60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C. provides the best day hikes and walks within roughly an hour's drive of the metro area.
About the Author
Renee Marchese Sklarew is a native Washingtonian who enjoys exploring her city’s many attractions, including its parks and trails. As a young girl, her father received a temporary assignment that took her family to Switzerland, and that’s where she began her passion for hiking and exploring. Today, her family makes surveying nature’s wonders a priority, and they love visiting America’s National Parks. Renee regularly contributes travel articles and photos to newspapers and magazines, including the Washingtonian, Northern Virginia Magazine, Boston Globe, and Washington Post. She is co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Washington DC and Fodor’s Washington DC Guidebook. Recently, she joined the team of “Oh Ranger!” editing guides to national, state, and local parks. Renee hopes readers will use 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington D.C. to discover new trails and meaningful destinations.
Rachel Cooper is a freelance writer and has been the Washington, D.C., Expert for About.com (now TripSavvy.com) since 2004. Rachel is also the author of the book Images of Rail - Union Station in Washington, D.C., and has written numerous articles for local and regional publications. She especially enjoys outdoor recreation, including hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. She met her husband, Brian, through a local windsurfing club, and they have spent more than 25 years together seeking new adventures as they travel across the region and around the world.
Paul Elliott works as a writer/editor and plays primarily as a social and solo hiker. He has been leading hikes year-round in the Washington metro area and beyond since 1990, most recently for the Sierra Club and Appalachian Mountain Club. His forte is getting people with a taste for adventure to sample the pleasures and surprises of the area’s remarkable array of hiking opportunities.
Read an Excerpt
LENGTH: 8.5 miles
CONFIGURATION: Modified out-and-back
SCENERY: River views, wetlands
EXPOSURE: Mostly open; more so in winter
TRAFFIC: Very light–light; heavier on warm-weather weekends, holidays at colonial farm
TRAIL SURFACE: Chiefly dirt or grass; marsh boardwalk, short stretches of gravel, pavement
HIKING TIME: 3.5–4.5 hours
ACCESS: Open daily, dawn–dusk; entrance fee
MAP: USGS Mount Vernon
FACILITIES: Toilets, water at visitor center (near trailhead; closed on Mondays); toilets along Piscataway Creek trail
In the late 18th century, the view across the Potomac River from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was one of woods and cultivated fields. More than two centuries later, it still is.
A mix of private and public actions saved the developmentally challenged shoreline lying only 14 miles south of the White House. In the early 1950s, local groups and citizens launched an effort to protect it. Then, in 1961, Congress authorized Piscataway Park to preserve “the historic and scenic values . . . of lands which provide the principal overview.” Using more easements than ownership, the present-day park extends along the riverbank for about 6 miles and covers about 5,000 acres.
This hike is a country ramble in an area where past and present mingle. It includes a reconstructed colonial-era farm featuring now-rare crops and livestock breeds, as well as a modern organic farm. Among its other attractions are views of Mount Vernon, a Native American ceremonial site, an arboretum, and a marsh. The mostly level, 8.5-mile hike is only partially blazed and signposted, so follow my directions closely, especially on the segment after the colonial farm. Also, expect little shade and a bit of mud.
To get started from the trailhead parking lot, walk back to the paved road. Turn left onto the grassy shoulder and walk along the edge of the woods for about 50 yards. Turn left onto the Blackberry Trail at a half-hidden trail sign. Follow the purple blazes through the woods.
At the far side, you’ll reach the fenced-in, eight-acre Robert Ware Straus Ecosystem Farm. It develops improved methods of intensive and sustainable organic farming. Like the colonial farm, it’s run by the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park, which also manages the park’s trails and visitor center for the National Park Service.
Touch not the electrified anti-deer fence. Turn right to walk along it. At the end, turn right onto an open gravel road. At a paved road (Bryan Point Road), turn left, and follow the shoulder for 200 yards, staying left. Then, at the “Tayac” sign, turn left onto a dirt road and follow it through fields going wild. Cross a parking lot onto a woodland path, then settle in for a scenic hike of just over a mile along the river. The hike begins with a boardwalk jaunt across a large freshwater tidal marsh fed by Accokeek Creek.
In the warm-weather months, the marsh is a green carpet dotted with color, mostly the red, pink, or white blooms of flowering plants and the wing patches of red-winged blackbirds. Water birds ply the shore. Insects create a sonic background for the boom of a bullfrog or the whistle of an osprey. In winter, you’ll mostly experience browns, grays, and silence. The browns may well include bald eagles. After the marsh, you’ll pass through a small wooded swamp and then step off the planks and onto a paved woodland path. About 20 yards later, step into the open at a junction with an unpaved farm road. Turn left and follow the road along the riverbank to the site of a large, precolonial Piscataway village. The area remains sacred to the villagers’ descendants, who gather there each spring for a ceremony. Pause to view the ceremonial wigwam, other artifacts, and the plaque honoring Chief Turkey Tayac (1895–1978).
Continuing, stay near the river, which is shielded by thickets. The passing fields are part of a special farm where schoolchildren learn about farming and ecology. Eventually, you’ll enter some woods and leave the river as the road swings right. When you next reach the water, it’ll be at Piscataway Creek’s estuaryalso the turnaround spot, 2.25 miles into the hike. Look around, and note the bushes brightened in summer by honeysuckle flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies (and poetically remember the dragonfly hanging like a blue thread loosed from the sky). On the estuary’s far side, look for mammoth Fort Washington, built in 1824 to guard the river approach to the capital. Then begin your return to the ecosystem farm. En route, just after the end of the boardwalk, detour for a quarter-mile round trip into the marsh on a trail bordering Accokeek Creek. Watch on the left for an observation platform. Use it to marsh gaze, and then walk back.
At the ecosystem farm, again, change course. First, you’ll proceed along the fence all the way to the end. Then turn right along a second fence line. Turn left at the second side trail, near bluebird box number 42; and walk to the riverbank. There, at the farm’s solar power generator, eyeball Mount Vernon, turn left, and follow the grassy riverbank path.
At a trail junction (that’s the Blackberry Trail again, on the left), proceed on the signposted and yellow-blazed Pumpkin Ash Trail, which leads a half mile to the visitor center. From the center, head west on a dirt path. Just before getting to an avenue of cedars, turn right onto the signposted Riverview Trail. It’s an open, blue-blazed, mowed-in-season grassy trail that’s 0.8 miles long but hidden from the river by thickets. On approaching a fenced enclosure, leave the trail to turn right and then right again to take a stairway to the boat dock. The dock provides a fine view of Mount Vernon year-round.
Back on the main trail, detour to the enclosure known as the Museum Garden. A key part of the National Colonial Farm, it features plants grown and used by the colonists. Later you’ll see more of the farm and perhaps some staff members and volunteers, who wear period garb and interact informatively with visitors. After leaving the garden, turn left, walk to the end of the fence, and turn right onto a gravel road. After passing the caretaker’s residence, a driveway, and an old out-kitchen on the right, leave the road and swing right onto a grassy trail (part of the Riverview Trail). Follow it past a pond on the left. Then swing sharply right and head into the woods on a dirt trail. Soon after crossing a stream and out in the open again, turn right at the first of six junctions and walk past overgrown fields. Turn right at the next junction. Turn right at the third junction, along the shore, and swing left along the edge of the woods. Turn right at the fourth junction, out in the open. Turn right at the fifth junction (ignore the trail sign pointing straight ahead to the Bluebird Trail), and walk about 50 yards uphillto the sixth junction. There, turn right and then left onto the signposted and white-blazed Pawpaw Trail. It’s a narrow dirt trail that arcs for half a mile through a hilly and heavily wooded area. Watch for labeled trees, mature trees, baby trees (especially pawpaws), wildflowers, and poison ivy.
The Pawpaw Trail ends at the upper edge of a mowed area dotted with labeled young trees and shrubs representing more than 125 species that grew in southern Maryland in the colonial era. They make up the park’s six-acre Native Tree Arboretum, started in the 1980s. Roam among the plants and then follow the edge of the woods westward (away from the Pawpaw Trail). Turn left onto a gravel road (part of the Bluebird Trail), walk ten yards, and turn left again onto a grassy path to semicircle around what park literature alleges is a chestnut grove. Continuing, you’ll arrive at the junction of the Pawpaw Trail and the short trail up from the Bluebird Trail. This time, turn right onto the short trail and then right again onto the blue-blazed Bluebird Trail, and head out into the open. Follow the road east, between a pasture on the left and the lower part of the arboretum on the right. Beyond the pasture, turn sharply left to stay on the gravel road and Bluebird Trail. Heading north, follow the road as it swings right past some stables and reaches a junction. There, turn sharply left and continue, following the blue blazes past the farm’s livestock area. Then pass the driveway again. Continue, keeping the Museum Garden on your left, and head down the cedar avenue that leads to the start of the Riverview Trail. At the end of the avenue, detour through a gate on the right to circle past the colonial farm’s old farmhouse, out-kitchen, smokehouse, “necessary” (outhouse), and kitchen garden. Then return to the trailhead.
Table of Contents
1 Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park
2 Columbia Island
3 East Potomac Park and Jefferson Memorial
4 Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial
5 U.S. National Arboretum
6 Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
7 Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
8 Rock Creek Park: Boulder Bridge Trail
9 Rock Creek Park: Northern Section
10 Capital Crescent Trail: Fletcher’s Cove to Georgetown Waterfront Park
11 Glover Archbold Park Trail and Potomac Heritage Trail Network
CLOSE-IN MARYLAND SUBURBS
12 Cabin John Regional Park
13 Lake Needwood and Maryland’s Rock Creek Regional Park
14 Black Hill Regional Park
15 C&O Canal Towpath: Great Falls to Old Angler’s Inn with Olmstead Island
16 C&O Canal Towpath: Old Angler’s Inn to Carderock
17 Billy Goat Trail: Sections A and B
18 McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area
19 Lake Artemesia Natural Area and Northeast Branch Trail
20 Greenbelt Park
21 Patuxent Research Refuge: Cash Lake Trail
22 Cosca Regional Park
23 Brookside Gardens and Wheaton Regional Park
24 Sandy Spring Underground Railroad Trail to Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park
25 Seneca Greenway Trail: Frederick Road (Rt. 355) to Brink Road
26 Seneca Creek State Park: Lake Shore Trail
CLOSE-IN VIRGINIA SUBURBS
27 Gerald Connolly Cross Country Trail: Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
28 Winkler Botanical Preserve
29 Fort Hunt Park and Mount Vernon Trail
30 Huntley Meadows Park
31 Turkey Run Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail Network
32 Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
33 Fraser Preserve
34 Riverbend Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail Network
35 Great Falls Park of Virginia
36 Potomac Overlook Regional Park and Nature Center
37 Mason Neck State Park and National Wildlife Refuge
38 Burke Lake Park Trail
39 Lake Accotink Park Trail
40 Glade Stream Valley Park
RURAL MARYLAND LOCALES
41 Monocacy National Battlefield
42 Magruder Branch Trail and Lower Magruder Trail
43 Little Bennett Regional Park
44 Rachel Carson Conservation Park
45 Sugarloaf Mountain
46 Cunningham Falls State Park
47 Catoctin Mountain Park
48 Patuxent River Park: Jug Bay Natural Area
49 Quiet Waters Park
50 National Colonial Farm at Piscataway Park
51 Calvert Cliffs State Park
52 Cedarville State Forest
53 Manassas National Battlefield Park
54 Bull Run–Occoquan Trail
55 Prince William Forest Park
56 Leesylvania State Park
57 Algonkian Regional Park
58 Sky Meadows State Park
59 Appalachian Trail: Raven Rocks
60 Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve