If you’re seeking adventure near DC you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the number of exciting activities at your fingertips. Here are 10 adventurous day trips from Washington DC.
I’ve lived in the DC area for most of my life. The city and surrounding suburbs are bustling with trendy restaurants, hopping bars, and cute boutique shops. While I enjoy the convenience of living near a big metropolitan area, sometimes I just need a change. Something a little different. Something a little adventurous.
Luckily there is a world of exciting things to do within a quick drive from the city. For outdoor enthusiasts, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia offers endless trails, waterfalls, and natural pools for exploring. Water lovers can play on the Chesapeake Bay beaches or hop on board a classic sailboat in Annapolis, Maryland. For a more unique adventure, head to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia where you can try zip-lining, rock climbing, and even aerial obstacle courses.
In this article, I’ve captured some of the best day trips from Washington DC. Each destination is within a three-hour drive making it easy to drive there in the morning, explore by day, and be back by bedtime.
Adventurous Day Trips from Washington DC
Day Trips in Virginia
Shenandoah National Park – Endless trails, waterfalls, and Overlooks
(1hr 16 min|70.8 miles from DC)
Shenandoah National Park lies across a northern section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, less than 1.5 hours from DC. Despite the relatively short distance, it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, making it one of the top getaways from Washington DC.
One of the more popular activities in the national park is the scenic Skyline Drive that runs along the top of the mountain ridge for the entire length of the park. However, there is also plenty to do in and around Shenandoah for a more adventurous day trip.
The national park is a hiker’s paradise. The most challenging hike is the climb up Old Rag Mountain. This is a long, steep hike that includes a rock scramble, but the views from the top are sensational. A permit is needed.
Another, shorter, hike that also includes a rock scramble is the Bearfence Mountain trail. It’s short but steep and there are 360-degree views over the surrounding mountains and valleys from the top.
While many of the hiking trails end at a scenic lookout, there are also many trails to see the waterfalls that are their best in spring. Dark Hollow Falls is a highlight not to miss.
The national park is also one of the best places for stargazing on the east coast, along with Greenbank, WV, and a few others. The Big Meadow is the most popular place for this. On a clear night, the views of the stars and the milky way are sensational.
Luray, Virginia – Home of the Largest Caverns on the East Coast
(1 hr 42 min| 93.2 miles from DC)
Located less than 2 hours west of Washington D.C, Luray, VA offers a wide variety of easy but adventurous things to do, including water activities, ziplining, cave tours, and hiking trails.
Kayak, canoe, or tube down the Shenandoah River with Shenandoah River Outfitters! This is a great place to test the waters with beginner rapids.
Experience the thrill of ziplining through the Shenandoah forest canopies with Bear Mountains Ziplines. They offer 7 ziplines for a total of 2700 feet!
Find your inner spelunker at Luray Caverns. Dream Lake is mesmerizing! And Pluto’s Ghost, a spectacular white column, is also a must-see. The most impressive is The Cathedral with the largest organ in the world, the Great Stalagpipe Organ.
After exploring the cave, check out the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, Toy Town Junction, and Shenandoah Heritage Village, all included in your Luray Cavern ticket! Luray Caverns also offers a garden maze and high and low ropes courses for additional fees.
Hike some of Luray’s most beautiful trails. Those looking for beginner hikes may enjoy Stony Man Mountain Hike to the east just inside of Shenandoah National Park or Massanutten Storybrook Trail to the west. Both are considered easy trails with beautiful views!
Not a hiker? No problem! Head on up to Skyline Drive, a National Parkway that runs along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 76 scenic overlooks providing stunning views of the mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. No hiking is required. Skyline Drive makes this area an excellent destination road trip from DC.
Richmond, Virginia – Hub for History, Culture, and the James River
(1 hr 58 min | 109 miles from DC)
Richmond is Virginia’s capital and one of the oldest cities in the United States. It is an area that is rich in history, culture, and outdoor adventure.
Similar to DC’s street art scene, Richmond has a collection of eclectic neighborhoods with colorful street art murals. Don’t miss snapping a photo with “Angel’s Wings” by Colette Miller at Lift Coffee Shop!
The James River runs through the city, creating opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and whitewater rafting. There are also scenic biking trails and unique hiking trails like the James River Pipeline which involves walking along a catwalk above the river.
Perhaps one of the most adventurous things that you can do in Richmond is to book a night on Sharp’s Island. This private 1-acre island is located in the middle of the city and you can book it all for yourself. While there are next to no amenities, it is the ideal spot for an epic camping adventure.
For another unique stay, check out the GiaMaria, a 50′ Houseboat docked in the Richmond Yacht Basin. Guests will enjoy the luxury of a completely remodeled riverboat with a large open upper deck for enjoying morning views on the water.
Harrisonburg, Virginia – Small City Charm with Unique Stays
(2 hr 8 min | 132 miles from DC)
Harrisonburg, Virginia is one of the best places to adventure that is only two hours from Washington, D.C. It’s located in the breathtaking Shenandoah Valley, outside of Shenandoah National Park, and is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
From its small city charm to its nearby caverns and its local wineries to its excellent hiking trails, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Harrisonburg.
The beautiful James Madison University is also situated in Harrisonburg. It offers a lot of great things to do on its campus, including the beautiful Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
Historic Downtown Harrisonburg has a lot of great restaurants, breweries, art galleries, museums, and boutique shops. The top places to eat in Harrisonburg are Clementine Café, Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint, Billy Jack’s Shack, and Kline’s Dairy Bar.
One of the best things about Harrisonburg is all of the unique places to stay. Cozy in Canvas is run by a young couple creating unique stays in Harrisonburg including their Sweet Escape tiny cottage, Luna the shipping container, and Firefly the glamping tent.
Harrisonburg, Virginia is a year-round destination, so you’ll always have something fun to do!
Related Content: Cool Airbnbs and Unique Places to Stay in Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia – Brewery, Winery, and Cidery hopping
(2 hr 15 min | 117 miles from DC)
One of the best day trips from Washington DC is to Charlottesville, VA. It takes roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes to drive from the DC Metro area to the city of Charlottesville, making it the perfect quick day trip.
The city of Charlottesville is nestled in between the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and contains countless breweries, wineries, and cideries to check out. For those looking to enjoy a unique experience, brewery and winery hopping offers an unparalleled experience for beer and wine enthusiasts to sip on different beverages and enjoy the various tastes.
Some notable establishments to visit include Three Notch’d Brewing Company, Jefferson Vineyards, and Bold Rock Cidery. Each of these establishments serve up tasty beverages that are sure to make your tastebuds happy and leave you wanting more!
Need a Designated Driver? Check out some of the great winery tours in Charlottesville, driver included!
Between the remarkable mountainous views and the endless top-notch breweries, wineries, and cideries in the area, Charlottesville is an unforgettable area for sipping on delicious beverages, taking in fabulous scenery, and enjoying a memorable day trip.
For a unique stay, book a night at the Recycled House which is constructed primarily from reclaimed materials including croquet balls, tree limbs, and swimming pool tiles.
Related Content: Virginia’s Spiciest Wine – Peaks of Otter Winery
Day Trips in Maryland
Annapolis, Maryland – Maryland Capital close to the Chesapeake Bay
(46 minutes | 31.7 miles from DC)
If you’re looking for an adventurous day trip from Washington DC. then you’ll love Annapolis, Maryland.
After all, this capital city is located right on the Chesapeake Bay and is known for being the state capital of Maryland. Plus, it’s a mere 32 miles, or a 50-minute drive, away from DC,
And while you can visit the renowned US Naval Academy, thrill-seekers will want to enjoy an epic day of zip lining, tower climbing, and rope swinging with Terrapin Adventures before doing a bit of axe throwing at The Axe House.
Next, if the weather is warm enough, try a bit of parasailing with Z Flight Watersports or sailing on a 74-foot schooner with Schooner Woodwind. Otherwise, sign up for an amazing helicopter tour to get a truly unique view of this incredible city.
But, after enjoying all of the best things to do in Annapolis, you’ll need a delicious meal to satisfy you. And there really is nothing better than a meal right on the water at Latitude 38.
So, order something made using delicious local crabs, like the fresh crab soup or in the decadent Crab Benedict.
Afterward, spend the night inside the Governor Calvert House. It’s a cool place to stay in the city since this spot was the former residence of two Maryland governors. Plus, you can actually see the original foundation from 1695 and might even encounter a ghost or two.
Related Content: 17 Things to do on Smith Island, Maryland
Mallows Park, Maryland – Resting Place of the “Ghost Fleet”
(1 hr | 43.9 miles from DC)
Head to Mallows Bay Park in Charles County, Maryland, less than an hour from Washington, DC, for a fun, outdoor adventure.
Kayaking, fishing, and bird watching are popular, and the park has a short trail for an easy hike. But the highlight is a unique kayaking experience at the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. Here you will find the remains of over one hundred mostly World War I era ships—known as the ‘Ghost Fleet’—lying scattered around the bay.
Adventurous paddlers will catch a glimpse of the fleet by following a self-guided water tour at low tide using the Mallows Bay Map. The remains of the fleet have created a thriving ecosystem for wildlife. Visitors often spot osprey, bald eagles, cormorants, and Great Blue Herons.
The map details points of interest and steers kayakers away from the central shipwreck area. Stand-up paddleboards and inflatable kayaks are not recommended due to hazards from metal objects. Check the tide chart before planning a visit—low tide is best to see the Ghost Fleet.
Changing tides also impact the extent of beach access in Purse State Park. Visit between May and September for the best conditions for water activities. Use the Charles County Water Trails Guide to find additional ways to enjoy the history and wildlife in the area. Guided kayak tours are also available for those who would prefer to explore with an experienced guide.
Baltimore, Maryland – Bustling City with Inner Harbor
(59 min | 38.5 miles from DC)
Baltimore is one of the closest big cities near Washington DC. It is about an hour away, making it an easy day trip to find an assortment of adventurous activities.
In downtown Baltimore, you’ll find the Maryland Zoo and Graffiti Alley, a prime location for urban explorers and photographers. Head a bit more south and you’ll find the popular Inner Harbor.
When visiting Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the number one thing to do is to explore the National Aquarium. There you’ll see thousands of animals in award-winning habitats including dolphins, sharks, and an assortment of jellyfish.
You can also partake in some water activities including dragon paddle boats, touring a historic ship, and taking a scenic dinner cruise, one of the top-rated tours in the area.
Ocean City, Maryland – Beaches, Wild Ponies, and Museums
(2 hr 47 min | 146 miles from DC)
Ocean City, Maryland, is the perfect place for a day trip for adventure enthusiasts in Washington, D.C. From hiking, biking, and kayaking to exploring museums, there is something for all.
The Assateague Island National Seashore is a scenic park often visited by hikers and wildlife enthusiasts. It is known for the population of wild horses that inhabit the state park and national seashore. Campers are often treated to viewing horses roaming freely through the campsites.
Visitors can also explore the beautiful Assateague Island by kayaking in the surrounding waters.
Near the beach and the iconic three-mile-long boardwalk, many shops sell unique seafood and souvenir items. Ocean City beach welcomes dogs but they are prohibited from entering the beach between May 1st and September 30th.
Day Trips in Pennsylvania
Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania – Halfway Point of the Appalachian Trail
(1 hr 57 min | 99.4 miles from DC)
About 100 miles north of Washington DC, across the border into Pennsylvania, you’ll find Pine Grove Furnace State Park. This park is the perfect adventurous day trip from Washington DC.
The Appalachian Trail connects Georgia to Maine through all the states in between. The halfway point of the trail can be found nearby, just outside of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and changes each year depending on trail reroutes and conditions. The symbolic halfway point is located in the park at the Appalachian Trail Museum.
During the summer months, especially during May and June, you have the opportunity to mingle with thru-hikers as they pass through the park on their journey.
In addition to the hiking opportunities, other things to do in Pine Grove Furnace State Park include kayaking and fishing on Laurel Lake or biking the park’s roads.
An adventurous day trip from Washington DC to Pine Grove Furnace State Park is also possible during the winter. When Laurel Lake freezes, you can enjoy ice skating and ice fishing on the naturally frozen surface.
For a unique way to extend the trip overnight, book a stay at the Paymaster’s Cabin within the park. This historic structure was an integral part of the iron-producing community, and it has been converted into an overnight accommodation in the park. There are minimum stay requirements depending on the season.
Related Content: Glamping Under the Stars in Pennsylvania
Day Trips in West Virginia
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia – “America’s First Spa”
(1 hr 47 min | 102 miles from DC)
Berkeley Springs, “also known as America’s First Spa” is known for its warm mineral springs. It is one of three locations in West Virginia that has warm springs.
Visitors have their pick of 10 spas including the historic Roman bath house. In addition to full-service spas, there are also a few public warm springs that are available within Berkeley Springs State Park.
The most popular bathing area is of course George Washington’s bathtub, a replica of the in-ground bathtub that the president frequented many years ago. It is still fed by the same healing waters and springs that Washington experienced during his visits. You can dip your toes or even your whole body into this spring!
Hikers will want to visit nearby Cacapon Resort State Park. One of West Virginia’s “Almost Heaven” swings is located at the scenic overlook, a must-see if you are in the area.
Berkeley Springs makes an excellent Washington DC day trip because most of these exciting activities can be completed in just a few hours.
Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia – Historic Town for History Buffs and Outdoor Enthusiasts
(1 hr 13 min | 63.7 miles from DC)
Located only an hour northwest (with minimal traffic) of Washington DC is the historic and adventurous town of Harpers Ferry, WV. The town is quite small with a population of only 300 people, but that just means it is the perfect location for a day trip.
For all of the history buffs, be sure to check out the battleground ruins, Jefferson Rock, and True Treats Historic Candy. Jefferson Rock is a rock structure named after Thomas Jefferson himself. The candy store has candies similar to what was offered in different centuries, dating back to the 1500s and even biblical times.
For all of the adventurers, add The Point and the Maryland Heights Trail to your day trip. The Point is a viewing area where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. The Maryland Heights Trail is a 4.6 mile (~7.4 kilometer) trail with around 1,150 feet (~350 meters) in elevation gain. At the top, you are rewarded with a panoramic overlook of the town of Harpers Ferry as well as the meeting point of the rivers.
A day to Harpers Ferry would not be complete without getting on the river in some manner. Tour companies in the area offer white water rafting and tubing tours as well as a lazy tubing tour.
Although there are many cute bed and breakfasts within historic Harper’s Ferry, if you decide to spend the night, I recommend driving a few miles down the road to Hillbrook Inn. Staying at this historic property will make you feel as if you’ve been transported into a fairytale book. Plus it is dog-friendly and the food is spectacular.
Conclusion: Choosing Your Day Trips from DC
So which day trip is right for you?
As you can see, adventure in my mind does not necessarily need to involve hiking, camping, or some other adrenaline rush activity. Perhaps your choice of adventurous getaway is focused on something new like exploring street art, checking out historic ruins, or staying in unique hotels.
Whatever your preference, there is a variety of unique and adventurous destinations to choose from right outside of DC.
If you are willing to extend your day trip into a weekend getaway, I highly recommend checking out Floyd, Virginia and Smith Island, Maryland. While a bit too far to complete in a day, these destinations are guaranteed to satisfy your thirst for adventure.