The capital city of the US, Washington, DC, is a major center for politics and government located on the Potomac River. It is home to many national landmarks and museums, including the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. The city receives over 20 million visitors each year. Popular tourist destinations include the National Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, the Smithsonian Institution museums, and Georgetown University.
Once you've exhausted the many exciting things to do in the city, like the best DC museums, the vibrant nightlife, and the abundance of history, it's time to think about getting out of the city. The small District of Columbia borders both the states of Maryland and Virginia, and it's a relatively easy jaunt to nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware. As a result, a trip to Washington, DC, means you can tick multiple states and exciting destinations off your bucket list.
Whether you like to visit a state park or national park, big city or small town, the best day trips from Washington, DC, have it all. And before you head out on your multi-state adventure, store your bags with Bounce. That way, you can focus on the intriguing day trips rather than your belongings.
How to get out of Washington, DC
Within the city limits, there are lots of ways to get around DC. From trains and the Metro, which claims to be the best in the nation, to buses, rideshares, and taxis, navigating the city itself is easy.
As a major US city, the infrastructure is top-notch in DC. Many highways converge here, making car travel out of the city pretty easy, aside from the usual rush hour traffic. Washington Union Station is the best form of public transportation to get you to some of the best day trips from Washington, DC, but not every destination is reachable this way.
To get to the more remote locations, like the coast and the various state and national parks, you're going to want to have a car. And, depending on where you want to go, there are organized day trips or bus tours that you can take if you really prefer not to drive yourself.
Regardless of how you choose to leave, here are our top spots for the best day trips from the city:
From Washington, DC, to Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is located in the Virginia Piedmont region of the United States. There are many things to do in Shenandoah National Park, and some of the most popular activities include hiking, camping, picnicking, and wildlife watching. Although it's a relatively short drive from the city, you'll feel like you've been transported into another world.
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180-mile-long hiking trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia. The trail passes through Shenandoah National Park and offers stunning views of the park's many scenic vistas. It's also possible to camp here if you want to turn your day trip into an overnight visit. There are over 100 campgrounds within the park boundaries, as well as numerous backcountry campsites. Camping is a great way to experience the park's many natural wonders up close, and it's typically quite economical if you have the gear.
Have your camera handy when you're touring the park because wildlife watching is a popular pastime in Shenandoah National Park. You might encounter everything from black bears to white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. Birdwatching is also a popular activity, as the park is home to over 200 species of birds.
How to get to Shenandoah National Park
The only way to get to this scenic national park is by car. The journey takes about an hour and a half and involves toll roads, so keep your change or credit card handy. The park is huge, and you'll need a car to get around while you're here as well.
From Washington, DC, to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
If you didn't get enough wildlife on your trip to Shenandoah, another great day trip from Washington, DC, is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located on Maryland's Eastern Shore and provides a habitat for many different species of animals, including bald eagles, ospreys, and American black ducks.
Aside from photographing the wildlife, you can also find plenty to keep you busy. Like to go fishing? The Blackwater River is full of fish like yellow perch, striped bass, and largemouth bass. Prefer to just be on the water? Consider renting a kayak. There are many kayak launch points located throughout the refuge, and it's a great way to explore the refuge's many waterways.
With over 20,000 acres of areas to explore, you'll have a great time here whether you travel on land or by water.
How to get to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
This is another destination that will require your own vehicle. The trip takes two hours from the center of DC to the refuge's visitor center.
From Washington, DC, to the Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia, are one of the most scenic spots you can escape to from DC for the day. The Roanoke Valley is surrounded by impressive mountains just waiting to be explored.
Perhaps the most popular pastime here is hiking. There are over 500 miles of trails that wind through the forests and valleys of the mountains. Hiking is a great way to experience the beauty of the mountains up close. Additionally, many of the trails are open to cyclists if you prefer to navigate the area on two wheels.
How to get to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Roanoke, VA
This is one of the longer day trips on our list, as it takes about four hours by car to get here. But, this is such an iconic part of the US geography that it would a shame to miss out. If you need to stay the night, there are camping opportunities here as well as hotels and motels.
From Washington, DC, to Gunpowder Falls State Park
Another of the best day trips from Washington, DC, for outdoorsy people, is Gunpowder Falls State Park. Gunpowder Falls State Park is found in Baltimore County, Maryland, and boasts many different species of animals, plants, and birds.
Hiking is a popular park activity, as over 50 miles of trails wind through the forests and fields. Biking is also fun here, with over 25 miles of trails that are open to cyclists.
The park is another great spot to do some fishing as well. You can expect to catch trout, bass, and catfish while relaxing in the natural setting. Once you've hooked something, head to one of the picnic areas or pavilions to cook up your catch and enjoy the perfect end to a fabulous day outside.
How to get to Gunpowder Falls State Park
No public transportation runs to the park, so this is another one that requires your own vehicle. In all, the trip will take just over an hour by car, and also has toll roads.
From Washington, DC, to Baltimore
Although likely worth more than just a day trip, the city of Baltimore in Maryland is another of the best excursions from DC. If you only have one day to spend here, you'll have to prioritize, but that's okay. You know what you like, and with a little planning, you can fill your day with the ideal attractions.
The many sights of Baltimore are too numerous to list here, but some of the highlights include the American Visionary Art Museum with its unique thematic exhibitions and the Baltimore Museum of Art, which displays art spanning from the 19th century to the modern era.
If museums aren't your cup of tea, consider a visit to the Maryland Science Center or the National Aquarium. Both of these locations are ideal for kids of all ages. For history lovers, head to the Fort McHenry National Monument, which commemorates the Battle of Baltimore, which was fought during the War of 1812.
With so much to do here, you may want to stay a few days, but Baltimore's close proximity to DC makes a day trip a viable option for sure.
How to get to Baltimore
Baltimore is only about an hour northeast of Washington, DC. It's surprising that you can get to another exciting city in such a short amount of time. It's a straight run up I-95 by car, but the train is actually the best way to get there. Trains from Washington Union Station run regularly, and the journey is only about 30 minutes. Plus, you won't have to worry about traffic or parking!
From Washington, DC, to Richmond, Virginia
Two hours south of Washington, DC, you'll find the Virginia capital of Richmond. Some of the most popular things to do in Richmond include touring the Virginia State Capitol, visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and exploring the James River Park System.
The Richmond Capitol building is home to the Virginia General Assembly, as well as the offices of the Governor of Virginia. Tours of the Capitol are led by trained guides who provide information about the history of the building and its architecture.
Visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is another popular activity for visitors to Richmond. The museum is home to a collection of art from around the world, as well as a variety of interactive exhibits.
Exploring the James River Park System is a great way to experience the outdoors in Richmond. The park system includes over 500 acres of parks, trails, and green space. There are many different activities that can be enjoyed in the park, such as hiking, biking, and picnicking.
How to get to Richmond, VA
If you don't have a car, this day trip is still doable. You can get here by taking a train from Washington Union Station and then transferring to bus 50 at Broad + Staples Mill. Without a car, the journey is about three hours, and with a car, you'll save at least an hour of travel time.
From Washington, DC, to the Chesapeake Bay and St. Michaels
In less than two hours by car, you can get to the charming city of St. Michaels on the Chesapeake Bay. Here you can enjoy pristine beaches, great restaurants, and exciting nightlife. The small marina dominates the landscape here and offers the ideal backdrop to enjoy yourself.
You can also pay a visit to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum while you're in town if the weather is less than ideal. And, whatever you choose to do here, you'll be leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind and relaxing at a quaint waterside village.
How to get to St. Michaels
This is yet another of the day trips from Washington, DC, that require a car to be feasible. The trip is less than two hours with a car and almost five without it. That seems like an easy choice, doesn't it?
From Washington, DC to Ocean City
When you've spent a lot of time in cities like Richmond and Baltimore, it might be time to escape to the coast. That's where Ocean City comes in. Ocean City, and more specifically, Ocean City Beach, is a popular vacation spot for locals on the Atlantic Ocean. It's scenic and offers everything you might expect from a seaside day trip.
Enjoy sunbathing, swimming, fishing, and watersports, and when you're tired out from all that activity, head to one of the local restaurants for a seafood meal and a few drinks to watch the sunset. Although this day trip is a little far, at about three hours east of DC, the trip is definitely worth it.
How to get to Ocean City
The only real way to get to Ocean city is by private car. Public transportation can get you there in a roundabout way but will take over ten hours.
From big cities like Richmond and Baltimore to picturesque parks, relaxing beaches, and wildlife refuges, the opportunities for day trips from Washington, DC, run the gamut. Store your bags and get in the car or on the train and see where the day takes you!