Best Day Trips From DC For People Who Like To Have Fun
Our nation’s Capital can provide for a perfect hub when visiting the Washington metropolitan area, affectionately known as the “DMV” (DC, Maryland, Virginia). With Washington DC as home base, it has the opportunity for the perfect mix of local urban adventures coinciding with day trips and outdoor experiences that are sure to create a well-rounded, memorable vacation.
For residents themselves, these destinations can make for some of the best day trips from Washington DC for planning any staycation or weekend getaway.
After all, not everyone is here to see Capitol Hill and all of the (very) many infamous Washington DC monuments.
Whether you’re looking for some scenic hiking trails through the rolling hills surrounding our favorite capital city, or for just a day trip to some of our country’s most historic sites, we’ve got you covered. Here are our favorite DC day trips for all of our Explorer Chicks exploring the East Coast this summer.
Best Outdoor Attractions within a 2-Hour Drive from DC
While DC offers all the cultural, historical, culinary and political experiences, within just a few hours’ drive outside of the city are endless possibilities that will leave outdoor enthusiasts spoiled for choice.
From art galleries to walking trails, you can find whatever your heart desires on a weekend trip.
As for us? Our hearts desire outdoor activities (and drinks after). Here are some top spots for adventure seekers.
Shenandoah National Park
Address: 3655 US-211, Luray, VA 22835
Time from DC: ~2 hours
More Info: Shenandoah National Park
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains offer a scenic drive into the National Park, making this one of the best day trips from DC. Iconic Skyline Drive weaves over 100 miles through the park, so while you may not have time to see everything in one day, there are a few highlights to squeeze into a day. Get out on the trail, with over 500 miles of trekking around the park, including about 100 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail. Old Rag, Hawksbill and Stony Mountain are all challenging but rewarding hikes to get some stunning views of the rolling valleys below.
If you’re a fan of autumnal leaf change, be sure to visit Shenandoah in the fall. The foliage is an impressive display and this northern Virginia scenic drive alone is worth a trip in October.
Stop in Luray for some lunch and a beer, then marvel at all of the quirky tourist attractions with your post hike beer buzz.
Swing by the Shenandoah Heritage Village to peek back into American history. This village is a re-creation of a small 19th century colonial town. Think: American Civil War era.
When your buzz wears off, head back to Washington DC for more beers and historical sights.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Address: 6511 Sudley Rd, Manassas, VA 20109
Time from DC: 40 minutes
More Info: Manassas National Battlefield Park
This was where not one, but two battles took place during the American Civil War, creatively called the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (didn’t ever want to confuse which one came first).
For history buffs, you can follow these self-guided walking tours. Be sure to not miss a bit of the conflict here between the Union and Confederate soldiers. Don’t worry, it’s not all battlefields and history.
A quick drive to Bull Run Regional Park and you have over 1,500 acres of historic land now available for hiking, going for a picnic or enjoying some outdoors activities.
And if you’re really looking to get your blood pumping? Join us for a ½ day survival challenge or zipline and wine in Middleburg, 30 minutes up the road. We like to wrap things up with pedicures and a massage at Salamander Resort and Spa. 😉
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Address: C&O Canal Lock 20, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, Potomac, MD 20854
Time from DC: 40 minutes
More Info: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Hugging the Potomac River, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is a scenic byway that boasts over 200 miles of hiking and biking trails along a historical walkway through the C&O Canal towpaths. With locks, mills and boathouses offering mile markers, you can spend a day seeing how the waterways connect Washington DC all the way to Cumberland Maryland. Feeling adventurous? Join us on an intro to rock climbing, spending a day learning the ropes at Carderock, a long time climbing area that is part of the park.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Address: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland
Time from DC: ~2 hours
More Info: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Just about 100 miles from DC is one of the best day trips to experience finding wildlife in nature. With nearly 30,000 acres this refuge is home to over one thousand species. This is the place to spend a day if you’re interested in bird watching. There are recreational and educational tours available for the public. In addition to observing wildlife, there are trails for hiking and biking, most popular are Marsh Edge, Key Wallace or the Tubman trails. When visiting during warm sunny days, you can kayak or canoe within the waterways of the park.
Gunpowder Falls State Park
Address: Gunpowder Falls State Park Hammerman Area
Time from DC: ~1.5 hours
More Info: Gunpowder Falls State Park
Just over an hour away in Maryland, this state park makes for a convenient day trip from DC. The park consists of 6 areas. Be sure to hike the rail trail, Sweet Air area is best for horseback riding in addition to hiking. The Central area is the oldest part of the park and Hammerman area has a great beach spot for swimming in the warmer months. With the Gunpowder River and both Little and Big Gunpowder Falls within the park, kayaking, canoeing, tubing and swimming is an absolute must. A visit to the Historic Jerusalem Mill Village is a perfect stop to embrace the ways of living in small-town early America.
Explorer Chick Guide Kat McKittens recommends this little gem as well. “Super fun tubing in the warmer months and a cute café at the end. Plenty of places to rent tubes if you don’t have your own.”
Sounds like exactly the kinds of SHE-nanigans we’re after 😎
Guided Tours for Adventurous Women Outside DC
While DC offers endless possibilities within the metro area, moving just outside of town you’ll find some adventurous options for any adrenaline seeker. Whether you’re just getting an introduction into an activity or you have years of experience under your belt, there are some great guided tours outside DC.
Outdoor Rock Climbing in Potomac
Looking for a challenge? Look no further than a trip to Carderock for a day of rock climbing along the Potomac River. Gear is included so if you don’t have the equipment you need no problem. Rock climbing is a great stress relieving activity, allowing you to be out in nature, in the moment, focusing on one task in front of you.
Indoor Rock Climbing in Alexandria
If outdoor climbing is a little intimidating for you right now, fear not! Indoor climbing is a perfect way to mix exercise with a fun hobby. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and an adventurous spirit, all the equipment you need will be provided. This half day excursion is in Alexandria, Virginia and is the perfect way to get to know some like-minded ladies for a few hours of working out and having fun.
Survival challenge in Middleburg
Looking to put your outdoor skills to the true test? This half day trip from DC will be a hands-on workshop to help learn what it takes to really survive in the wilderness. If you’re an avid hiker and camper, this course will teach you the tools it takes to be an even more confident outdoors person. An experienced instructor will help you master techniques like building a shelter, purifying water or rescue tactics so you have the tools to survive in any scenario.
Want to pamper yourself post adventure course, the challenge is located adjacent to the Salamander Resort & Spa, so make a day of it and schedule a massage post training.
Zipline and Wine tour in Middleburg
When looking for a fast-paced adventure, nothing compares to ziplining atop the trees, zooming high above the Virginia woods. There are five different heights and lengths throughout the course, giving you a real adrenaline rush while taking the day to enjoy nature. After your elevated excursion, you can wind down at the Gold Cup Wine bar where you can participate in a wine tasting sampling some of the best vineyards in the region.
Other Stuff You HAVE to Do While in DC, According to our Team
Not everyone is up for an epic adventure while on a weekend getaway from DC (or to DC, depending on the Explorer Chick). But that doesn’t mean that we don’t know our way around the DC area. Our guide Kat McKittens—a Maryland native—shares her favorite day trips.
Explorer Chick Guide, Kat McKittens
My background has been a decade in the climbing industry as a competitive climbing coach and an outdoor rock/ice guide. I’m in Baltimore, MD but love any excuse to travel. I am beyond psyched to guide tours with you Explorer Chicks. I also love playing the ukulele, scuba diving, snowboarding, and am new to skateboarding.
- Billy Goat Trail, section A Potomac River | 26 minute drive from DC | A fun loop with some mild challenging scrambles and great views of the river. Here’s the trail map on AllTrails.
- Great Falls | 33 minute drive from DC | Beautiful outlooks of the river and friendly to newer hiker. Places to bring food to cookout and bathroom with running water. We suggest Old Brogue Irish pub afterwards!
- Annapolis Rocks | an hour drive from DC | | Maryland | 3 mile hike with a slight uphill on the hike in but a beautiful overlook awaits at the end! Here’s the trail map on AllTrails.
- Cunningham Falls | 1 hour 15 minute drive from DC | 14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd, Thurmont, MD 21788 | Moderate hike to one of the longest waterfalls in MD. As an added bonus: during the warmer months there is a “beach” with sand around the lake that is family friendly with lifeguards. Very fun!
- Larriland Farms | 1 hour drive from DC | Larriland Farm Inc, 2415 Woodbine Rd, Woodbine, MD 21797 | Cute apple orchard that you can pick your own apples and sunflowers and just fun good times on a pretty property.
- Starbright Farms | 1 hour 46 minute drive from DC | Star Bright Farm, 2950 Garrett Rd, White Hall, MD 21161 | Cute lavender farm on a pretty property and often have wreath making events/ wine vendors/ live music etc in warmer months
- Old Rag | 2 hour drive from DC | Old Rag Mountain, Virginia 22743 | My favorite hike in Shenandoah region. Fairly challenging with lots of scrambling for the last section to the summit but great views and very rewarding. Weekends are crazy but they have started a permit system that should help. No dogs are allowed on the trails for their safety. Here is the trail map on AllTrails.
We told ya. Colonial towns, cobblestone streets, survival courses… there is something for everyone just a day trip away. If you’re on the East Coast, then join one of our weekend getaways. We’ll show you all the good stuff.
Meet the Writer
Abbie Synan is a freelance writer who focuses on sustainability initiatives within the tourism industry. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she has been traveling full time since 2013, hopping the globe, visiting over 95 countries while exploring ways to be a more mindful global citizen. She is the sustainable travel expert for Wanderful, an international travel community, as well as the content co-lead for Impact Travel Alliance, a global organization educating and inspiring travelers.
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