Things to Do

These Great Hikes in National Parks Near DC Are Free on Friday

Explore the parks without an entrance fee on the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Photograph by Douglas Rissing/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Celebrate the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act by spending a day in the great outdoors. In honor of the occasion, all National Parks are waiving entrance fees on Friday, August 4. Head to a park within driving distance of DC to try these five hikes featuring scenic views, sandy strolls, and rocky terrain.

Shenandoah National Park | Whiteoak Canyon

The 4.6-mile roundtrip hike is all about chasing waterfalls—namely, the canyon’s largest cascade, the Upper Falls. (To check out the other five falls, add an extra 2.7 miles to your hike.) Although it is a moderate hike, expect some steep areas, especially on the way back. Parking is available at the Whiteoak Canyon parking area. Distance from DC: 97 miles. 


Harpers Ferry | Maryland Heights

The trek has some challenging stretches, rewarded with great views of the quaint town and the meeting point of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. You can do a 4.5-mile roundtrip hike starting at the Master Armorer’s House, or extend the journey into a 6.5-mile hike via the Stone Fort Loop trail. Park at the visitor center and take the shuttle to Lower Town. Distance from DC: 67 miles 


Great Falls Park | River Trail

If you’re looking for craggy terrain, this popular trail has some rock scrambles along the cliffs. The 3-mile out-and-back hike is rated moderate to hard in difficulty and looks out on the Potomac River rushing through Mather Gorge. Start at the park’s picnic area to get on the trail. Distance from DC: 17 miles 


Prince William Forest Park | Laurel Loop Trail

Explore 37 miles of wooded paths, including the 1.5-mile Laurel Loop Trail. The family-friendly walk brings hikers past the South Fork Quantico Creek and across a footbridge. For an additional 1.8 miles, veer off on the Birch Bluff Trail and travel along the creek. (The extension later links back to the Laurel Loop Trail). Leave your car at the Pine Grove Picnic Area. Distance from DC:  32 miles. 


Assateague Island | Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Trails

To access a network of easy pathways, enter Assateague Island from the Chincoteague side, stopping at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. There you’ll find a collection of paved trails and sandy strolls, including the the 3.2-mile Wildlife Loop and the Woodland Trail, a 1.5-mile loop where you can sometimes spot the island’s famous horses on the overlook. Distance from DC: 174 miles. 

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.