Travel

Great Scenic Drives Near DC

These country roads lead to mountain views, farm stands, wineries, and walks in the woods.

Aerial view of a road winding through a dense green forest

Blue Ridge Beauty

It may be one of the most picturesque drives in Northern Virginia

The route: From I-66, hop onto Route 29 toward Warrenton, then pick up Route 211/Lee Highway, which is where the pretty part of the drive really begins. You’re rewarded with panoramic landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains plus fields dotted with grapevines and horses. If you go all the way to this suggested drive’s end point, Luray Caverns (the road will become US 211/522), it’s at least a four-hour round trip from DC, without stops or detours, but you can turn around at any point.

Possible stops along the way: Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton (22 Waterloo St.; 540-347-2224), where you can fuel up with coffee and a cranberry-orange-walnut muffin and pick up a sandwich—such as homemade meatloaf or ham and cheese—for later; Gay Street Gallery (337 Gay St., Washington; 540-227-5100) and R.H. Ballard Shop & Gallery (307 Main St., Washington; 540-675-1411), two art galleries worth a look; wineries for a glass or bottle of wine, including Gray Ghost Vineyards (14706 Lee Hwy., Amissville; 540-937-4869), Narmada Winery (43 Narmada Ln., Amissville; 540-937-8215; reservations required for outdoor seating), and Little Washington Winery (72 Christmas Tree Ln., Washington; 540-987-8330; reservations encouraged for a table, but you can picnic) for winetastings; Central Coffee Roasters (11836 Lee Hwy., Sperryville; 540-987-1006) for small-batch artisanal coffee at a buck a cup (pickup for preorders only right now); Happy Camper Equipment Co. (15 Main St., Sperryville; 540-987-5088), with stylish outdoor gear sold in a modern log cabin; and, for a tipple, Copper Fox Distillery (9 River Ln., Sperryville; 540-987-8554), known for its smoky whiskey. If you’re game to go past Luray, you can pop into the historic town of New Market. There, Jon Henry General Store (9383 N. Congress St.; 540-740-4304) is a fun place selling local and fair-trade food along with wooden toys and groceries.

Exercising options: From the Thornton Gap entrance on 211, you can venture onto Skyline Drive, which winds through Shenandoah National Park. It affords spectacular scenery from the comfort of your car and at assorted overlooks, as well as access to hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Bear Mountain Ziplines (2354 US Hwy. 211 E., Luray; 540-743-1733) offers a fun swing through Shenandoah Valley treetops. Or go below ground at Luray Caverns (101 Cave Hill Rd., Luray; 540-743-6551), the East Coast’s largest cave system and home to spectacular calcite “draperies.”

Spots for a sit-down lunch or dinner: Sperryville Trading Cafe and Market (11669 Lee Hwy., Sperryville; 540-987-5082), where you can sit on the deck and enjoy a breakfast or lunch sandwich and homemade pie, and Claire’s at the Depot (65 S. Third St., Warrenton; 540-351-1616), where you can enjoy its popular she-crab soup on the patio, or pick it up curbside.

Approximate round trip from downtown DC: 92 miles to Luray and back. A jaunt on Skyline Drive or to Old Rag would add to the mileage.

Photograph by Martin Radigan

Take a scenic day trip through Maryland to see fields of gold.

The route: Make your way to River Road/Route 190 toward Potomac and Poolesville. Your destination is McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (River Rd., Poolesville; 410-356-9272), where, typically in mid-July, 30 acres of sunflowers bloom into Instagram eye candy. That can mean crowds, which you want to avoid—so consider visiting midweek, or on weekends for sunrise or sunset shots. For updates on the blooms, go to dnr.maryland.gov and search for McKee-Beshers. This route through Montgomery County farmland has other joys, including worthy detours off River Road.

Other possible stops along the way: Blockhouse Point Conservation Park (14750 River Rd., Darnestown; 301-495-2595), home to more than seven miles of hiking trails, and Riley’s Lock (Rileys Lock Rd. at mile 22.7 of the towpath), the only aqueduct on the C&O Canal that was also a lift lock—it sits on a stretch of the C&O Canal Towpath with views of the river. (It and Violettes Lock, at milepost 21.2, also offer prime bird-spotting). Just off the path here lie the graffiti-covered ruins of a mill where Seneca red sandstone quarried on-site was cut to build the Smithsonian Castle; across the river is Trump National Golf Club. Calleva Farm Store (19936 Fisher Ave., Poolesville; 301-216-1248; open Wednesday through Saturday) stocks local produce, meats, eggs, bread, chocolate-chip cookies, and locally made gifts. At Lewis Orchards (18901 Peach Tree Rd, Dickerson; 301-349-4101; open for the season mid-June), you can pick up fresh pies (Thursday through Sunday) and produce—it’s particularly known for its peaches in-season. Sugarloaf Mountain (7901 Comus Rd., Dickerson; 301-869-7846; voluntary donation of $5 per car) is a private, nonprofit park that features 16 miles of hiking trails.

Picnic stop: Rocklands Farm Winery (14531 Montevideo Rd, Poolesville; 301-825-8075), where you can enjoy a picnic (reservations required)—bring your own or buy there from rotating food vendors—with a glass or bottle of its wine. You also can purchase pasture-raised local meat out of freezer cases in the market. Another winery where you can sip and picnic, if you’re returning home by looping onto Route 28, is the newer Windridge Vineyards (15700 Darnestown Rd., Darnestown; 301-750-9463).

Approximate round trip from DC: 90 miles if you go all the way to Sugarloaf.

Photograph courtesy of Bluemont Vineyard

Not Run of the Mill

A ramble on Virginia back roads includes a picnic by a mill stream, a walk through an arboretum, and mountain and river views

The route: Start by going west on routes 267 and 7. The drive becomes more scenic as places such as Tysons and Leesburg fade in your rear-view mirror. At the town of Berryville, take routes 340 and 255 south to reach Millwood, then go southeast on state road 723 and north on 621—which at times hugs the Shenandoah River—until you arrive back at Route 7 to head home. Besides drifting through picturesque towns, the drive—a bit of which is on an unpaved road—leads past horse-filled fields and mountain vistas.

Possible stops along the way: Hip and Humble Interiors (401 E. Main St., Berryville; 540-327-5669), where antique pieces sell alongside fashionable furnishings crafted from architectural salvage; Cordial Coffee Company (8 S. Church St., Berryville; 540-277-2156), which roasts its own beans and offers a menu of made-to-order waffles with its pour-over coffee (currently takeout only); Red Schoolhouse Antiques (1014 Bishop Meade Rd., Millwood; 540-837-3033; currently by appointment only but may reopen by late June), brimming with eye-catching pieces large and small; the State Arboretum of Virginia(400 Blandy Farm Ln., Boyce; 540-837-1758), where you can stretch your legs on paths that wind through native plants, boxwoods, and more than 6,000 trees and shrubs; Watermelon Park (3322 Lockes Mill Rd., Berryville; 540-955-4803) to rent a tube or kayak and get out on the Shenandoah River (reservations required); Althouse Pottery (1320 Chilly Hollow Rd., Berryville; 603-355-7761; open by appointment) for clay-art creations; Nalls Farm Market (Route 7; 540-955-0004), known not only for produce but for its pies, all of which you can call ahead to reserve and pick up; and Bear Chase Brewery Company (33665 Bear Chase Ln., Bluemont; 540-554-8210) for a beer on its deck or Bluemont Vineyard (18755 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont; 540-554-8439; reservations required) for a glass to cap off the day.

Spots for lunch or brunch: Swing by the Locke Store in Millwood (2049 Millwood Rd.; 540-837-1275) for gourmet carryout such as a Tuscan club sandwich or curried egg salad. (Don’t miss the jumbo cookies.) Enjoy it across the road at a picnic table by the stream at the old Burmill-Morgan Mill (540-837-1799), open Friday through Sunday—and still grinding grain on Saturday afternoons. Or head a short way up the road to picnic on the lawn of Long Branch Historic House and Farm (830 Long Branch Ln., Boyce; 540-837-1856), an 1811 mansion with rotating art exhibits, gardens, and fields that are home to retired show, police, and other working horses (closed at press time but hoping to reopen in mid-June). For a nice sit-down lunch or brunch, try the new Buttery (540-837-1275)—next to the Locke Store—which is slated to reopen June 25, with reservation-only seating on its terrace.

Approximate round trip from downtown DC: 140 miles.

Photograph courtesy of Little Red Barn Cafe

Over the River, Through the Woods

An outing you can enjoy mostly from inside a car or in the great outdoors, for maximum social distancing

The route: From I-270 in Gaithersburg, hop onto Route 117 West, which leads first to Seneca Creek State Park and eventually winds through the blink-and-you-may-miss-it town of Boyds. Hop onto Barnesville Road to pass through another cute burg, Barnesville, then head north on Mount Ephraim Road, which isn’t always smooth—and is only one lane wide in parts—but is thick with trees and at times within eyeshot of a soothing river. Plug “Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe” into GPS to go the long way along back roads (including Park Mills, Lily Pons, and Oland) lined with cows and barn silos, perhaps a sign advertising a dozen fresh eggs for $3.25, and the town of Adamstown. From the ice-cream stop, you can make a loop by aiming for Point of Rocks and, from there, Route 28 back toward Gaithersburg, or cross into Virginia at Point of Rocks to circle back.

Possible stops along the way: Seneca Creek State Park (11950 Clopper Rd, Gaithersburg; 301-924-2127), where you can walk the 3.7-mile Lake Shore Trail (if it’s crowded, there are more than 50 miles of other trails); Lilypons Water Gardens (6800 Lily Pons Rd., Adamstown; 301-874-5133)—a 103-year-old source for waterlilies, lotuses, and koi; the community of Point of Rocksa historic crossroads where you can see a Victorian-era train station (4000 Clay St.) and hop onto a lush section of the C&O Canal Towpath for a walk or bike ride.

Spots for a bite: Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe (4610 Lander Rd., Jefferson; 301-378-8100), where locally made ice cream is scooped in a restored barn, and Deli on the Rocks (3710 Clay St., Point of Rocks; 301-810-5782), which doesn’t look like much on the outside but slings good cheesesteaks, pizza, and subs.

Approximate round trip from downtown DC: 112 miles.

The businesses and sights in this article were open or planning to reopen at press time, or operating with restricted schedules as mentioned, but that could change. If there’s a specific place you wish to visit, we recommend checking its status before setting out.

Monumental Drive

A nighttime tour around DC’s memorials is always inspiring—and just the reminder of the country’s resilience that we need right now

Start at: The Lincoln Memorial

Although you can do some of this route from your car, we recommend parking first (Constitution Avenue is a good place to look for a spot) to explore some sights not easily seen from the road.

1. At the memorial to our 16th President, you can gaze out at the Mall from the top of the steps and marvel at the Gettysburg Address carved into a wall. See if you can detect the typo in Lincoln’s second inaugural address, where an engraver first chiseled an “e” instead of an “f” in “future.”

2. From the Lincoln, walk to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where the 19 stainless-steel statues of soldiers stand about seven feet tall.

3. If you’re up for walking, cross Independence Avenue and head east to see both the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial—the only presidential memorial to include a First Lady. Back on Independence, continue east and hang a left on 17th Street to arrive at the World War II Memorial. (Don’t miss the “Kilroy was here” carvings on the back of the Atlantic and Pacific sides.)

4. Stroll back along the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the names of more than 58,000 soldiers are listed in the order in which they died, starting at the center of the juncture of the black granite panels.

5. On the way back to your car, check out the endearing statue of Albert Einstein at the National Academy of Sciences.

Back in the Car

The rest of the tour can be done by car. Or, if you’d rather not get out of your car at all at the start, drive east on Constitution Avenue to glimpse the Lincoln Memorial and the Einstein statue, then continue as follows:

1. Turn right on 17th Street to see the World War II Memorial to the right and the Washington Monument to the left.

2. From 17th, head east (left) on Independence Avenue. The Jefferson Memorial will appear on your right, across the Tidal Basin. Veer left at Raoul Wallenberg Place/15th Street and then right on Jefferson Place to drive through the Smithsonian-flanked Mall.

3. At the end of the Mall, the US Capitol will loom ahead. Fun fact: The Statue of Freedom atop the dome has her back to you. She faces east, greeting visitors who come in the front entrance. Zigzag around to the right of the Capitol for a better look, eventually turning left onto First Street, Southeast. Across from the Capitol, you’ll see the Library of Congress and then the Supreme Court, with its 16 imposing Corinthian columns.

4. At Constitution Avenue, turn left to make a loop around the Mall. End your tour as you pass the Ellipse, with a glimpse of the White House. This side is the back or South Lawn, where Marine One lands and the Easter Egg Roll is held.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.

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