Things to Do

National Parks Near DC Are Free on MLK Day

Explore these parks without an entry fee on January 15.

Photograph by Shutter Runner/Flickr.

National Parks across the country are waiving entry fees for six days in 2024, and the first of those days is coming up on January 15. You can spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day meandering through parks a drive away from DC without worrying about entry fees. However, if you plan to partake in activities such as camping or kayaking, there are still costs associated with those pursuits.

For scenic hikes, Virginia offers both forest and mountain landscapes to explore on foot. There are more than 500 trails winding through Shenandoah National Park (21073 Skyline Dr., Front Royal), making the it an ideal destination for adventurers. If you’re trying to climb Old Rag—one of the other most popular paths—you still need to secure a ticket in advance for $1. Closer to DC, Prince William Forest Park (18170 Park Entrance Rd., Triangle) features 37 miles of wooded trails, ranging from the easy 1.4-mile Laurel Loop Trail to the Turkey Run Ridge Trail, a moderately difficult path running over small hills for 1.4 miles. Paved surfaces running through the area make the park a great spot for cyclists of different levels.

History buffs can delve back in time at various battlefields in Maryland. Stop by Fort McHenry (2400 East Fort Ave., Baltimore) to learn about the site that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. Step inside the barracks to see how army men lived during that time period. Visitors at Antietam National Battlefield (5831 Dunker Church Rd., Sharpsburg) can hike 10 trails trod by soldiers during the bloodiest single day of fighting in the Civil War. There are also 96 monuments commemorating Union soldiers placed around the park.

And if you’re looking for a destination that combines breathtaking views and information about the past? Harpers Ferry (171 Shoreline Dr., Harpers Ferry) in West Virginia features both riverside hiking and 19th century history. Stop by John Brown’s Fort, where abolitionist Brown and his fellow raiders barricaded themselves after their 1859 incursion, and then walk to the Point, an overlook where you can see the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

Find a full list of National Parks here.

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

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