Did you think that D.C. was only cement buildings, Metro stations, and brunch? There’s more! The nation’s capital is both home to, and surrounded by, hundreds of miles of natural beauty and opportunities for exploration. You have no excuse not to go outside and be one with nature. Be free. Bike, hike, enjoy the unpolluted air. Look at trees. Look at water. And then hurry back once you realize you don’t have cell reception.
#UnitedOutside content has been done in collaboration with our friends at REI
- Open: Always
- Even if you’ve never been on a hike, you’ve probably walked a portion of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The (eventual) 20 mile trial will (one day) cover both sides of the Anacostia river, providing easy transportation for pedestrians. As of right now, 12 of the 20 miles are “heavily used.” If you’re looking to bike, skate or you just want to take a walk and check out some of D.C., this is the easiest trail to hop on and hop off.
- Open: Always
- One of the most popular trails in the US, this 11 mile trail starts at Georgetown and ends in Silver Spring. It’s a great place to walk, run, bike, or rollerblade. Be aware that the path runs slightly uphill as you travel north, a possible deterrence for bikers. Thankfully, Georgetown Cupcake is located close to the main trail entrance, providing a convenient reward for all your hard exercise. Make sure you check out the woods beneath the trail.
- Open: Always
- Although this trail acts as a shortcut between the busy areas of Georgetown and Tenleytown, while walking it you will soon forget your proximity to the big city. A covering of trees and path along a stream make it a haven for nature lovers looking to escape the hustle and bustle. If you need to cut your hike short, there are multiple opportunities to exit the trail onto a residential road.
- Open: Daylight
- D.C.’s biggest park is a great place to start hiking. It contains 32 miles of trails that loop around. Start at the Nature Center or Peirce Mill and make your way around. The park offers much more than just hiking: the Nature Center has a planetarium open on weekends with two shows a day. The aforementioned Peirce Mill is an 1820s-era gristmill. On foot, on bike, or in search of a picnic spot, Rock Creek is the quintessential park for adventurers of all ages. Also, check out the Capital Stone Yard.
- Open: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Roosevelt Island is a quick escape from metro D.C. that will appeal to hikers of limited skill level. There are three short trails that showcase the island’s environment. The Swamp, Woods, and Upland Trails let you get a taste of hiking, while not exerting yourself too much. The main destination on the island is the Teddy Roosevelt memorial, a large pavilion dedicated to the president located in the center of the island. Pack a picnic and spend some time meditating over Roosevelt’s views on childhood and the environment, which are engraved on massive structures. You might also consider renting a kayak from the Georgetown Boathouse and paddling the perimeter of this natural wonder.
- Open: Always
- The famous Appalachian Trail hits just north of D.C. in Frederick County, Maryland. This trail starts in Georgia and ends in Maine, and takes about six months to hike. If you aren’t feeling up for that, you can still enjoy parts of the trail. About 40 miles run through Maryland, and are considered ideal for beginning backpackers looking to do a 4 or 5 day camping trip. The Appalachian Trail provides views of the Potomac River, Harper’s Ferry Area, and access to the park that is home to the original Washington Monument.
- Open: Daylight
- Lovers of land and water, rejoice! This popular park is not only for picnicking. There are both hard and natural surface trails that surround Seneca Lake. A beautiful spot for a day paddle, canoes, kayaks, and rowboats are available for rent throughout the summer. Take your pick and take a map: water trails throughout the lake guide you to the best scenic views and spots for eagle watching.
- Open: Daylight
- Starting in D.C., this trail extends for 184.5 miles to West Virginia. Some notable points in the path include the Maryland side of Great Falls Park, located in Potomac. The Maryland side includes the popular Billy Goat Trail, arguably the most challenging hike in the area, as well as tamer paths and beautiful views of the waterfalls. It is truly difficult to comprehend how this natural phenomenon is located so close to DC. Just as a heads up, the Georgetown portion of the trail is currently closed!
- Open: Daylight
- The Cabin John Stream Valley Trail is about 9 miles long and lets you get from Potomac to Cabin John. There are shorter portions in Cabin John Regional Park if you don’t feel like walking the whole thing. The “hikers only” portion of the trail stretches from MacArthur Boulevard to River Road, providing an extra level of solitude and tranquility.
- Open: 8 a.m. to sunset (April – October), 10 a.m. to sunset (November – March).
- If you want to get up close and personal with some water falls, look no further! Perched in the Catoctin Mountains (you may know them from the whiskey), Cunningham Falls is separated into two hikeable areas. Head to the William Houck Area hosts the aforementioned falls, Hunting Creek Lake and a variety of camping areas, while the Manor Area has the Catoctin Furnace Trail, the Little Hunting Creek and its own camp site.
- Open: Daylight
- This is a great place to go camping. There are a ton of campsites and over nine miles of trails for you to wander around. Besides the foliage, which is especially notable in the fall months, the main draw to this park is likely its metro accessibility.
- Open: 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
- The Patuxent Research Refuge is a wildlife refuge, promising lots of furry friends on your hike. This Prince George’s County spot follows the Patuxent River, one of Maryland’s designated scenic rivers. Pay attention to their website- the Patuxent Research Refuge puts on a lot of fun events such as the Wildlife Conservation Tram Tour, making the trip extra special.
- Open: Daylight
- Maryland’s Rock Creek Park is a 1,800 acre extension of DC’s Rock Creek Park. It stretches all the way to Rockville. You can hike around the two lakes in the park, Lake Needwood and Lake Frank, or even hike all the way into D.C. Boat rentals are also available here, so you can get out on the water before it gets too cold.
- Open: 8:00 a.m. – Sunset from March through October, 10:00am – Sunset from November through February
- This park is best known for Clopper Lake, which is beautiful in the fall. The main trails are at Clopper Lake and Schaeffer Farms. If you like long hikes, the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail traverses 16.5 miles throughout the whole park, all the way to the Potomac River. If you’re looking to get your “outdoor bro” on, a 27-hole disc golf course might appeal to you.
- Open: 8:00 a.m. – an hour before sunset
- It’s a little difficult to find the entrance to Sugarloaf. And possibly even harder to find parking. But if you manage to get there, you can enjoy hiking around or scaling 1,282 feet to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. Keep your eye out for flying squirrels, woodpeckers, deer, and rattlesnakes. Oh, by the way, this is the Sugarloaf in Maryland, not Brazil.
- Open: Always (except for the Waterpark)
- There is more than just a waterpark at Bull Run. The park also contains the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, which is 17 miles long. In April you can see the bluebell flowers in bloom.
- Open: 7:00 a.m. – dark
- The Virginia side of Great Falls also has a lot of different hiking trails that you can use. You can see the old Patowmack Canal or the ruins of Matildaville if you are into history.
- Open: 6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
- This trail starts at Mount Vernon and follows the Potomac, so you can gaze at the D.C. skyline. It also allows you to get to a bunch of other regional trails so you can never reach the end.
- Open: Always
- Encompassing some of the other trails on this guide, the Potomac Heritage Trail lets you follow the path that George Washington took. How did they know what route he took? I don’t know. But you can pretend to be him as you walk along this 830 mile trail.
- Open: Daylight
- There are a ton of different trails to choose from at Scott’s Run. You can cross streams, look at the Potomac River, and Instragram a waterfall. Just watch out for snakes.
- Open: Always
- Shenandoah National Park offers over 500 miles of trails. The most popular (and most challenging) trail is Old Rag, which takes you to the top of the mountain, scrambling over rocks and climbing steep paths. The entire circuit is roughly 9 miles, but the views are worth it. Make sure to bring plenty of water and food (you will get hungry, I promise) and a jacket to put on as the elevation increases because it gets pretty breezy at the top. – Emily Holland
West Virginia Trails
- Open: Always
- If you’re into gorges, this place is for you. Blackwater Falls is named after the amber colored water, which plunges down five stories on its tumbling journey down the 8-mile-long gorge.With plenty of fine trails for hiking, a wintertime bonus is their extensive cross-country skiing trails: which is basically snow hiking on flat sticks. -Zeke Leeds
- Open: Tuesday – Thursday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Closed Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and all federal holidays.
- Technically the forest headquarters is located in Roanoke, Virginia. But this is because the two national forests contain nearly 1.8 million acres. Located within the Blue Ridge, Central Ridge and Valley, Allegheny, and Cumberland Plateau province, there is no shortage of outdoor recreation which can be had here. -Zeke Leeds
- Open: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- This historic location is situated in the armpit of the Potomac river where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia split. The site is host to many important cultural events, such as the first successful American railroad and John Brown’s raid. In addition, Harpers Ferry features some incredible natural resources. Enjoy from the Jefferson Rock the sprawling water gap where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers meet. -Zeke Leeds
- Open: Always
- Located near Seebert in Pocahontas County, Watoga State Park is the largest of West Virginia’s state parks covering slightly over 10,100 acres. Good news: they’re offering a winter special of a 50% discount on cabin rates, if you stay three nights, Sunday – Thursday. -Zeke Leeds
Great Hikes (Outside the D.C. Area)
You are hiking on a glacier. As in, you are hiking on ice. Ice that is centuries old. And if tour companies let 8-year-olds on the glacier hike tours, it can’t be that hard.
First thing, this is in the Caribbean. So there will be awesome Caribbean beaches. To get to the beach you have to climb through a small cave system, also known as The Baths. It’s not as hard as you would think. You just need to scramble over some rocks. And it is totally worth it to get to one of the best beaches in the world.
Mount Fuji isn’t hard to hike per se, I mean when I hiked it there was a group of kindergarten-aged kids climbing it too. In fact, I think they probably found it easier than I did. If you do want to climb Mount Fuji, don’t do anything that I did. So don’t climb outside of the official climbing season, and don’t blindly follow a tour group. And be prepared. If you do those things you might make it up to the top. Take a picture for me. – Sarah Guan
You Should Go To The Joshua Tree National Park
By Jonny Grave
My girlfriend has a sister in Los Angeles. Jennifer lives with her boyfriend, Scott, and their two cats in a cozy one-bedroom place not far from Echo Park. I should mention here that Jennifer is a lovely chef, accommodating hostess, lively entertainer, and a chronic planner. She lives to plan things out. Before we could do anything, she sat Maryjo and I down, and demanded to know what we wanted to do for our stay. They both talked about seeing the Getty, or Venice Beach, or the Observatory, maybe getting some Thai food, and visiting SpaceX, all of which we wound up doing over the next four days. Jennifer then turned to me, and asked what the hell I’d like to do. The conversation went something like this:
Jennifer: So, what would you like to do while you’re here?
Jonny: Really, I’m just happy to tag along for whatever you two have planned. It’s my first time out here, so I’m kind of in your hands.
Jennifer: Seriously, what the hell do you want to do? Go see Disney? Walk around on Sunset or Hollywood? Go see a show?
Jonny: I mean, there’s one place I want to see in California, but it’s probably too far away.
Jennifer: What is it?
Jonny: It’s nothing– just a big national park in the desert. But, again, it’s probably too far away to go there and come back in a day.
Jennifer: Well, where is it?
Jonny: It’s called Joshua Tree National Park, and it’s…
Jennifer: I’m Googling it…
Jonny: No, I mean, it’s probably too far away to pull off in a day, so let’s just do something else.
Jennifer: I’ve got it here. Google Maps says it’s a two-hour drive. Maybe two-and-a-half with traffic.
Jonny: Right, so that’s like five hours just spent driving. Too far away, right?
Jennifer: Jon, do you know how much people drive in LA? Do you know how long we spend in rush hour, just trying to get home?
Jonny: I mean…
Jennifer: Shut up. You’re going.
Two days later, my girlfriend and I sped out into the desert in her sister’s car. Joshua Tree National Park is a massive, sprawling wilderness, roughly the size of Rhode Island in the Mojave Desert. The scenery features rock formations, mountains, and several arrays of yucca brevifolia, the tree for which the park is named. We climbed to the top of Ryan Mountain, and saw the Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant Valleys.
To be out in the desert, in the middle of untouched wilderness, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being very, very small. It wasn’t so much that by being small, I was insignificant; I just realized how big everything else was, and felt fortunate to be a part of it.
We climbed down from the mountain as the sun set over the Mojave. Freezing, and shivering, we made it back to the car, under the light of a full moon. In a couple hours, we were back in the city, where everything moved fast. Jennifer asked me if I liked it, and I didn’t have words. I have the pictures, though.
Websites to Know
Hiking goes with camping. So here is Eric Lofton’s guide to camping etiquette.
Don’t know what to bring on a hiking trip? How about beer?
Need advice on drinking beer outside? Eric Lofton is here to help you out.
A Story from a Really Bad Hiker
by Sarah Guan
Last year I was in Iceland on a family trip and we decided it would be a great idea to hike in the Icelandic highlands. The highlands are only accessible for three months during the year. The tour was a group of nine people, 5 Americans and 4 Icelanders. The Icelanders were decked out in weather-proof gear. Us Americans were in jeans, sneakers, and normal jackets. We were unprepared.
The tour company took us to a hot spring field, Hverdalir. This meant that we were hiking next to boiling hot water. Because it was a geothermal area, things were melting. The ground was soft, kind of sand like. I should not have worn sneakers.
There were huge wind gusts. I am a tiny person. A huge wind gust can knock me off the narrow path. Oh right, the path. At points, the path was probably a foot wide and then had a steep decline straight into boiling hot water. So getting knocked around by the wind was terrifying.
Also, the weather was terrible. It rained. It sleeted. It snowed. In July. By the time I aborted the hike I was completely soaked. I was so exhausted from my experience I spent the next day in the hotel.
So yeah, if you are going to go hiking, be prepared. Especially if you are going hiking in Iceland. (And you definitely should go hiking in Iceland. Iceland is amazing.)
The Right Way to Buy Hiking Boots
Like every other person in my peer group, I went to Iceland this year. It was beautiful, I had a great time and I didn’t give a shit about having the same Instagram photos as all of my friends. The one thing I did do that seemingly none of my friends did was go out and drop some real money on some hiking boots. I like to be prepared. I don’t like tour guides. Sure, I missed out on some things because I wanted to explore on my own schedule, but doing things on my own made me take the trip more seriously. You want to take this trip seriously.
Luckily, we live in D.C. and there is a flagship REI store right in NoMa. I popped in, tried on some shoes and walked out spending more money than I wanted to, but it was worth every penny. First, the staff recommended I go with a mid boot instead of a shoe or a full boot. A mid boot is perfect if you’re a non-serious hiker about to do some semi-serious hiking. It protects your ankle better than a hiking shoe and that extra bit of coverage also ensures everything is nice and water proof. Second, they taught me the key to making sure your hiking boots fit. After you’ve got your hiking boots on and you’ve walked around a little, slip two fingers right in the back of your shoe. Can you easily fit two fingers? You’re gold! Can you not fit a single finger? Your boots are too tight and they’re going to give you blisters for days. Writing about fingering shoes is making me uncomfortable, so I’m going to move on now. The third most important thing they taught me is buy yourself some wool socks. They’ll keep you warm, they’ll keep you dry, and their thickness will keep the blisters at bay. Even if you’re going in the middle of the summer (I went in the middle of the summer), get a pair of wool socks. The REI brand socks range between $12 and $15. Buy them.
My handsome, smart, wonderful boyfriend did not go out and by hiking boots before our trip. He had very wet feet, whereas mine were dry and comfortable the entire time. Talk to a professional. Buy a real hiking boot. -Kaylee Dugan
Four Shoes That You Can Be Wearing Right Now
5 Hiking Movies
By Sarah Guan
As far as I know, there aren’t many films about hiking. I guess watching people walk around in nature isn’t a go-to for Hollywood. So here are five movies that I thought of off the top of my head that are tangentially related to hiking.
1. 127 Hours
So this movies isn’t actually about hiking, since James Franco spends most of the movie stuck in a canyon. But, the family that saves him were hikers, so the movie is acceptable.
2. March of the Penguins
I don’t know if animals hike. They walk around nature because they live in nature, so maybe they don’t hike. But these penguins waddle over 62 miles so I think they hike.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
Finally a movie that has people hiking, even if it isn’t about hiking. But they are in the wilderness, and they actually walk around and camp and stuff.
4. The Parent Trap
Yes, there is hiking in this movie. At the very end. But still, who doesn’t like a hike that features messing with the evil future step-mother?
Hiking plays a very important role in this movie, especially compared to the other movies. You should watch it just for that.
Bonus! An actual movie about someone hiking! This movie, starring Reese Witherspoon is based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed.
By Zeke Leeds
- Jethro Tull – Songs from the Wood
“Let me bring you songs from the wood:
to make you feel much better than you could know.”
- The Antlers – Bear
While this song has little to nothing to do with communing with nature (although it does concern the ultimate nature of all living things) the band is called Antlers and the song is Bear–that’s a twice as natural namesake.
- Baths – Lovely Bloodfood
Baths has managed to create one of most lush music videos ever. It is overflowing with vegetation and even includes some spirit of the woods figure. If this song doesn’t get you ready to enjoy a brisk autumn hike than you probably haven’t smoked enough weed today.
- Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter
The people of the Appalachian mountains have developed a distinct culture. Because of the region’s relative geographical isolation, it has mainly been left outside of mainstream America. Except for the Coal Miner’s Daughter, of course, an Appalachian superstar.
- Dock Boggs – Oh Death
If there is anything which can be called natural music it’d have to include acoustic instruments, and more specifically, I’m thinking a banjo–the great American instrument (because no one cares about the glass harmonica, Benjamin Franklin). Dock Boggs is another Appalachian musician/master banjo picker who’ll get you back to the roots.
Bonus: Jesco White, the dancing outlaw, on sniffin’
Ladies and gentlemen, I now give you the dancing outlaw. Prepared to be amazed.
*** #UnitedOutside content has been done in collaboration with our friends at REI *****