26 of the Best Road Trips from DC

One of the best things about DC is being close to mountains, oceans, major cities, cute towns… pretty much you can drive to any type of destination in 8 hours or less! This means that there are so many amazing road trips from DC that you can take.

In this post, I’ll outline some of the best road trips from DC that you can take. Starting with places that are the closest to the furthest distance. I’ll outline the driving time, what you can do in the destination, and where to stay. I hope this helps as you decide where to go on your road trip from DC.

Table of Contents

PS driving around DC can mean a lot of traffic. Please note these are estimated times, pulled at non-rush hour times. Plan ahead for your drive!

Photo by Mitchell Kmetz on Unsplash

Road Trip Tips

Plan Ahead, but Stay Flexible

Research attractions, accommodations, and potential stops along the way while still allowing for spontaneity and detours to explore unexpected gems.

The way I recommend doing this is to choose anchor spots to stay and plan a few activities in each that you know you don’t want to miss. Have ideas of other things to do, but don’t over-pack your itinerary so you still have space to discover things!

  • Foldable BackpackCarry essentials like maps, snacks, water, and a first aid kit in a day pack you can easily grab in your car. You don’t want to have to unpack your whole bag looking for something.
  • Reusable Water Bottle : Good for the environment and means you stay hydrated at all times! Most places in the US will have an easy place to fill up your water bottle on a trip.
  • Portable Charger with Fast Charging TechnologyEven if you think you don’t need it because your car has a plug, I still recommend bringing an additional charger. You want to make sure you have the ability to navigate and get help if needed.
  • Sunglasses: While you might think that drinking into the sunset sounds romantic, it’s not easy on your eyes. Get some good sunglasses!
  • Collapsible Cooler: Keep drinks, snacks, and leftovers cold with a collapsible cooler for easy storage and setup when needed. It fits easily in a suitcase!

Subscribe to access my editable road trip packing checklistDiscover what to pack for an international trip here too.

Renting a Car in DC

While you don’t want to rent a car if you’re visiting DC, you will need one for a road trip! Renting a car in DC is fairly simple. Here are some general steps to help you rent a car in D.C.

1. Choose a Rental Company:

    • Research and choose a rental car company that suits your needs. Popular options include Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, Budget, and National, among others.
    • I’d recommend picking one with a location at an airport (BWI, Dulles, or National) for the best prices and most options. You can take public transit to all three airports to pick up/drop off the car.

2. Make a Reservation:

    • Visit the rental company’s website or contact them directly to make a reservation. You can also use third-party websites or apps that compare prices across different rental agencies. Consider using Turo to save some money. as well.

3. Check Rental Requirements:

    • Ensure you meet the rental company’s requirements, such as age restrictions, driver’s license validity, and payment methods. International drivers may need additional documentation.

4. Insurance Options:

    • Consider insurance options provided by the rental company. Your personal auto insurance or credit card may also offer coverage. Review the terms and conditions to understand the coverage.

5. Review the Rental Agreement:

    • Carefully review the rental agreement before signing. Pay attention to the terms, conditions, and any additional fees. Ask questions if anything is unclear.

6. Inspect the Car:

    • Before driving away, thoroughly inspect the car for any existing damage. Note any issues on the rental agreement and take pictures if needed. This can help avoid disputes when returning the vehicle.

7. Return the Car on Time:

    • Return the car at the agreed-upon time and location. Be mindful of the fuel level, and return the car in the same condition you received it to avoid additional charges.

Remember that rental car availability, prices, and policies can vary, so it’s essential to compare options and plan ahead.

Within 1-3.5 Hours

Image purchased on Shutterstock

Annapolis, Maryland

45 minutes from Washington D.C. (32 miles)

The state capital of Maryland is a mid-Atlantic coastal town that is perfect for a day trip or quick weekend away. The city is along the water and lined with cute historic buildings, a pretty harbor, and historic homes.

Top things to do:

  • U.S. Naval Academy
  • Annapolis Historic District
  • Quiet Waters Park
  • Maryland State House
  • Ego Alley
  • Kayak the Chesapeake Bay

Shenandoah National Park

1 hr 29 min from Washington D.C. (70 miles)

Shenandoah National Park is located in northern Virginia, not far from the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The park stretches along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and covers an area of approximately 200,000 acres. The park offers an extensive network of hiking trails, ranging from easy, family-friendly walks to challenging backcountry hikes.

 Photo by Sara Cottle on Unsplash

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland/Virginia

2 hours 48 minutes (147.5 miles)

Assateague Island has different beaches than the rest of the area. The waves tend to be bigger and the sand is softer. The wild horses bring a unique and special feeling to this area.

Top Things to Do:

    • Visit the historic lighthouse
    • Search for wild horses
    • Hang out on the beach
    • Camping on the beach

Atlantic City, New Jersey

3 hours 15 minutes from Washington D.C. (190 miles)

Known for its casinos, Atlantic City has an old-school feel to it. While the beaches are known for being nice, it is the gambling that draws people here.

  • Go to a casino
  • Atlantic City Boardwalk
  • Tanger Outlets Atlantic City
  • Hang out on the beach

Baltimore, Maryland

1 hour from Washington D.C. (39 miles)

As a former Baltimore resident myself, I have to say that Baltimore is more than worth the visit. The history, laid back vibe, and awesome seafood in Fell’s Point will keep you plenty busy here.

  • Hang out in Fell’s Point
  • Go to a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  • National Aquarium
  • Sagamore Spirit Distillery

paramount theater things to do in Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville, Virginia

2 hours 20 minutes (116.4 miles)

Known for it’s wine and mountains, Charlottesville is a ton of fun. Don’t count out the arts scene in Charlottesville, though with tons of galleries and performance spaces, it has a little of something for everyone.

    • Explore art & history at Kluge Rhue
    • Go wine tasting
    • Hike in the Shenandoah Mountains
    • Explore the arts scene downtown

Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

54 minutes (36.3 miles)

The Chesapeake Bay’s first beach is Chesapeake Beach. Its closeness to DC makes it an easy day trip or road trip for a completely different feel on the water than the city.

    • Breezy Point Beach
    • Visit the lighthouse
    • Eat amazing seafood

Thomas and Davis, West Virginia

2 hours 50 minutes (167.1 miles)

Davis and Thomas are two historic towns in the mountains perfect for a weekend away. Go in the winter for skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and cozy vibes. In fall, the leaves are beautiful and hiking to great viewpoints is easy.

    • Ski/snowboard in winter
    • Hiking trails
    • Shop and drink downtown
    • Blackwater Falls

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

1 hour 15 minutes from Washington D.C. (67 miles)

Harpers Ferry is a unique national park easily accessible from DC. It’s great to visit in every season, but fall and summer tend to have the most to do in the area.

    • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
    • Go hiking
    • Tubing on the river

Lake Anna, Virginia

2 hours (86.2 mi)

Lake Anna is a great alternative to the beaches near DC. This large lake has plenty of space for everyone in the area to enjoy and great house rentals for a weekend trip.

    • Kayak or boat on the lake
    • Go hiking
    • Lake Anna State Park
    • Lake Anna Winery

Ocean City, Maryland

2 hours 50 minutes from Washington D.C. (146 miles)

Ocean City is the closest beach town on the Atlantic Coast to DC. In the summer, there can be long drives to get out to Ocean City and it’s a busy beach, but has all the amenities you need to have a good time.

    • Go to the beach
    • Ocean City Boardwalk
    • Northside Park
    • Frontier Town
    • Trimper Rides and Amusement Park
 

Photo by Chris Murray on Unsplash

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

2 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (139 miles)

Full of history and amazing food, Philly is a great city break for those in DC. Spend a weekend exploring the different neighborhoods, and make sure you check out the historical sites around town where the first US government was started.

    • Eastern State Penitentiary
    • Check out the murals
    • Philadelphia Museum of Art
    • Reading Terminal Market
    • Independence Hall

Richmond, Virginia

1 hour 50 minutes from Washington D.C. (109 miles)

The capital of Virginia has plenty to keep you busy! It’s located right on the James River and near the mountains making it a more relaxed city with plenty to do outdoors. The history of Richmond is also important to understand.

    • Walk the Canal Walk
    • Brunch at the Jefferson Hotel
    • Rock climb or raft on the James River
    • Brewery hop in Scott’s Addition

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

2 hours 45 minutes from Washington D.C. (141 miles)

This is my favorite beach near DC besides Assateague. Rehoboth is more relaxed than Ocean City and just a little bit further of a drive. The boardwalk is lots of fun, and the small amusement park along the boardwalk is not to be missed!

    • Funland on the boardwalk
    • Rehoboth Beach Public Beach
    • Gordons Pond
    • Delaware Seashore State Park

Within 4-5.5 Hours

New York City, New York

4 hours from Washington D.C. (225 miles)

Does New York City need an explanation? There’s so much to do and see here, but if you drive, expect $40-50 in tolls both ways. Bring cash and maybe a friend or two to split the price.

    • Take a food tour
    • Explore the skyscraper views
    • See art at the MET
    • Stroll Central Park
    • See a Broadway show

Hot Springs, Virginia

3 hours 37 minutes (214.2 miles)

Historic Hot Springs is a unique area in Virginia. The hot springs have been turned into the Omni Hotel, where you can have a spa day enjoying the thermal pools. Thomas Jefferson used to come to this area to enjoy the hot springs, and one of the pools has been maintained ever since.

    • Spa day at the Omni Hotel
    • Hike to Falling Springs Falls
    • Check out Jefferson’s Pool historic hot springs

Outer Banks, North Carolina

5 hr 30 min (309.3 mi)

Known for its beaches and lighthouses, there is something special about the Outer Banks in the summer. The beautiful sand dunes and big waves make these islands a great summer destination.

    • Go to the beach
    • Explore the lighthouses
    • Learn about the Wright Brother’s First Flight

Poconos, Pennsylvania

3 hr 52 min (239.6 mi)

Poconos mountains are beautiful and have been a favorite getaway for East Coasters for generations. It’s set up for fun family and group vacations with plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy.

    • Asa Packer Mansion
    • Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark
    • Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway
    • Hawks Falls
    • Seven Tubs Recreation Area
Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

4 hours from Washington D.C. (245 miles)

Its Gilded Age sites, including the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, speak to its history as an early-20th-century industrial capital. Beautiful architecture and great food make it a perfect road trip from DC.

    • Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
    • Mount Washington
    • PNC Park
    • Duquesne Incline
    • Strip District

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

4 hours 15 minutes from Washington D.C. (278 miles)

With the basketball scene, awesome bbq, and close by mountains. Raleigh-Durham has grown in population over the last few years and that population gain has brought lots of things to do.

    • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
    • North Carolina Museum of Art
    • Pullen Park
    • North Carolina Museum of History

Virginia Beach, Virginia

3 hour 45 minutes (208.8 miles)

Virginia Beach is located right where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. A 3-mile boardwalk stretches along its beach-lined oceanfront. The bayside First Landing State Park marks the 1607 arrival of the Jamestown colonists from England. This beach town attracts people all across Virginia to visit throughout the year. Nearby is also Colonial Williamsburg and Bush Gardens theme park.

    • Go to the beach
    • Military Aviation Museum
    • Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
    • Colonial Williamsburg
    • Bush Gardens

Within 6-8 Hours

Asheville, North Carolina

8 hours from Washington D.C. (500 miles)

In the mountains, Asheville is worth a visit year-round. The Great Smoky Mountains are unique as they look like smoke is coming off of them constantly. They are full of spring-fed rivers and waterfalls, making the area stunning and beautiful. You can also see incredible architecture in town and at the Biltmore Estate.

    • Hike in Smoky Mountain National Park
    • Biltmore Estate
    • Historic downtown
    • Arts District
Photo by Mark Boss on Unsplash

Boston, Massachusetts

7 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (455 miles)

Another important city in American history, Boston is well worth a visit. This smaller city with cobblestone streets and colonial row homes is beautiful, but especially during the summer and fall months when the weather is nice and the leaves on the trees are stunning.

    • Fenway Park
    • Freedom Trail
    • Museum of Fine Arts
    • Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
    • North End

Finger Lakes, New York

6 hours (341.4 miles)

Known for it’s wine and lakes, the Finger Lakes are a beautiful region of Upstate New York. Forests surround the lakes and the fresh air feels good as you walk around or take a hike. This is a quieter area for a nice road trip from DC.

    • Go winery hopping
    • Watkins Glen State Park
    • Corning Museum of Glass
    • Hiking trails

Knoxville, Tennessee

7 hours 20 minutes (487.2 miles)

Knoxville is located on Tennessee River in eastern Tennessee. Downtown, the Market Square district has 19th-century buildings with shops and restaurants making it a great area to explore. The Museum of East Tennessee History has interactive exhibits plus regional art, textiles, and Civil War artifacts. Tenessee whiskey can also be found all over!

    • Market Square
    • Ijams Nature Center
    • Tennessee Theatre
    • Knoxville Museum of Art
Photo by Larry Pozza on Unsplash

Newport, Rhode Island

6 hours 54 minutes (410.7 miles)

Another iconic coastal town, Newport is a beautiful city. Its yacht-filled harbor is beautiful and important to sailing history. Newport is also known for the Gilded Age mansions lining Bellevue Avenue, some of which are now museums. The most famous is The Breakers which is patterned after a Renaissance palace.

    • The Breakers
    • Cliff Walk
    • Ocean Drive
    • Marble House
    • The Elms

Niagara Falls, New York

7 hours 10 minutes (401.5 miles)

Niagara Falls has long been a popular vacation spot for Americans. Niagra Falls has an American side and Canadian side. The Canadian side has a better view, in my opinion, so bring your passport!

    • Visit Niagra Falls
    • Maid of the Mist
    • Journey Behind the Falls
    • Drive to Canada
    • Visit historic casinos and hotels
One of the best things about DC is mountains, oceans, and major cities are all within driving distance. Here are some of the best road trips from DC.
One of the best things about DC is mountains, oceans, and major cities are all within driving distance. Here are some of the best road trips from DC.
Meghan

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