Saturday, November 15, 2014

15 Hikes within Two Hours' Drive of Washington DC Metro Area

by Brian Schwarz, hike leader and geophile

The Washington Metro Area - known by locals as the DC metro or the DMV to include Virginia and Maryland - is home to some exceptional hiking. From rambles through urban watersheds to suburban-ring mountain hikes and wilderness treks, this area provides diverse outdoor appreciation opportunities during all four seasons.

Fun strenuous hiking along the Western Ridge Trail in DC's Rock Creek Park
An hour beyond DC's urban core, you'll find The Bull Run Mountains in Virginia and Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. Within a two-hours' drive, the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains rise above the Piedmont foothills, and they carry with them the Appalachian Trail. These prominent mountains of the Appalachian Range span two national parks on either side of the Potomac: Shenandoah National Park and Catoctin Mountain. 

It's a pretty incredible thing, if you stop to think about it, and I've been thinking about it fairly often as I'm currently in the planning stage for group hikes I'll be leading in this section of Mid-Atlantic America over the course of the next year. 

Hiking diversity throughout the Mid-Atlantic DC Metro Area and beyond!
Below is just a primer list of hikes great DC Metro hikes. I've personally hiked all but one of these sometime in the past three or four months. If you're interested in coming along with an experienced hike leader on any of these, keep an eye on my Facebook page, Hiking Megalopolis.

  1. Rock Creek Wilds Hike (DC) - the northern woods of Rock Creek Park, from Military Road up to the mouth of the valley, above the piedmont-to-plain fall zone
  2. Rock Creek Bluffs Hike (DC) - the southern scrambles of Rock Creek Park, in the fall zone; excellent conditioning hike to prepare for more challenging hikes, like the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls Maryland
  3. Ridge and Valley Hike (DC) - circuit thru-hike of Rock Creek Park, above and below the fall zone
  4. Northwest Tributaries Hike (DC) - Rock Creek and Potomac tributaries, local neighborhood trails
  5. Southeast Hills and Gardens Hike (DC) - national botanical garden sits atop hills rising above the Anacostia River
  6. Sugarloaf Mountain Northern Peaks Hike (MD) - a well-worn piedmont monadnock with a summit and several sub-summits
  7. Catoctin Mountains Hike (MD) - several prominent overlooks with piedmont, valley and mountain views
  8. Cunningham Falls Hike (MD) - a prominent rock outcrop and the base of cascading falls
  9. Maryland Heights Hike (MD) - prominent rock outcrop a Appalachian gap along a ridge overlooking historic town and confluence of Potomac and Shenandoah rivers
  10. Great Falls Maryland Hike (MD) - popular rock scramble and side trails on the east side of Great Falls along the fall zone
  11. Bull Run Mountains Hike (VA) - rock outcrops at the high point of a piedmont Appalachian Blue Ridge mountain outlier that rings in Northern Virginia suburbs
  12. Sky Meadows Hike (VA) - hike from a historiv farm up through a wooded hollow to the AT on a unique meadowed ridgeline then descend with breathtakimg valley views 
  13. Old Rag Mountain Summit Hike (VA) - the number one hike in the area - and not just according to me; strenuous, at the 10 mile range, wilderness, difficult rock scramble, summit, stay for sunset, night hike past abandoned graveyard and site of a long-gone town in a mountain hollow, perfectly darkened for superior star gazing
  14. Great Falls Virginia Hike (VA) - varied opportunities in C&O Canal National Historic Park, including a strenuous rock scramble along dramatic Potomac River bluffs
  15. Rollercoaster to Ravens Rock Hike (VA) - apparently a strenuous up-and-down, out-and-back along mountain ridges to striking rock outcrop known alternately as Ravens Rock and Crescent Rock; this is the only of the 15 hikes within two hours of the DC Metro Area that I haven't done as of the time publishing this article
Best hike in the DC Metro?: Shenandoah National Park's Old Rage Mountain
While there isn't a ton of description this list, I will blog about several of these hikes over the next month or so, and as the weather allows, I'll be doing more scouting of local hikes throughout the winter as I gear up and strengthen up so I can begin taking on the Dirty Dozen Wilderness Hike Challenge, sponsored by The Wilderness Society and Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, which I have from now to September 2015 to complete (hiking 10+ miles in 12 separate designated wilderness areas in the southeast United States, that is).

Meanwhile, if I'm leading hikes with the Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, you can find them posted on those clubs' respective MeetUp pages. But last minute hikes and tips on accessing local trails on your own are found only through my blogs, updates for which are always posted on Hiking Megalopolis on Facebook.