Washington DC’s central location in the mid-Atlantic makes it a perfect jumping off point to many awesome day trips in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia. Here, we bring you some of our favorite excursions in the area. Some are great for water lovers, some perfect for hikers. All are, for one reason or another, awesome. And topping it off, they're all located in different states and yet within 4 hours of the DC Metro.
1. Hike Old Rag in Shenandoah
_ Approx. 2 hours from DC _
Old Rag Loop is notoriously the most strenuous hike in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Rock scrambles and high inclination make for a mildly precarious climb, and it's well worth it—when you get to the top, you are in the clouds.
The loop is just less than 10 miles in total and according to the National Park Service (NPS), it takes about 8 hours to complete. With that in mind, let's do some quick math—at a rate of just under two miles per hour, one can travel to the end in just over five hours. No problem. Eight hours? No way.
Well, it turns out that the NPS knows their stuff. Even if you find yourself virtually alone on the trail making record time in the first four miles, a narrow rock scramble near mile 4 provides the first real bottleneck on the way up, creating single-file passage. This is when the waiting begins. So, the NPS got it right: about 8 hours, including time allotted for waiting. Once you patiently exercise your way through small crowds and take in your surroundings, you will find yourself among some of the most outstanding nature that the East Coast has to offer nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachians.
At the top, wild birds of prey fly closely over head while you lay on the rocks looking over a panorama of valley. To descend, you can either return via the same trail you traveled up, or you can hit the fire-trail route. The latter is 1.2 miles longer, but is more-or-less flat so it will take you down more quickly than the former and without much thought. This hard-core hike in the Shenandoah truly earns you that cold one upon completion.
2. Sail and Eat Crab on the Chesapeake Bay
_ Approx. 1.5 hours from DC _
Just a short drive from the District is the capital of Maryland, home to America’s Naval Academy and one of the top sailing communities in the United States: Annapolis. It is a town so well known for Maryland crab fished from the adjoining Chesapeake that a sail there can't really be discussed without a nod to the eats. There are many authentic local restaurants right by the water to nosh a real East Coast seafood lunch before wandering a short distance for a cruise on the bay.
The Schooner Woodwind—the sailboat featured in “The Wedding Crashers”—is one of the most popular, offering two-hour cruises where one can relax on a sprawling wooden deck. At just $42 per person, it’s a worthwhile way to enjoy a sunny afternoon on the water and away from the congested city. If learning to sail is more your speed, BaySail Charter and Sailing Instruction is widely recognized for certification courses and offers charters as well.
This is a popular area during the summer so wherever you go, try to make reservations in advance.
3. Visit Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania
Approx. 3 ½ hours from DC
In rural Pennsylvania, just an hour outside of Pittsburg, lives what many historians say is Frank Lloyd Wright’s most beautiful achievement: Fallingwater, or The Kaufmann Residence—named after Edgar Kaufmann, an affluent Pennsylvania businessman for whom it was built in the late 1930’s. Kaufmann wanted a mountain retreat near the falls of Bear Run in the Appalachian Mountains. "I want you to live with the waterfall," Wright famously said to Kaufmann, "not just to look at it." Shortly after the house was built it was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine and more recently, was named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the "Top 28 Places to See Before You Die."
Guided 30-minute tours at this National Historic Landmark are offered daily on a first-come-first-served basis. The Museum is closed Wednesday. Reservations are essential in order to guarantee a tour. Fallingwater is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily so plan drive time accordingly.
Bear Run has 23 miles of easy to moderate hikes nearby. Consult the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy official site for trail maps in the area.
4. Lounge on the Delaware Beaches
Approx. 3-4 hours from DC, depending on traffic
Delaware beaches are continuously awarded for having the highest water quality on either coast of the U.S. and as such, they are hot commodities all summer long. Rehoboth Beach is one of the most popular because of its "something for everybody" persona. With its mile-long boardwalk lined with gaming arcades, pizza shops (Grotto is a local favorite), activities for kids, and plenty of shops to peruse (DE is tax-free), Rehoboth has grown to become one of the most beloved. Although this can be a one-day trip, it's so fun that you might want to stay longer. Something to keep in mind when planning your trip is that accommodations can get competitive; and you can always camp.
Find some off-beach adventure hiking the nearby Junction & Breakwater Trail, an easy five-mile jaunt between Rehoboth and historic Lewes amid Delaware wetlands. Or, get right in it kayaking the calm coastline and watching for dolphin pods. Standup paddle at sunset at Fenwick Island… and bring your camera. There are several historic lighthouses along beach drives.
5. Visit Harpers Ferry in West Virginia
Approx. 2.5 hours from DC
One of the greatest things about the mid-Atlantic is the historic role it played in the building of the nation. Traveling to many places in the area, you often feel like you are stepping back in time to the days of the American Revolution. Harpers Ferry and neighboring Bolivar provides exactly that kind of experience, and more.
This historic town with an incredible past has a bright future as well. Visitors to the area have an opportunity to get on the water where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers converge on the eastern tip of West Virginia. Local outfitters can arrange rafting, tubing, and kayaking trips—the best ways to get on the water in this region during scorching hot summer months. Hike and backpack to your heart's delight on the Appalachian Trail that actually passes directly through the heart of downtown Harpers Ferry.
In the afternoon, hit some distilleries or wineries and shop at local galleries. Wander the picturesque streets and the storied battlefields. And when the sun goes down, experience Revolutionary War ghost tours.
There you have it—five different day trips in five different states just hours from DC where you can experience the best that the beautiful mid-Atlantic has to offer.