Whether you live in our nation’s capital and desperately need a day of fresh air or you’re an out-of-towner looking to put that final vacation day to good use, here is a list of my five favorite green getaways from Washington, D.C. Each destination is less than two hours away from downtown by car, and can easily be enjoyed in a day. Don’t forget to pack a water bottle!
1. SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK – FRONT ROYAL, VIRGINIA
Shenandoah National Park is the classic day trip to take from D.C. The hiking is fabulous, the views unbeatable, and the park can be enjoyed in any weather. Parts of the park intersect with the Appalachian Trail, so if you’ve always dreamed of visiting the iconic two-thousand mile trail – here’s your chance. If you’re not keen on hiking, the park’s famous thoroughfare, Skyline Drive, offers visitors an extensive driving tour of mountainous scenery, complete with numerous scenic overlooks.
2. CHESAPEAKE BAY, MARYLAND
Okay, so I understand that a beach technically isn’t “green,” but I honestly feel like the D.C. set woefully underappreciates Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. If you visit in the fall or early winter, you’ll likely have the tranquil, peaceful beach to yourself. The pollution and crowds of D.C.’s Georgetown waterfront won’t be a problem here in the off-season. Simply relax and enjoy the crisp air with the endless blue waves.
3. GREAT FALLS PARK, MCLEAN, VIRGINIA
Great Falls Park is the rare spot that has something for everyone. Great views of a stellar waterfall? Check. Multiple hiking trails in varying degrees of difficulty? Check. Picnic benches designed for lounging and reading in the shade? Check. Best of all, Great Falls Park is only a twenty-five minute drive from Washington, D.C. The Park Rangers are helpful and eager to share their knowledge, and be sure to keep an eye on the river – if the weather’s pleasant, you may see some daredevils trying to navigate the rapids in kayaks.
4. HARPERS FERRY NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK – HARPERS FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA
Sure, Harpers Ferry is a site from the Civil War, and is bound to attract those who love all things military related. The park, however, also offers visitors riverfront scenery and everything from a flat walking path to a steep trail. As far as day trips from D.C. go, Harpers Ferry definitely doesn’t command the attention that Shenandoah does, making it a bit of a hidden gem. For those looking to add a few states to their “been there, done that” list, Harpers Ferry sits at the intersection of three different states: West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.
5. GETTYSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK – GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA
For Civil War buffs and history lovers, Gettysburg is as good as it can get. The park’s driving tour is well-marked and informative, and the welcome center features an expansive bookstore so that enthusiasts can stock up on reading material before setting out. For those who might not remember much from American History class, this park has plenty of walking trails and viewpoints.