By: Korrin L. Bishop
Sometimes, we long to be out in the wild, but we live in a city. Not every day can be a thru-hiking kind of day. However, many cities offer a surprising amount of outdoor recreation right within the throes of their concrete mazes. Washington, D.C. is a prime example of this.
There are many guides that will promise you the “best hiking trails in D.C.,” but a majority of those lists actually describe hikes that are an hour or more drive away in Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia. There isn’t always time after a long work day to battle rush hour traffic to get to a trailhead, though, so for all of the hikers out there hustling in our nation’s capital, here are three of the best hiking trails in D.C. that are actually smack dab in the middle of in D.C.
Rock Creek Park Trails
Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre wooded, wild greenway right through the heart of D.C. It was authorized a city park in 1890, which made it the third national park designated by the federal government. It’s rich with history, but also with some of the best hiking trails in D.C.
The park has two main trails that run north-south—the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail. These two trails connect with a wide array of shorter east-west trails, making for endless opportunities to explore. Depending on how much time you have, you can take a quick stroll, fashion up your own loop, or connect on to the Rock Creek Trail and keep heading on up into Maryland for some rest and relaxation on the shores of Lake Needwood.
To learn more and download trail maps, visit the park’s website.
Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
The Anacostia River feeds into the Potomac River and adds shape and history to the capital region. Once a wild, beautiful waterway, the river has been victim over the years to pollution and neglect. However, new initiatives (and the great passion and dedication of people like this and this) have gotten the Anacostia moving back toward its glory days. There’s even hope that one day it will be swimmable again.
Part of making the river healthy again is helping people connect to it in a positive way. The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is one way the region hopes to do this. The trail will ultimately run for 20 miles along both banks of the river and will connect a range of D.C. gems, from the Nationals baseball stadium to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. So far, 12 miles of the trail have been completed and opened to the public. It’s a great way to explore a unique area of the city, which is why it is one of the best hiking trails in D.C. Learn more and find maps here.
Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park
The C&O Canal trail is a 184.5-mile car-free wonder that runs from the Georgetown neighborhood in D.C. all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. It follows the Potomac River, and while it might start out in a bustling neighborhood, the trail gets wild quickly. Hikers can expect to see a variety of birds, turtles, and other wildlife along the way.
The trail is great for an afterwork jog or a long weekend bike ride. You can also easily connect it to the Capital Crescent Trail to mix up an out and back walk. With its rich history and unfettered miles, it’s one of the best hiking trails in D.C. Read more about adventures along its path here and find more information from the National Park Service.
Get Out and Explore the Best Hiking Trails in D.C.!
It can be easy to feel a bit rundown during the week when we’d all rather be looking at starry skies and lush forests than computer screens and PowerPoint presentations. But if you live in a city, nature might be closer than you think. Whether you’re in D.C. or another locale, remember to get out and explore all of the goodness in the parks right around you.
Korrin L. Bishop is a freelance writer with a focus on the environment, outdoor recreation, and social justice. She has publications in Misadventures, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Magazine. Learn more about her work on her website.