Things to Do

7 National Parks Near DC That Are Free on Public Lands Day

Hike, bike, and explore the parks without paying an entry fee on Saturday, September 24.

Great Falls Park. Photograph by Richard Ricciardi/Flickr.

In honor of Public Lands Day, National Parks are offering free admission on Saturday, September 24. Here are seven National Parks around DC to visit this weekend—sans the typical entry fee.

Antietam National Battlefield 
5831 Dunker Church Rd., Sharpsburg
Civil War buffs can visit the site of the bloodiest conflict in the Civil War, located along Antietam Creek and the Appalachian foothills. Join a park ranger for a battlefield talk, follow the path of Union soldiers on hiking trails, and stop by the Visitor Center for educational exhibits. You can also visit the National Cemetery or the Field House Museum, once Union Commander General George B. McClellan’s headquarters. Distance from DC: 70 miles. 

Assateague Island
7206 National Seashore Ln., Berlin
The 37-mile long island is famous for its population of wild horses and scenic beaches. (Remember social distancing? Be sure to give ponies a safe radius.) In addition to visiting the four-legged residents, there are also hiking trails, kayak rentals, fishing spots and bike routes around the island. Distance from DC: 142 miles. 

Photograph via iStock.
Photograph via iStock.

Fort McHenry National Monument  
2400 East Fort Ave., Baltimore 
The pentagon-shaped fort inspired the Star-Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. Barracks include an exhibit on the history of the fort from the American Revolution to World War II, as well as a replica of what the barracks were like for an enlisted soldier in 1814. Distance from DC: 42 miles. 

Great Falls Park 
9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean 
The falls are the main attraction at this Virginia park, dropping 47 feet into Mather Gorge. Walk along the River Trail for views of the waterfalls or check out three overlooks within the park for more waterfront panoramas. Distance from DC: 17 miles. 

Shenandoah National Park 
21073 Skyline Dr., Front Royal
There are more than 500 miles of trails in the scenic park. For a short hike, Blackrock Summit is a one mile loop with mountain vistas. If you’re up for a challenge, the Cedar Run-Whiteoak Circuit is an eight mile hike with almost 3,000 feet of elevation and cascades throughout the trail.
Distance from DC: 70 miles. 

Photograph via iStock.
Photograph via iStock.

Harpers Ferry  
171 Shoreline Drive Harpers Ferry, WV
Head to this National Park for stunning river views at the spot where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. Hiking trails range from flat routes along the C&O Canal Trail to challenging rock scrambles. The area is also home to John Brown’s fort, the site of an abolitionist uprising in 1859. Distance from DC: 67 miles. 

Prince William Forest  
18170 Park Entrance Road Triangle, VA 
Hike 37 miles of trails through the verdant forest, or grab a bike and ride along 21 miles of roads and pathways. The woodland is also a go-to for birdwatchers hoping to spot songbirds, woodpeckers, and the occasional Bald eagle. Distance from DC: 32 miles. 


Katie Kenny
Editorial Fellow