The Best Day Trips near Washington, DC from a Local

One of the coolest things about living in DC is that within three hours, there are mountains, beaches, lakes, small towns, and some of the most famous cities in the world, like New York City.

 

I’m a local who’s been living in the area since 2011! I can’t believe I’m typing that… But honestly, DC is one of those places that just never gets old, but you’ve gotta go outside the city sometimes, too.

 

Below are day trips starting with the closest and moving on to the furthest. No matter what time of year you visit, if it’s your first trip to DC or your 5th trip, there are some awesome day trips near DC.

 

Don’t worry, if you don’t have a car or want to do these on your own, I’ll do my best to lay out a tour options too! Want to consider a longer weekend away? Here are some awesome road trips from DC too.

1. Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria (20 minutes)

Explore the historic estate of George Washington and take part in immersive activities, including a 4D film, interacting with period interpreters, and hearing tours from lesser-heard perspectives (such as “Herstory”). The property is beautiful, and you’ll want to spend time walking the grounds and learning important history.
 
In the afternoon, stroll through Old Town’s walkable King Street mile, lined with 200+ independent shops and restaurants set inside historic buildings, red-brick sidewalks and a free trolley. Stop at historic site museums like the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and the Freedom House Museum.
 

2. Great Falls, MD (45 minutes)

Great Falls is super close to DC and worth the visit. I highly recommend the Maryland side because of the hiking available. Billy Goat Trail is the main hike here and is a challenging but fun hike. You can do this one year-round and enjoy an awesome view. I’ve done it every season and loved it each time.
 

There are three sections of the trail—I recommend doing the second part if you have limited time because it has better views in my opinion! There is a walking path all the way to the waterfall, and it takes a lot less time than hiking Billy Goat Trail if you are short on time.

 

3. Baltimore, MD (45 minute – 1 hour drive)

When creating this list of best day trips near DC, there was no doubt that Baltimore needed to be first. I used to live in Baltimore and LOVE this city.

 

With just a day, I’d suggest starting off in Mt. Vernon at the Walters Art Museum, which is a completely free museum with a great collection. Next to the Walters Art Museum is the original Washington Monument that you can climb. Brewer’s Art, a local brewery, is my favorite and is located near the Walters as well. It’s the best for a day trip from DC!

 

Fells Point has tons of good food, bars, and live music on weekends. It also has the oldest saloon in the US (The Horse You Came in On) and old cobblestone streets with great harbor views.

 

I love Hampden for brunch, shopping at unique antique/eclectic stores, and Woodberry has the best food in the city but is pricey located near Hampden.

 

Federal Hill has a great view of the city from the park. Little Havana in Federal Hill has awesome mojitos. If you’re here during football or baseball season, both teams play in Federal Hill. The games are a ton of fun. You can do some awesome shopping for antiques in Hampden and grab an awesome brunch at the Food Market. A post on this is in the works!

 
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4. Fredericksburg, VA (1 hour – 2 hours)

Traffic can be really bad coming into DC, so plan accordingly for your drive! Weekends are perfect for this day trip, but weekday traffic or holidays could cause you delays. This happened to us while we were on our way back to DC.

 

Fredericksburg is full of fun little shops, restaurants, and interesting Civil War history. Definitely an easy and fun place to visit! We stayed at this adorable Airbnb that was in a horse barn, which sounds outlandish, but it was so fun.

 
 

5. Annapolis, MD (45 minutes – 1 hour)

Annapolis is the capital of Maryland and located right on the water. The cobblestone streets, beautiful boats, and amazing seafood make it one of the best day trips near DC. The harbor area is also very cute and unique. It’s right on the Chesapeake Bay and has lots of spots to stop and enjoy the water. The cobblestone streets, great views, and delicious food make it a great way to spend the day.

 

6. Shenandoah National Park (1 1/2 – 2 hours)

While famous for its leaves in fall and for good reason, Shenandoah is really worth a visit at any time of year with its gorgeous views and hikes along the Appalachian Trail, it does not disappoint.

Luray Caverns are located here, and there are some waterfalls perfect for a dip. Plus, it’s right near a lot of wineries and breweries, which makes it a great place to hike for a bit and then relax with a drink!

Luray Caverns and Shenandoah Skyline Drive All-Day Tour


7. Gunpowder Falls State Park, MD (1 1/2 hours)

Gunpowder Falls State Park is in Maryland with tons of different trails, waterfalls, and hikes to do. I love this state park because it is so huge and you could come here week after week and see a new area. Try the trails along the river for pretty views and great places to stop for a swim in the summer or fall leaves in winter.

 
 

8. Rocks State Park, MD (1 1/2 hours)

I love the waterfall here! It’s a little ways from the main park area, but easy to find and is clearly marked. You will see signs as soon as you get close to Rock State Park.

 

It’s a local favorite and is usually very crowded. In the summer, you can jump off the rock and into the pool under the waterfall. It feels so nice to be in the cool water and enjoy a beautiful view. There’s also hiking here along some trails with gorgeous cliffs!

 
 

9. Virginia Wine Country (1 – 2 hours)

This is great year-round, but I love going in spring and fall because the weather is perfect for being outside. There are lots of wineries that have outdoor spaces, and you can grab a glass or a bottle to share and just relax on a beautiful spot overlooking Shenandoah. Barrel Oak Winery has a really nice outdoor space that has tons of picnic tables overlooking the vineyards.

 

Consider hiring a guide for this one and explore without worrying about driving!

 

10. Harpers Ferry, WV (2 hours)

I love Harpers Ferry. It’s another great spot year-round because you can do so many different things here! There is the historical center that tells the area’s history from the Civil War, hiking (and gorgeous leaves in the fall), and in the summer, you can go tubing down the Potomac, which is a blast!

I’ve used River Riders every time I have gone. They are reasonably priced and do so many floats a day that it is easy to schedule with them. In the winter, they offer snow tubing as well.

There are also little shops in historic downtown and spots to eat if you want to relax after your hike or walking through the historic center. It is a national park and the NPS offers shuttles from the park into downtown so parking is much easier if you go through the NPS.

 

11. Rehoboth Beach, DE (3 hours)

This is my favorite beach near DC for many reasons. The amusement park there is tons of fun, the beach is well-kept, and the fries + iconic ice cream are just awesome. The beach is not as crowded as Ocean City, which means you can enjoy more space and not feel suffocated (which happens to me at the beach when crowded). I go to the beach to relax, not to listen and hang out with all the people I don’t know trying to do the same thing! There’s also a Flying Dog there with delicious food and special beers which is fun!

 
 
 

12. Elk Neck State Park, MD (2 hours)

Located a few hours from DC on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, Elk Neck State Park is a beautiful and easy spot to spend a day or even the weekend. Last year I went camping here with my dog and had a blast! There are tons of trails to hike, a lighthouse, history, and beaches to enjoy. Definitely a good beginner road trip with your dog! The hikes around the marsh were my favorite because they were so quiet and offered such beautiful green views.

13. White Oak Canyon, VA (2 hours)

White Oak Canyon is a beautiful area of Shenandoah National Park, but I’m adding it down here because if you go to the southern entrance, you can check out some of the cutest little towns along the drive including Culpeper, Luray, and Rixyville. We loved Culpeper for the boutiques, funky breweries, live music, and overall small-town feel.
 

White Oak Canyon offers views of three different waterfalls along the trail and is truly stunning year-round. You can easily make this an overnight trip and stay somewhere unique like this little cabin we found on Airbnb. It was a perfect old log cabin located on a farm.

 

the best rides at kings dominion
 

14. King’s Dominion (2 hours)

King’s Dominion is a two-hour drive from DC and is known for its amazing roller coasters. It’s the perfect spot to get away in the summer, especially because not only is it a theme park—it’s also a water park. Two parks in one! It has some really crazy coasters, and if you’re able to go on a weekday, the lines won’t be too long. It’s a fun trip!

15. Lake Anna (1 1/2 hours)

Lake Anna is south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the perfect spot for a day trip from DC or a weekend trip. The lake is huge, with tons of different areas to visit. The closest is Lake Anna State Park, where you’ll find a beach area, hiking trails, and boat ramps.
 

There are many private marinas, though, where you are able to kayak or rent a boat. After a morning spent on the lake, spend the afternoon sipping local wine at Lake Anna Winery for something delicious and refreshing.

 
 

16. Philadelphia (2 hours)

Philadelphia, often referred to as the “City of Brotherly Love,” is a city with a rich history, diverse culture, and vibrant arts scene. Most of the main sites in Philadelphia are in the same area around Independence National Park.

 

While here, check out the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed), and other American Revolutionary sites. Grab a cheesesteak at Reading Terminal Market before heading back to DC!

 
 

17. New York City (3-4 hours)

Enjoy a day in New York by taking the train from DC to New York. With just a day, the drive would take so much longer it wouldn’t be worth it. Leave early to get the most of your day!

 

With a mid-morning arrival, I’d recommend doing a hop-on hop-off tour of New York to get the most out of your time there. Be prepared for lots of walking, though, too!

 

There is something to do at nearly every stop. The museums, observatories, theaters, zoos, boat rides are all incredibly enjoyable. Consider going to experience the new One World Trade Center Observatory with a stop at the 9/11 Memorial Pool or spending time at The Met and Central Park.

Booking this tour means they’ll plan everything for you!

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18. Flower Fields in Maryland and Virginia (Spring and Summer), 1 hour

Flower fields in Maryland and Virginia are truly one of the prettiest day trips from the city. In the spring and summer there are plenty of flower fields to be found. Make a day of heading out to a farm and enjoy the flowers, check what crops they have too because many of the farms also offer pick your own and more.

Some of my favorite flower fields are below. They are all about an hour from DC.


 

Now that I’ve shared some of the best day trips near DC, I hope you can have an awesome time exploring around DC and take some awesome pictures! Check this out for more easy trips from DC. Have you done anything near DC that you just loved? Let me know what you think below.

Meghan

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