Into the Wild
Maryland Heights (Harper’s Ferry, WV)
This five-mile round-trip hike starts with a bang, but you have to work for it. First you’ll climb the steep main trail before veering onto a marked side trail, which takes you a wonderful scenic overlook of Harpers Ferry, where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. History buffs should keep an eye out for the remains of a Union fort dating to 1862, complete with visible ammunition pits and powder magazines.
White Oak Canyon (Shenandoah National Park)
Tucked into the wooded folds of the Shenandoah, White Oak Canyon is one of the best places in the area to spot surging waterfalls—especially in the spring and fall. When the temperature’s right, take a dip by the falls in the stream pools. The 4.8-mile trail is steep in places but not terribly difficult for moderate hikers.
Catoctin Mountain Park (Thurmont, Maryland)
Found at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, Catoctin Mountain Park’s eight square miles are lined with streams, mature forests, and breathtaking views of the Monocacy Valley. While you can’t go wrong on any of the park’s trails, the highlight is undoubtedly Cunningham Falls, a waterfall tumbling 78 feet into the manmade lake of the same name. There, you can boat, camp, and fish.
Great North Mountain (Edinburg, Virginia)
Set in George Washington National Forest, this rollercoaster starts with a steep descent into a forest before climbing up the face of the Great North Mountain. Once you’ve scrambled up a ways, the sweeping views of autumn foliage pan out like a palette.
Buck Ridge (Shenandoah National Park)
This trek is commonly included with the nine-mile Buck Hollow loop, but the Ridge trail is our favorite part of the trek. A steep scramble gets your heart rate pumping as you start, but it quickly peters out as sweeping views of the park emerge over the rocks. Hikers will soon come to “Hazel Country,” where remnants of a 19th-century mountaineering village were left by the area’s original inhabitants before they were displaced.
Old Rag Mountain (Shenandoah National Park)
For those seeking a bit of a scramble, this eight-mile loop is one of the most popular hiking excursions in the Mid-Atlantic (try to get there by 7 AM to avoid the crowds). After nine switchbacks, a hearty two-mile climb takes visitors to the first of two scenic overlooks. Those making the final one-mile trek to the Rag’s scramble will have to climb hand-over-hand, thread needle-tight crevices, and slalom around boulders. But believe us, the view is worth it!
Helpful Hiker Resources
The American Hiking Society, located in Silver Spring, is a great resource for those looking to learn about proper hiking clothing and safety precautions. Reach their helpful staff by calling 301-565-6704.
For those not keen on heading into the wilderness by themselves, there are plenty of Washington-area hiking clubs that lead regular group excursions:
• The Wanderbirds
• Potomac Applachian Trail Club
• Capital Hiking Club
• Mountain Club of Maryland
• Washington Women Outdoors
To see a more comprehensive list of area hikes as well as maps and hiker reviews, visit Local Hikes, Mid-Atlantic Hikes, and HikingUpward.