As much as we love the nation’s capital, we also know that there are times you just really want to get out of the city for a bit. That’s where DC day trips come in handy.
DC Day Trips
You don’t have to go far to get a very different vibe. Some of the best day trips from DC are just a few miles from the city proper. Most of these are within an hour or two of Washington DC by car, and a few are accessible by train, too.
Day trips from DC to Maryland
C & O Canal Towpath in Maryland
If you’re on two wheels (or two feet) the C & O Canal Towpath is a great way to get out of the city on a wide, flat trail ideal for day trips. Or take a few days to cycle the full 184.5 miles to Cumberland, PA.
Great Falls Park
Just a few miles outside of the DC border, in the middle of the Potomac, lie the eponymous Great Falls. But they don’t just lie there. They roar.
Follow the C&O Canal Towpath from the parking area and take the shortcut to a viewpoint in the middle of the river. Or if you want a more challenging approach, take the Billy Goat Trail with its famously daunting rock scrambles. Wear proper footwear and bring water for the 4.7 mile trail.
Drive out 270 (or bike the C & O towpath) to find this singular mountain near Frederick, Maryland. It offers several different trails to the top, depending on whether you want to scramble up steeply or meander up a gentler path.
Harper’s Ferry, Virginia
There’s history there, yes. This is the place John Brown raided the armory in hopes of rallying slaves to revolt. But there’s so much more to Harper’s Ferry today. The hiking, biking, rock-climbing, tubing, and rafting opportunities are legion.
Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park includes part of the Appalachian Trail, which you can hike today, but it was also an historic spot on the Underground Railroad and the Lewis and Clark trail.
The small town of Frederick feels like a movie set – as if someone plopped the cutest little town into a mountain valley and populated it with bicycles.
In August, come for the National Clustered Spired High Wheel Race – a day long competition of old-fashioned large wheeled bicycles complete with period costumes.
This one’s a natural. Just an hour by car or train or bus. You probably know people who live there. Meet them for a Natty Boh beer and crab cakes in Fells Point or take in the beautiful weirdness of the American Visionary Art Museum.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a great place to spend a few hours with the fishes.
Annapolis is waterside town with history, charm, and Naval Academy cadets. Wander the cobblestone streets past historic homes and gardens.
Peek in the Maryland State House, the oldest state capitol in continuous use, and the only one to serve as the capitol of the United States, at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Settle in for a seafood dinner by the water and watch the sailboats in the harbor.
Savage Mill in Maryland
An historic textile mill reborn as a shopping and dining destination midway between DC and Baltimore. Art, antiques, and local retailers fill five buildings across the site.
Ellicott City, Maryland
A charming historic mill town recovering from two 100-year floods in the space of two years.
Browse the boutiques along the main street and follow up with burgers and beer at the aptly named Phoenix, which has rebuilt after each flood.
St. Michaels, Maryland
On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, about 90 minutes from DC, St. Michaels offers a great escape by land or by sea.
Visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and take a river cruise on the authentic 1920 Chesapeake Bay buyboat Winnie Estelle
National Harbor, Maryland
With the opening of the MGM Grand Casino in 2016, National Harbor officially grew up. A conference center on the Potomac River and Gaylord resort spurred the initial development of the area, with chain restaurants and a ferris wheel bringing locals and tourists. But it was the casino that really cemented it as a destination.
Take a Water Taxi from The Wharf in DC or from Old Town Alexandria, or drive and park in the enormous parking garage.
Grab tickets to a concert at the intimate Theater at MGM National Harbor, where superstars like Cher and Britney Spears have performed for 3,000 lucky fans.
McKee Beshers Wildlife Preserve
When the flowers are in bloom, there is no better place for a sunflower selfie in the DC area than the McKee Beshers Wildlife Preserve. Once word gets out, the place gets crowded, so go early in the day before the stalks are broken by the photo-happy hordes.
DC Day Trips to Virginia
7 miles south of DC and an easy Metro or bike ride, Old Town Alexandria’s freshly completed waterfront is a new reason to visit the historic colonial city.
Rotating public art displays, waterfront concerts, and an unbroken path along the entire city riverfront with new bars and restaurants along the way make it a great close-in day trip.
Mount Vernon, Virginia
14 miles from DC lies Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. The tour of the home offers lots of surprises, including the bright green hue of the dining room walls.
The grounds are sprawling and lovely and perfect for spending a spring day. If you don’t want to spring for tickets, just grab lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn and try the peanut soup.
Take the train an hour south from Union Station to find more George Washington – his boyhood home Ferry Farm. But there’s so much more to this charming place.
For train and plane enthusiasts, the Rappahannock Railroad Museum and the Shannon Air Museum fit the bill.
And everyone loves Carl’s Frozen Custard, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Northern Neck
The area between the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers east of Fredericksburg is rural farmland dotted with historic sites and charming small towns.
History buffs will enjoy getting a peek at some of the spots where founding fathers spent their formative years, like George Washington’s birthplace in Westmoreland County.
Antique and thrift stores invite close inspection.
Waterside seafood options abound, but some of the best meals are inland at Relish in Warsaw. Or pick up a few steamed blue crabs to crack when you get home.
The home of Patsy Cline! You can tour the childhood home of the country music legend.
And Dinosaurs! Dinosaurland is a retro immersive experience where you can walk among life-size reproductions of pre-historic creatures.
In autumn, apple farms are legion in the area and many offer pick-your-own options, along with fun farm activities. Any time of year you can visit Winchester Ciderworks to see the magic they do with fermented apples.
Workhouse Arts Center
An adaptive reuse of the legendary Lorton Correctional Facility in Northern Virginia, the Workhouse Arts Center is now home to more than 100 artist studios and a 100-seat theater, in addition to several outdoor performance spaces.
Virginia’s capitol city is an easy day trip from DC, although you may want to make a weekend of it just to try more of the acclaimed restaurants there.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) are an absolute must for art-lovers.
If you prefer outdoor activities, the James River runs through the city, with class III and IV rapids for the adventurous types.
Luray is a great outing with kids, because their little minds will be blown in several locations. Luray Caverns is the largest underground cavern on the east coast. Stalactites, stalagmites, caves, and a big old organ inside will amaze even adults.
The temperature in the caverns is a constant 54 degrees, so dress accordingly.
The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum at the caverns gives you a nice history of the automobile, while the Luray Depot and Railway Museum covers the same for trains.
For some living history, check out the Shenandoah Heritage Village at the Luray Valley Museum, where blacksmiths show off their skills and an 18th century kitchen produces yummy treats.
The charming town of Sperryville brings to mind old school hunting excursions and horsey adventures. You can hop on a horse yourself and take a guided ride into Shenandoah National Park at Graves Mountain Farm.
Stop in at Copper Fox Distilling for a flight of whisky or a craft cocktail in the riverside cocktail garden looking out toward the Blue Ridge Mountains.
If your dining budget runs to 3 or 4 figures, make a reservation at the Inn at Little Washington, one of the best restaurants in the world, for a most memorable meal.
One of the best day trips from DC in the fall is a cruise down Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.
Enter on the North Entrance near Front Royal and drive along the crest of the mountains, pulling off at the frequent viewpoints to take in the glory of the valley below.
Watch for black bears along the way, and if you do spot one, stop at one of the visitor centers – Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, at mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive and Byrd Visitor Center at mile 51 – where they keep wildlife sighting logs, for visitors to post where they’ve spotted bears.
Remember that you’ll need to pay for national park admission to access Skyline Drive.
Get the Skyline Drive Itinerary
Massanutten Resort is located in the Shenandoah Valley, with 6000 acres offering something for everyone.
Skiing in winter, waterpark in summer, downhill mountain biking and spa anytime. They’ve recently added street curling to the vast menu of activities.
Find more skiing in Virginia
Take a scenic drive out route 66 until you see the Blue Ridge Mountains rising in the distance, then turn onto route 29 and wind through fields and forests and sweet small towns until you get to Charlottesville.
Tour the grounds of The University (University of Virginia), lunch on the downtown pedestrian mall, and take a short drive to Monticello.
American history comes to life at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, near Charlottesville. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the University of Virginia, and was the third president of the United States, and his home illustrates all the contradictions that the slave-owning advocate for liberty and individual rights brought to bear.
Today’s Monticello addresses the issue of slavery head-on, but it likely raises more questions than it answers.
West Virginia Day Trips
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
Just 90 minutes from DC, Berkeley Springs is another world entirely. The warm springs put it on the map, and since the historic baths were built 200+ years ago people have been coming here to take the waters. At Berkeley Springs State Park you can bathe in the same waters that George Washington did. But now the town is full of art galleries and sweet cafes and microbreweries and a tea room.
DC Day Trips 3+ hours from the city
- Virginia Beach, VA
- Colonial Williamsburg
- Busch Gardens Williamsburg
- Jamestown, VA
- Chincoteague Island
- Ocean City, MD
- Assateague National Seashore
- Rehoboth, DE
Looking for a Washington DC Hotel?
- Hotel Hive – Affordable, trendy, pet-friendly hotel
- Eaton Hotel – Stay in the heart of DC
- Four Seasons Hotel Washington DC – DC luxury at it’s best
- Kimpton Hotel George – Great for families and pets
- Willard InterContinental Washington – Historic hotel right near the White House