November 17 is “Take a Hike” Day!
This annual event, sponsored by the American Hiking Society, is devoted to celebrating hiking across our country. Living in the very urban Washington, DC area, you may not think of local hiking as an option. Rest assured, our area offers some spectacular hikes right in the city or just a short drive away. So lace up your hiking boots and head on out!
ROCK CREEK PARK
Did you know there are over 32 miles of trails right in the heart of the District? Rock Creek Park offers two main trails: the Western Ridge Trail, which parallels the western side of the park, and the Valley Trail, which parallels Rock Creek and Beach Drive. One of the Park’s most scenic routes is the Rapids Bridge Loop, a two-mile trail that passes the park’s scenic whitewater section. You can pick up the trail behind the Horse Center; you will hit the creek shortly. Hikers should be sure to stop at Rapids Bridge to check out the view.
GREAT FALLS PARK
Just 15 miles from the District, hikers will find the 800 acres of Great Falls Park. This historic park highlights the Potomac River as it slices through enormous rock formations and spectacular waterfalls. Great Falls Park offers fifteen miles of hiking trails, including The River Trail, offering fabulous views of the Mather Gorge, the narrowest point of the lower Potomac River.
C&O CANAL PARK
Across the Potomac River on the Maryland side is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. This trail runs 184 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. The C&O Canal is a history lover’s delight with its many original features such as locks, lock houses, aqueducts, and other canal structures. Much of this trail is heavily wooded so river views are best when the trees are bare.
Nearby hikers will find one of the area’s best day hikes: the Billy Goat Trail. Nearly five miles long, the Billy Goat Trail provides some challenging hiking (including rock hopping!). Hikers along this trail will likely see some extreme sports in action like white water kayaking and rock climbing.
SENECA CREEK STATE PARK
Just north of town, hikers will find the 6,300 acre Seneca Creek Park. This Park extends 14 miles along Seneca Creek as it winds its way to the Potomac River. This park has two sections: an area in Gaithersburg with 11 miles of trails around Clopper Lake and the 16.5-mile Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. This trail is is is part of the larger 25 mile greenway connecting the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers. The Seneca Creek Greenway traverses beautiful woodlands, sweeping overlooks, and includes a natural rock bridge!
PRINCE WILLIAM FOREST PARK
This national park, just south of Quantico, VA offers a whopping 37 miles of hiking trails through its 15,000 acres. There are 150 historic structures in Prince William Forest Park. Animal and nature lovers will delight in the wildlife (including over 100 species of birds!) and 700 plant species found in the park. The Scenic Drive provides access to virtually all trails and features in the park.
MASON NECK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Eighteen miles south of town in Lorton, along the Potomac River, is Mason Neck peninsula. Here in 1969, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the first national wildlife refuge established specifically for the protection of our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle. Once nearly extinct, the bald eagle now enjoys the safety of this refuge. Hikers can enjoy its four miles of trails to view the bald eagle and the more than 200 birds species and other wildlife found in the refuge. The Great Marsh, a 207 acre tidal freshwater marsh and one of Virginia’s largest breeding great blue heron colonies is also found here.
Just over an hour away is historic Harper’s Ferry, WV, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Harper’s Ferry played a significant role in the Civil War given its location. Today, 20 miles of trails exist in and around. Harper’s Ferry. Its National Historical Park covers more than 4,000 acres of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. It is home to the midpoint (and headquarters) of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The hiking options along riverbanks, across old battlefields, and up mountains have something for everyone.
So, on this day celebrating hiking, be sure to get outside and enjoy the beauty of our area!
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