Washington, D.C. is a goldmine for visitors, with loads of museums and cultural gems that keep sightseers happy for days. But go for a romp just outside the city, and you’ll find fun spots that will spike your interest and make a day trip from the capital a winner. From the seaside to the mountains, country villages to happening small towns, day trips from Washington, D.C. mean countless cool choices.
Two states away but just 90 minutes by car, Harpers Ferry in the northeast corner of West Virginia is a hit with nature lovers and history buffs. Check out the cobblestone streets and historic buildings, and imagine what life was like in the 1800s. Sitting at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Harpers Ferry is a hub for canoeing, white-water rafting, and tubing. Or hike the 20 miles of trails in the surrounding mountains, including the Maryland Heights Trail and parts of the famous Appalachian Trail.
A hop and a skip (19 miles) south from Capitol Hill, Mount Vernon plops visitors down into the life of the first POTUS. George Washington’s 500-acre estate has been restored to much of its former glory in amazing detail. You can take tours of the swanky mansion, grounds, and even Washington’s tomb.
Visit the Pioneer Farm for live demos of farming practices, or watch the distillery and gristmill in action. You can also learn about Washington’s toughest military and political challenges in an interactive show, and relive parts of the Revolutionary War in 4-D, complete with snow, fog, and rain.
Just over 60 miles to the southeast, Solomons Island on Maryland’s western shore is a mellow flipside to the hustle of D.C. Hit the boardwalk along the Patuxent River, or dig into some serious seafood in one of the waterfront chow houses. The Calvert Marine Museum is a big draw for fans of all things aquatic, with a maritime history exhibit and a cool river otter cam. You can also climb to the top of the historic Cove Point Lighthouse or roll out a towel on any of the sandy beaches.
Cruise alongside the Potomac River, and you’ll hit Fredericksburg, Virginia, less than 60 miles southwest of D.C. The self-named “vortex of the Civil War” is packed with historic sites, like where the Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in 1862, plus the national cemetery next door. Other cool pit stops include the colonial home of George Washington’s mother, Mary, and the James Monroe Museum at the site of the early president’s law office. Cute boutiques and cafés line Caroline Street near the Rappahannock River, where you can even score Civil War artifacts in the antique shops.
A short 30-mile drive from D.C., the harbor town of Annapolis, Maryland, is a choice seaside getaway. Tour the pretty campus of the U.S. Naval Academy, including the Naval Academy Museum and the crypt of revolutionary war hero John Paul Jones in the Naval Academy Chapel. Don’t miss historic Main Street and its shops, restaurants, and art galleries on your way to the rockin’ waterfront. Take to the waterways for kayaking, canoeing, or boat tours of the Chesapeake Bay’s many inlets, coves, and rivers.
Zip over an hour west from the capital to the center of Virginia’s famous horse and hunt country, where the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains rim the green rolling hills. The charming village of Middleburg is just the ticket for history buffs, with more than 160 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Swing by the National Sporting Library and Museum in the heart of the tree-lined town, and check out the exhibits on horsemanship, fishing, steeplechase, and other old-school country thrills. And to really tap into the historic vibe, dig into a traditional meal at the landmark Red Fox Inn and Tavern, here since 1728.
Shenandoah National Park
Just 75 miles due west of D.C. is the spectacular Shenandoah National Park. Choose from over 500 miles of trails, like the 1.4-mile Dark Hollow Falls Trail, which takes you close-up to the stunning waterfall. For a workout that pays off in eye candy, hike up the Stony Man Trail for unbeatable views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Or stick to the road and get your kicks cruising along the 105-mile Skyline Drive, one of the country’s top wilderness highways. Take a deep dive into the park when you kayak the Shenandoah River, or saddle up for guided trail riding on horseback.
A day trip from Washington, D.C. can up the wow factor for your visit to the nation’s capital and make memories that shine. Don’t forget to snap some shots of the beautiful scenery and tag us in your photos on Instagram.