Ask a local where to go hiking, and you’ll invariably get one answer: Old Rag. The greater DC area’s most famous hike is fantastic, there’s no doubt about it. After a strenuous climb and a couple rock scrambles, the summit offers stunning views of central Virginia and Shenandoah National Park. But Old Rag is a solid two hour drive from the District, and you’d better get there early—in keeping with its status as the area’s most famous hike, the trail gets crowded real quick. So, where do we go when we want to traipse around the woods for a couple hours and not make a big thing of it?
Rock Creek Park
Believe it or not, DC’s own Rock Creek Park has more than 32 miles of hiking trails. In fact, there are parts of the 2800 acre park where—if you hadn’t walked there from the Metro—you would have no clue you were in the city. The Valley Trail follows Rock Creek, the Western Ridge Trail runs along (you guessed it) the park’s western edge, and various side trails connect the two. Keep an eye out for historic sites like Pierce Mill, Fort DeRussy, and stacks of stone from the U.S. Capitol, put there after the building’s east portico was renovated in 1960.
Moving slightly outside the District, Great Falls National Park looks out on a dramatic stretch of the Potomac, including the stunning Mather Gorge. Stay on the Maryland side of the park and hit the Billy Goat Trail, which will have you climbing boulders and scrambling over rocky terrain. Make sure to wear a good pair of hiking boots for this one.
Rising out of the farmland of central Maryland’s Monacacy Valley, Sugarloaf Mountain has a variety of trails to match your ambition—you can spend the day circumnavigating the base of the mountain, or just head straight to the top. If it’s scenic overlooks you’re looking for, whether you’re out for an hour or a day be sure to make the short but strenuous climb to the summit. Fun fact: Sugarloaf is a monadnock, which is an isolated mountain that’s formed as the surrounding landscape erodes.
Catoctin Mountain Parkn
Western Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain (which is actually a whole mountain range) is home to waterfalls, rock formations, and Camp David—although we don’t recommend trying to hike near the president’s vacation house. Stick to the trails that take to you past Cunningham Falls, Wolf Rock, and Chimney Rock, none of which you need a security clearance for.