of the premier hiking trails that separate iconic Rock Creek Park. True to its namesake, the Western Ridge Trail follows the western ridge of the park through dense hills of shaded woodlands.

With the immense popularity of Rock Creek Park, much of the early portion is likely to be crowded. However, as the trail begins ascending into the hills, the traffic thins out and you will have an increasingly secluded walk on this scenic trail.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 5.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 715 Fee

2. Boulder Bridge Loop

Credit: Daniel Kelly / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head north of 16th Street NW and drive for 3.8 miles. Turn right onto the ramp to Military Road W and drive for 1.0 miles. Turn left onto Glover Road NW and continue for 0.2 miles, the parking area will be on your left.

The Boulder Bridge Loop is a linked trail that connects sections of Rock Creek Park into one scenic loop.

The hike samples gorgeous sections of the Western Ridge Trail, the Valley Trail, the White Horse Trail, and the Black Horse Trail.

This trail brings you over carefully crafted stone bridges to the cascading shores of Rock Creek.

The level and comfortable trail surface make for a leisurely walk through the picturesque park.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.0 Miles
Elevation Gain: 341 Feet

3. Walking Tour of Monuments and Memorials

Credit: IWalked Audio Tours / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head south on 16th Street for 0.4 miles and turn right onto I Street NW. Drive for 0.2 miles and turn left onto 17th Street NW. Continue for 0.2 miles and turn right onto Pennsylvania Avenue NW. After 0.1 miles, turn right onto 18th Street NW, followed by an immediate right onto H Street NW and the parking area will be on your right.

An absolute must when visiting Washington DC, the Walking Tour of Monuments and Memorials takes you through the entire history of our country in one unforgettable walk.

The hike travels through the most significant eras in our country – including World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War, and the Revolutionary War.

The scenic journey begins at the symbolic center of our nation – the White House. As you continue along the historic path, you will walk through the National Mall, along the Reflecting Pool, and eventually reach the steps of the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 11.3 Miles
Elevation Gain: 255 Feet

4. Theodore Roosevelt Island Trail

Credit: Frank Holleman / Flickr

Directions: From Arlington, head east on VA-27 N and drive for 1.3 miles. Turn right onto Washington Boulevard and drive for 0.3 miles, then use the right lane to merge onto S Arlington Boulevard. Use the right lane to take the ramp to I-66 and continue for 0.1 miles.

Merge onto George Washington Memorial Parkway and continue for 0.6 miles. Make a slight right and after 0.2 miles, you will reach the parking area for this hike.

The Theodore Roosevelt Island Trail is a beautiful hike around a peaceful island named in the former presidents honor. This hike follows a paved and comfortable surface that is suitable for adventurers of all skill levels.

The trail transforms into dense forestlands with underlying marshlands. The forest has a natural dirt pathway, connected by wooden boardwalks. When returning to the parking area, be sure to take a moment and appreciate the history of the late Theodore Roosevelt.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 59 Feet

5. Custis, Washington-Old Dominion, and Mount Vernon Trail Loop

Credit: TheTurducken / Flickr

Directions: From Arlington, head north on N Quincy Street and drive for 0.8 miles. Make a U-turn and the parking area for this trail will be on your right.

Otherwise known as the less-wordy, Arlington Loop – the Custis, Washington-Old Dominion, and Mount Vernon Trail Loop is a multi-use trail that takes you through naturally beautifully sections of Washington DC.

The trail parallels wonderful valleys and lakes before crossing through the commercial districts of the city.

This paved trail is popular with cyclists, so try to stay single-file and listen for the familiar, “on your left!” – the call of the biker.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 15.9 Miles
Elevation Gain: 538 Feet

6. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve Outer Loop

Directions: From Arlington, head west on I-66 W and drive for 3.6 miles. Stay right at the fork to continue on VA-267 W and continue for 2.1 miles, then take the VA-267 W exit toward I-495. Keep right to continue on Exit 19B and follow the signs for VA-123N.

After 0.2 miles, merge onto VA-123 N. Continue for 0.1 miles and use the left two lanes to turn left onto Lewinsville Road. Drive for 1.1 miles then turn right onto Swinks Mill Road. After 1.5 miles, turn left onto Georgetown Pike and the parking area will be on your right.

The Scott’s Run Nature Preserve Outer Loop is a fun trot through a wonderfully protected natural area. The hike has several stream crossings with playful steppingstones to hop along your path.

After wandering through the woods, you will make it to the shores of the abundant and cascading Scott’s Run Waterfall. Continue along the nicely maintained trail, using the banks of the Potomac River as your guide back to the trailhead.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 360 Feet

7. Maryland Heights Loop

Directions: From North Bethesda, head north on I-270 N and drive for 29.7 miles. Use the right two lanes to take exit 32 to merge onto I-70 W toward Hagerstown and drive for 1.3 miles. Take exit 52 to merge onto US-15 S and drive for another 18.7 miles.

Turn right onto Shenandoah Street and continue for 0.8 miles, then turn left onto Potomac Street. Make an immediate right, followed another right onto Potomac Staircase and the parking area will be on your left.

The Maryland Heights Loop is a naturally and historically significant hike in renowned Harpers Ferry. In addition to its spectacular scenery, this pathway is complete with industrial, geological, and Civil War history.

The trail will intersect with the Appalachian Trail and pass numerous memorials, honoring the momentous happenings along this route.

The hike will ultimately lead to the stunning Maryland Heights Overlook, with panoramic views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River.

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 6.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,541 Feet

8. Whiteoak Canyon Falls Trail

Credit: Daniel Kelly / Flickr

Directions: From Gainesville, head west on US-29 S and drive for 11.4 miles. Use the right two lanes to turn slight right onto US-15 BUS S and continue for 2.1 miles. Turn right onto US-211 W and drive for 27.0 miles, then turn left onto US-522 S. Continue for 0.8 miles and turn right onto VA-231 S.

Drive for 9.9 miles and turn right onto State Route 643. After 4.3 miles, turn right onto Weakley Hollow Road. Drive for another 3.6 miles, followed by a quick left onto Chad Berry Lane, and the parking area will be on your left.

The Whiteoak Canyon Falls Trail is a comfortably shaded hike through the dense wilderness before reaching a majestic waterfall. This popular trail is an ascending trek in Shenandoah National Park, and likely will be crowded.

Climb for nearly three miles and you will approach the shores of the powerfully cascading Whiteoak Canyon Falls.

If you would like to get away from the crowds, you can choose to climb to the top of the falls, a beautiful overlooking view of crashing waters above the tree line.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.8 Miles – 4.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 406 Feet

9. Dark Hollow Falls Trail

Credit: Jim Hoffman / Flickr

Directions: From Gainesville, head west on US-29 S and drive for 11.4 miles. Use the right two lanes to turn right onto US-15 BUS S and drive for 2.1 miles. Turn right onto US-211 W and drive for 34.0 miles, then take the Skyline Drive exit toward Shenandoah National Park. Keep left at the fork to merge onto Skyline Drive and drive for 19.1 miles, then take a left into the parking area for this hike.

The Dark Hollow Falls Trail is a true gem in Shenandoah National Park. This popular hike is a short-but-steep ascent through tough and rocky terrain.

Once enduring the knee-buckling climb, you will arrive at the incredibly scenic shores of the multi-tiered and cascading Dark Hollow Falls.

This trail is well-known and often busy. There is only enough parking for about two dozen vehicles, so it is vital to arrive at this trail early.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 1.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 564 Feet

10. Sugarloaf Mountain and Northern Peaks Trail

Credit: Caitlin Allmaier / AllTrails

Directions: From North Bethesda, head north on I-270 N and drive for 19.6 miles before taking exit 22 towards Barnesville. Merge onto MD-109 S and drive for 2.9 miles. Turn right onto Comus Road and continue for 2.4 miles. Make a slight right onto Sugarloaf Mountain Road, followed by an immediate right onto Sugarloaf Mountain Drive. Make a slight right onto White Trail and after 1.2 miles, the parking area will be on your right.

The Sugarloaf Mountain and Northern Peaks Trail is a network of switch-backing hiking trails that rewards ambitious adventurers with sweeping views of the Frederick Valley.

The hike ultimately changes from a smooth dirt pathway into mild rock scrambles. While difficult, the steep rock challenge is exhilarating.

Zigzag your way down the picturesque peak of Sugarloaf Mountain and summit all three of the stunning panoramic Northern Peaks.

Consider the rough terrain when planning your hike, inexperienced hikers should allow themselves additional time for the increased difficulty.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 7.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,519 Feet

11. Old Rag Mountain

Credit: Chapman / Flickr

Directions: From Gainesville, head west on US-29 S and drive for 11.4 miles. Use the right two lanes to turn slightly right onto US-15 BUS S and continue for 2.1 miles. Turn right onto US-522 S and drive for another 27.0 miles.

Make a left turn onto US-522 S and drive for 0.8 miles, then turn right onto VA-231 S. Continue for 7.8 miles and turn right onto Peola Mills Road. Drive for 0.8 miles and make a slight left onto State Route 707. After 1.7 miles, merge onto State Route 600. Continue for 0.9 miles and the parking area will be on your left.

Arguably the best views in Virginia, the hike to the summit of Old Rag Mountain is also one of the most difficult. Reserved for experienced hikers, the painstaking ascent to the peak of Old Rag is enduring.

Those ambitious enough to tackle the challenge will be rewarded with simply ridiculous 360-degree views of the rolling hills of surrounding valleys.

Pay attention to weather and trail reports. The difficulty and potentially dangerous conditions should not be underestimated.

Difficulty:  Strenuous
Distance: 9.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2,582 Feet

12. Great Falls Overlook via Billy Goat Trail

Credit: Daniel Kelly / Flickr

Directions: From Potomac, head south on Falls Road and drive for 2.0 miles. Make a left turn onto MacArthur Park and continue driving for 1.1 miles. Make a sharp right into Great Falls State Park and the parking area will be on your left.

The Great Falls Overlook via the Billy Goat Trail is a wonderfully challenging journey through scenic C&O Canal National Historic Park.

This popular trail leads you upwards along a dirt pathway before approaching a narrow, but harrowing rock scramble.

Once reach the ridge, your efforts will be rewarded with picturesque views of the powerfully crashing Great Falls.

Try to arrive early – the trail can become crowded, especially so while navigating the technical rock scramble.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 203 Feet

13. Little Devil’s Stairs

Credit: Mark White / Flickr

Directions: From Gainesville, head west on US-29 S and drive for 11.4 miles. Use the right two lanes to turn slightly right onto US-15 BUS S and continue for 2.1 miles. Turn right onto US-522 S and drive for another 24.8 miles.

Turn right onto Gidbrown Hollow Road and drive for 1.9 miles. Make a left onto Keyser Run Road and after 3.1 miles, the parking area will be on your right.

The Little Devils Stairs Trail is a beautiful trail with incredible natural features in Shenandoah National Park. This hike hops along constant river crossings before reaching the hills.

Once the ascent begins, the trail transforms into a series of arduous, but adrenaline-packed rock scrambles.

Once reaching the ridge, the trail merges with Keyser Run. Keyser Run is a spectacular set of seemingly endless rushing waterfalls before returning down the hill in which you came.

Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 5.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,492 Feet

14. Tidal Basin and Hains Point

Credit: Seth Oliver Photographic Art / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head south on 16th Street NW and drive for 0.4 miles. Turn right onto I Street NW and continue for 0.2 miles. Turn left onto 17th Street NW and drive for 0.9 miles before taking a right onto Independence Avenue SW.

After 0.6 miles, turn left onto Ohio Drive SW. Continue for 0.3 miles and turn left onto West Basin Drive SW and the parking area will be on your right.

The Tidal Basin and Hains Point Trail is an urban hike in the heart of Washington DC. The hike is a point-to-point trail that skirts some of Washington DC’s most iconic landmarks – including the Pentagon.

This paved pathway walks along both the east and west sides of the Potomac. The best time to visit this iconic trail is in early spring. The trail will be lined with hundreds of DC’s famous and blooming cherry blossoms.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 5.3 Miles
Elevation Gain: 29 Feet

15. Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

Credit: Joe Flood / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head east on the 9th Street Expressway and use the left lane to merge onto I-395 N via the ramp to I-695. After 0.3 miles, keep left at the fork to continue on I-695 E. Continue for 1.9 miles and take exit 2B for State Highway 295 N toward US-50. Merge onto State Highway 295 and drive for 0.4 miles before taking exit 1A for Pennsylvania Avenue E toward Andrews Air Force Base.

Merge onto Pennsylvania Avenue and make an immediate right onto Fairlawn Avenue SE. Drive for 0.1 miles and turn right onto Nicholson Street SE. Continue for 0.1 miles and turn right onto Anacostia Drive. After 0.4 miles, slight right to stay onto Anacostia Drive and the parking area will be on your right.

The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is a multi-purpose trail that calmly wanders through shaded woodlands, swampy marshlands, and a breezy riverside.

The trail is nearly eight miles in length. A continuation effort is under development and the trail will eventually be twenty miles long.

The path winds gently through calmly rolling hills in metropolitan Washington DC while paralleling the high banks of the Anacostia River.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 7.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 121 Feet

16. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath Trail

Credit: rixpix6 / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head east on Massachusetts Avenue NW and drive for 0.3 miles. At Dupont Circle NW, exit onto P Street NW. After 0.6 miles, turn left onto Rock Creek Parkway.

Drive for 0.1 miles and merge onto Potomac Parkway NW. After 0.5 miles, the parking area will be on your right.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath Trail is a long-distance trail that begins in the heart of Washington DC. There are many options as the where to start the trail, but that gives several diverse hiking options along the way.

The pathway is a comfortably packed dirt trail that is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. The beginning of the trail offers beautiful views of the Potomac River before moving into a residential area, and finally disappearing into the wilderness.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 48.0 Miles
Elevation Gain: 498 Feet

17. Rock Creek Trail

Credit: Daniel Kelly / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head west on K Street NW and drive for 1.1 miles. Turn left onto 27th Street NW and drive for 0.1 miles. Turn right onto I Street NW, followed by an immediate right onto Virginia Avenue NW and the parking area will be on your left.

The Rock Creek Park Trail is an urban park that allows for incredible views of Washington DC’s greatest features. For convenience’s sake, there is a Metro subway stop just outside the trailhead.

This comfortable hike through Rock Creek Park alternates between dirt and asphalt surfaces beneath plenty of shade.

The trail leads travelers on a journey paralleling historic Georgetown and Smithsonian National Zoo. As you continue, you will have impressive views of the iconic William Howard Taft Bridge and Charles C. Glover Memorial Bridge.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 8.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 400 Feet

18. Rock Creek Valley Trail Loop

Credit: Sedric Carr / AllTrails

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head north on Connecticut Avenue NW and drive for 2.7 miles. Turn right onto Tilden Street NW and continue for 0.4 miles. Turn right onto Spring of Freedom Street NW and drive for 0.2 miles. Turn right and the parking area will be on your left.

The Rock Creek Valley Trail Loop is a gem of a hike in Rock Creek Park. Surrounded by the cliffs of Rock Creek, this trail cuts directly through the center of the park through a dense and shaded valley.

The canopy creates a comfortable journey on the banks of the tumbling waters of Rock Creek. There are several creek crossings in which you can enjoy leaping stone-to-stone across a beautiful creek.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 4.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 413 Feet

19. Klingle Valley Trail

Credit: Valerie Hinojosa / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head north on Connecticut Avenue NW for 2.4 miles and turn right onto Porter Street. Drive for 0.5 miles, then merge onto Klingle Road NW and the parking area will be on your right.

The Klingle Valley Trail is a short walk through a wonderfully forested residential area. The trail treks along a multi-purpose pathway popular with hikers and cyclists.

The surface is paved, but there are some difficult grades. The trail is comfortably shaded and secluded, making for a peaceful walk in nature without venturing too far from the city.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.3 Miles
Elevation Gain: 173 Feet

20. Kingman and Heritage Islands Trail

Credit: WorldIslandInfo.com / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head east on H Street NE and drive for 1.4 miles. Merge onto Benning Road NE and drive for 0.9 miles. Turn right, followed by an immediate left and the parking area will be on your right.

The Kingman and Heritage Islands Trail is a hidden gem. This hike is a leisurely walk through two separate islands – both of which are protected conservation areas.

Kingman and Heritage Islands are split by a bend in the Anacostia River which makes for an ideal habitat for fish and wildlife.

This hike has unique opportunities to witness these animals in nature, just a relay-throw from RFK Stadium.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.3 Miles
Elevation Gain: 36 Feet

21. Dumbarton Oaks Montrose Ropewalk

Credit: Nick Meier / AllTrails

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head west on Dumbarton Bridge and drive for 0.4 miles. Turn right onto 28th Street NW and drive for 0.6 miles. Turn right onto Wisconsin Avenue NW and continue for 0.3 miles. Turn right onto Whitehaven Street NW and the parking area will be on your right.

The Dumbarton Oaks Montrose Ropewalk Trail is a unique adventure in the northern part of Georgetown. The hike traverses the ridge of Dumbarton Oaks Park and overlooks Rock Creek Park.

Built into the steep ridge is a tout rope, designed to keep hikers upright while keeping their balance along the tremendous slope. This trail is seldom traveled, you will likely have much of the climb to yourself.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 170 Feet

22. Palisades, Grover Archbold, and Woodley Loop

Credit: Nicole Miller / AllTrails

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head west on US-29 S and drive for 0.8 miles and turn left onto Canal Road NW. Drive for 0.5 miles and merge onto Foxhall Road NW. Turn left onto Reservoir Road NW and continue for 0.6 miles.

Merge onto MacArthur Boulevard NW and drive for another 0.4 miles. Turn left onto Ashby Street NW and the parking area will be on your right.

The Palisades, Grover Archibold, and Woodley Loop is an excellent set of connected trails in central Washington DC. This urban trail is a lollypop loop that begins near the busy metro subway line before connecting to shady woodlands.

Nearly the entire hike is on raised wooden boardwalks. With the delicate landscape, it is important to try to stay on the pathway. The trail will encircle a few local residential areas before returning to the metro.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 10.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 941 Feet

23. Pinehurst Branch Trail

Credit: Steve / Flickr

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head north on 16th Street NW and drive for 3.4 miles. Turn left onto Morrow Drive NW and continue for 0.6 miles. Turn onto Joyce Road NW, followed by an immediate right onto Beach Drive NW. After 1.2 miles, turn right and the parking area will be on your right.

The Pinehurst Branch Trail is a stunning hike in Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park. Locals have described this portion as the “wild northern section” of Rock Creek Park.

Due to its relative scarcity of visitors and its proximity to the city center, this part of the park feels untouched. The hike travels through densely forested woodlands that absorb the echo of the city, creating a tranquil escape into these urban woods.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 177 Feet

24. Fort Dupont Main Trail

Credit: Leon Coleman / AllTrails

Directions: From Southeast Washington DC, head east on Minnesota Avenue SE and turn right onto Randle Circle SE. Drive for 0.1 miles and turn right onto Fort Dupont Drive SE. After 0.3 miles, turn left and the parking area will be on your left.

The Fort Dupont Main Trail travels within the storied grounds of a historic park. This park was formerly a fort built to protect Washington DC in the Civil War. Nowadays, the lands are clear – with miles of incredible forests waiting to be explored.

The Main Trail is made of comfortably packed dirt. The hike will cut through the most important sections of the park, with interpretive signage leading the way.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.3 Miles
Elevation Gain: 108 Feet

25. Palisades Trolley Trail

Credit: George Pomeroy / AllTrails

Directions: From downtown Washington DC, head north on US-29 S and drive for 0.8 miles and turn left onto Canal Road NW. Continue for 2.2 miles and turn right onto Arizona Avenue NW. Turn left onto Sherier Place NW and the parking area will be on your left.

The Palisades Trolley Trail is a scenic journey through dense woodlands, tucked away in the Palisades neighborhood. The trail took the place of the long-gone Glen Echo Trolley Line, connecting Georgetown and the aforementioned Glen Echo neighborhood.

Along the way, you will reach a calm-flowing creek and leap over several creek crossings. The hike is a smooth, compact dirt pathway and is suitable for adventurers of all skill levels.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 62 Feet

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