Things to Do

5 National Parks Near DC That Are Free on Earth Day

Explore the parks without paying an entrance fee on Saturday, April 22.

Sunrise view from Thornton Hollow Overlook in Shenandoah National Park. Photograph courtesy of NPS.

National Park Week kicks off on Saturday, April 22, and all National Parks are waiving entrance fees for the day. Looking to take an Earth Day hike? These five parks are within driving distance of DC, offering waterfall views, beach terrain, mountain treks, and more. 

Assateague Island

7206 National Seashore Ln., Berlin

Horses grazing on Assateague Island. Photograph courtesy of NPS.

This barrier island in Maryland and Virginia is famous for its wild ponies, but there’s also great birdwatching near the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Explore the island’s paved trails on foot or bicycle. You can rent wheels from Assateague Outfitters in Berlin, Maryland or the Bike Depot in Chincoteague, Virginia.
Distance from DC: 142 miles.


Catoctin Mountain Park

14707 Park Central Rd., Thurmont

Thurmont Vista overlook at Catoctin Mountain Park. Photograph courtesy of NPS.

There are 25 miles of trails to explore in the verdant forest. Try the moderate Cunningham Falls Nature Trail (2.8 miles round trip) for views of the cascade or hike the Blue Blazes Whiskey Still Trail for an easy walk under a mile. Park at the visitors center to access both trails.
Distance from DC: 55 miles.


Great Falls Park

9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean

One of the overlooks at Great Falls Park. Photograph courtesy of NPS.

For an escape close to Washington, head to this park to see powerful waterfalls dropping into Mather Gorge. There are three overlooks accessible from the visitors center, offering views of the falls and Potomac River rapids.
Distance from DC: 17 miles.


Monocacy National Battlefield

5201 Urbana Pike, Frederick

A deer grazing in front of a civil war cannon on Monocacy National Battlefield. Photograph courtesy of NPS.

History buffs can go to Frederick, Maryland to learn about the Battle of Monocacy, a Civil War conflict that delayed the Confederacy on its way to DC, saving the capital city. The site has seven trails, all under two miles, for an active educational experience.
Distance from DC: 46 miles.  


Shenandoah National Park

21073 Skyline Dr., Front Royal

With over 500 miles of trails, there’s a hike for every level in the Virginia park. Up for a challenge? Old Rag is a popular (and strenuous) 9.4-mile loop with panoramic views worth the rock scrambles. Start at the Old Rag parking area in Etlan, Virginia.
Distance from DC: 100 miles.

Editorial Fellow

Keely recently graduated with her master’s in journalism from American University and has reported on local DC, national politics, and business. She has previously written for The Capitol Forum.