The 13 Best Day Trips From Washington DC (2024 Guide)

If you’re looking for some great day trips from Washington DC, here are a few of our absolute favorites to add to your itinerary!

Washington DC is the capital city of the United States, so it is absolutely packed with things to do!

From world-class museums to impressive architecture and a thriving nightlife scene, Washington DC could easily entertain travelers for days on end.

Though there is plenty to see and do within the city itself, Washington DC sits at the crossroads of many US states, including Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. So there are lots of amazing day trips to try!

You can venture all the way up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, or over to the Blue Ridge Mountains on just a day trip.

Walk in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in places like Alexandria or Mount Vernon. Or traverse the world-famous Appalachian Trail, hit the beaches of Maryland’s East Coast, and immerse yourself in history in Harpers Ferry.

A day trip outside Washington DC allows you to further explore the wonders of East Coast USA. So once you’ve spent a few days exploring this magnificent city, continue the fun on one of these DC day trips!

Washington Dc
Explore beyond Washington DC on one of these epic day trips!

13 Best Day Trips From Washington DC

From visiting the National Aquarium or American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore to hiking through the forest in Gunpowder Falls State Park, there are so many amazing things to do on a day trip from Washington DC!

Your best bet for exploring the area is renting a car in Washington DC. However, there is decent public transport in this part of the country, and guided tours are often available as well!

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

1. Shenandoah National Park

  • Distance from Washington DC: 70 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Shenandoah National Park represents an epic day trip nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Spanning over 200,000 acres, this national park offers visitors a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse themselves in the tranquility of the Appalachian wilderness.

With its lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and panoramic vistas along Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park is a haven for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone seeking a connection with the great outdoors.

One of the park’s most iconic features is Skyline Drive, a scenic 105-mile roadway that winds its way through the entire length of the park, providing motorists with awe-inspiring views of the surrounding landscapes.

A self-driving audio guide is a great way to make the most of your drive through Shenandoah National Park as well. This will help you hit all of the highlights!

Or if you’re more into hiking, there are over 500 miles of trails to explore. Ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes, these trails offer a chance to witness the diverse wildlife and plant life of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Shenandoah National Park is also renowned for its vibrant fall foliage, drawing visitors from near and far to witness the stunning array of red, orange, and gold leaves that blanket the landscape.

Whether you’re camping under the stars, cruising along Skyline Drive, or simply enjoying a leisurely picnic in this natural wonderland, Shenandoah National Park is one of the best day trips from Washington DC.

2. Annapolis

  • Distance from Washington DC: 31 miles
  • Driving time: 48 minutes

The capital city of Maryland is another one of the best DC day trips! Annapolis is a historic and picturesque city located on the Chesapeake Bay that boasts a rich colonial history.

The centerpiece of the city is the Maryland State House, the oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use.

Annapolis played a crucial role in the early days of the United States, serving as the temporary capital after the American Revolution and hosting the Treaty of Paris negotiations that ended the Revolutionary War. The city’s historic district is a treasure trove of museums, galleries, shops, and restaurants, making it a charming place to explore on foot.

Visitors can take guided walking tours to learn about Annapolis’s storied past, or they can simply soak in the maritime atmosphere while strolling along the bustling waterfront.

Annapolis’s strong maritime heritage is evident throughout the city, and it’s a paradise for boating and sailing enthusiasts. The United States Naval Academy Museum and the Annapolis Maritime Museum both call the city home and add to the dynamic learning opportunities here.

The scenic Annapolis Harbor is filled with sailboats, yachts, and traditional wooden workboats. Ego Alley, a narrow waterway in the heart of downtown, provides a spectacular showcase of vessels and serves as a hub for maritime events and celebrations.

Beyond its history and maritime culture, Annapolis hosts a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, including the world-famous Annapolis Boat Shows and the lively Annapolis Arts and Crafts Festival.

Whether you’re interested in history, sailing, or simply enjoying a waterfront meal with fresh seafood, Annapolis is one of the best day trips from Washington DC!

Annapolis is one of the best DC day trips!

3. Baltimore

  • Distance from Washington DC: 38 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour

Another excellent day trip destination near Washington DC is Baltimore. This vibrant city in Maryland is packed with historic sites, monumental landmarks, and interesting attractions.

Known as the “Charm City,” Baltimore is nestled along the Chesapeake Bay, offering stunning waterfront views and a thriving maritime heritage.

Its vibrant neighborhoods are a testament to its rich history, from the cobblestone streets of Fells Point to the grandeur of Mount Vernon.

Baltimore is celebrated for its iconic Inner Harbor, a bustling waterfront area that’s home to world-class attractions like the National Aquarium and the historic USS Constellation.

Visitors can also explore Fort McHenry, where the “Star-Spangled Banner” was penned, or indulge in the city’s culinary delights, including delicious crab cakes and fresh seafood.

Baltimore’s cultural scene is equally impressive, with a thriving arts and music community. The city is home to renowned institutions like the Baltimore Museum of Art, the American Visionary Art Museum, and the Walters Art Museum, all of which house extensive collections spanning centuries and continents.

Baltimore’s vibrant music scene has produced legendary artists like Billie Holiday and Tupac Shakur, and its live music venues offer everything from jazz to indie rock.

Additionally, the city is known for its sports passion, with the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles garnering ardent fan support. Baltimore’s unique blend of history, culture, and vibrant urban life make it a fun day trip destination for both residents and visitors alike.

4. Alexandria

  • Distance from Washington DC: 8 miles
  • Driving time: 20 minutes

Alexandria, Virginia, is a charming and historic town located just across the Potomac River from Washington DC. Though it’s only 8 miles away, it makes the perfect day trip as you could easily spend all day exploring here!

Known for its well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century architecture, Alexandria offers a captivating glimpse into America’s colonial past.

Old Town Alexandria is a highlight of the area, with its cobblestone streets and quaint, colorful rowhouses. Home to a diverse array of boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries, Old Town Alexandria is a popular day trip in northern Virginia.

Beyond its historic ambiance, Alexandria also plays a significant role in American history. It’s home to numerous museums and historic sites, including the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which once produced torpedoes during World War II and is now an art studio and gallery space.

The city’s history is further exemplified at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, where notable figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson once gathered.

Waterfront views along the Potomac River, along with scenic parks and waterfront promenades, add to Alexandria’s allure. It’s a popular spot for river cruises from Washington DC!

Alexandria’s commitment to preserving its heritage while embracing modernity has made it a sought-after destination for those seeking a blend of history, culture, and a lively urban atmosphere, all within easy reach of the nation’s capital.

5. Great Falls Park

  • Distance from Washington DC: 18 miles
  • Driving time: 30 minutes

Another one of the top day trips from Washington DC is Great Falls Park. Situated on the banks of the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, this national park is famous for its stunning waterfalls and rugged, rocky terrain, which provide visitors with a unique opportunity to witness the untamed force of the river as it cascades over the falls.

The breathtaking views of the roaring water and the surrounding wilderness make Great Falls Park a popular destination for hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts.

Visitors can explore a network of trails that offer different vantage points of the falls, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging hikes, all while taking in the picturesque landscapes and diverse flora and fauna of the park.

In addition to its natural beauty, Great Falls Park is steeped in history. The area was once a significant transportation corridor during the early days of America, and remnants of the historic Patowmack Canal, which was used for navigation around the falls, can still be seen within the park.

Visitors can also learn about the park’s cultural heritage through educational exhibits and ranger-led programs.

Whether you’re seeking an outdoor adventure, a peaceful picnic by the river, or a glimpse into the region’s history, Great Falls Park is a true gem of the US national park system. It’s also a super easy day trip from Washington DC as it’s only 30 minutes away!

Great Falls Park
Marvel at the natural wonders in Great Falls Park.

6. Ocean City

  • Distance from Washington DC: 146 miles
  • Driving time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Ocean City, Maryland, is a bustling coastal resort town located along the scenic Atlantic Ocean coastline. Known for its expansive sandy beaches, lively boardwalk, and vibrant summer atmosphere, Ocean City has been a beloved vacation destination for generations of visitors.

It’s one of the top weekend trips from Washington DC, though it can be done as a day trip!

The city’s pristine, family-friendly beaches are a major draw, offering sunbathing, swimming, and water sports during the warmer months.

The iconic Ocean City Boardwalk stretches for miles and is packed with amusements, shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, making it the heart of the city’s social scene.

Miniature golf courses, amusement parks, and arcades provide endless fun for families, while fresh seafood dining and oceanfront bars cater to visitors of all ages looking to savor the beach town experience.

Ocean City is also well-known for its events and festivals, including the annual Sunfest and Springfest celebrations, which feature live music, arts and crafts, and delicious food offerings.

Fishing enthusiasts flock here for renowned sportfishing opportunities, with the city often referred to as the “White Marlin Capital of the World.”

Beyond the summer season, Ocean City maintains its charm year-round, with quieter moments during the off-season allowing for peaceful beach walks and birdwatching. Ocean City is one of the top day trips on Maryland’s eastern shore, whether you’re seeking an action-packed beach vacation or a relaxed coastal getaway.

Read next: Our Ultimate 7 Day West Virginia Road Trip Itinerary

7. Gettysburg

  • Distance from Washington DC: 82 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

History buffs should definitely add Gettysburg to their list of DC day trips to try. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, holds a significant place in American history as the site of one of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 to 3, 1863, marked a turning point in the conflict and is often considered the battle that ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s ambitious invasion of the North.

Today, Gettysburg National Military Park preserves the hallowed grounds where this epic battle took place, and it’s one of the most popular day trips for history lovers.

Visitors can explore the vast battlefield, complete with monuments, cannons, and historic markers. Horse-drawn carriage tours, walking tours, and even ghost tours are fun and interactive ways to learn about the tumultuous history here.

In addition to its historical significance, Gettysburg is a charming town that offers a blend of history, culture, and hospitality. The town’s streets are lined with beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings that house museums, shops, and restaurants.

The Gettysburg National Cemetery, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, is another poignant attraction that pays tribute to the thousands who perished during the battle.

The annual Gettysburg Reenactment and other historical events draw history enthusiasts from around the country. This historic city has so much to see and do, making it one of the top day trips from Washington DC!

8. Gunpowder Falls State Park

  • Distance from Washington DC: 55 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Nature lovers looking for fun day trips from Washington DC can head over to Gunpowder Falls State Park in Maryland. This sprawling natural oasis encompasses nearly 18,000 acres of diverse landscapes, making it one of the largest state parks in Maryland.

Gunpowder Falls State Park is divided into multiple sections, each offering a unique outdoor experience. The Hereford Area, for example, features rugged terrain, hiking trails, and opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife observation.

The Central Area includes the beautiful Loch Raven Reservoir, a popular spot for boating, fishing, and picnicking.

The Hammerman Area boasts a sandy beach along the Gunpowder River, making it a perfect destination for swimming and sunbathing during the summer months.

The park also offers a wide range of recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and even tubing down the river. Its extensive trail system caters to outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels, providing a chance to explore the park’s beauty.

One of Gunpowder Falls State Park’s standout features is its commitment to preserving its natural resources and protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The park serves as a vital buffer zone that helps maintain water quality and supports a variety of plant and animal species.

Whether you’re seeking a serene escape in nature, a day of water-based recreation, or a challenging hike through the woods, Gunpowder Falls State Park is one of the best DC day trips.

Explore more beautiful nature in Asheville, North Carolina!

9. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

  • Distance from Washington DC: 96 miles
  • Driving time: 2 hours

Another top day trip destination near Washington DC for nature lovers is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located on Maryland’s East Coast.

This pristine and ecologically significant natural sanctuary encompasses over 28,000 acres of tidal wetlands, forests, and open water.

The refuge is renowned for its vital role in conserving and protecting the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, providing critical habitat for numerous bird species, including the iconic bald eagle.

Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts flock to Blackwater to witness the annual migrations of waterfowl and songbirds, making it one of the premier bird-watching destinations on the East Coast.

The refuge offers a network of scenic trails, observation platforms, and wildlife drives, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the serene beauty of this unique landscape.

In addition to its importance as a birding hotspot, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge also offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, and wildlife photography.

The waterways winding through the refuge provide a chance to spot river otters, turtles, and other aquatic creatures, while the forested areas are home to deer, foxes, and a variety of songbirds. The visitor center has educational programs available to enhance the understanding of the Chesapeake Bay’s delicate ecosystem and the efforts made to protect it.

For those seeking a peaceful escape into nature and a chance to witness the beauty of the mid-Atlantic’s wildlife, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge stands as a remarkable day trip destination for conservation and outdoor exploration.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is one of the East Coast’s top birdwatching destinations.

10. St. Michaels

  • Distance from Washington DC: 79 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

St. Michaels, Maryland, is a quaint and charming waterfront town located on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Known for its picturesque setting, historic architecture, and maritime heritage, St. Michaels has earned the moniker “The Jewel of the Chesapeake.”

The town’s historic district is a postcard-perfect destination perfect for day trips, with tree-lined streets, colonial-style buildings, and charming boutiques.

One of its most iconic landmarks is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which offers visitors a glimpse into the rich maritime history of the region through exhibits, historic vessels, and interactive displays.

The waterfront promenade provides stunning views of the bay, and many visitors enjoy taking scenic boat tours to explore the beautiful waterways that surround the town.

St. Michaels is also celebrated for its culinary offerings, with a variety of restaurants specializing in fresh local seafood. The town is renowned for its annual festivals, including the St. Michaels Waterfowl Festival, which attracts artists and nature enthusiasts from far and wide, and the St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival, a showcase of local culinary delights.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find opportunities for sailing, kayaking, and fishing, while history buffs can explore sites like the St. Michaels Museum, which delves into the town’s past.

With its blend of maritime history, scenic beauty, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere, St. Michaels makes for a lovely day trip from Washington DC.

Read next: 21 Best Things To Do In Baltimore, Maryland

11. Harpers Ferry

  • Distance from Washington DC: 67 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Another one of the most fascinating day trips from Washington DC is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in West Virginia, this small town is steeped in history and natural beauty.

Often referred to as the “Birthplace of the Civil War,” Harpers Ferry played a pivotal role in American history. It was the site of John Brown’s raid in 1859, an event that escalated tensions between the North and South and is considered a precursor to the Civil War.

Today, the town is a National Historical Park, preserving its historic buildings, bridges, and streets, offering visitors a glimpse into the past. The Appalachian Trail also passes through Harpers Ferry, making it a popular stop for hikers on their long journey from Georgia to Maine.

Beyond its historical significance, Harpers Ferry is renowned for its stunning natural surroundings. The town is surrounded by lush West Virginia forests and the picturesque Appalachian Mountains, making it a popular destination for nature lovers.

Visitors can explore miles of hiking trails, go whitewater rafting on the nearby rivers, explore the area on a bike ride, or simply enjoy the breathtaking views from the Maryland Heights overlook.

The quaint, preserved streets of Harpers Ferry offer a charming backdrop for shopping, dining, and learning about the town’s history at its many museums and historic sites.

If you’re looking to hike the Appalachian Trail, bike ride through the scenery of West Virginia, or check out a National Historic Landmark or two, Harpers Ferry is a pillar of early American history.

Check out our complete guide to Harpers Ferry for more info!

Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry is a beautiful historic town surrounded by nature.

12. Mount Vernon

  • Distance from Washington DC: 22 miles
  • Driving time: 35 minutes

One of the top Virginia day trips from Washington DC is Mount Vernon, one of the most iconic historic sites in the United States.

Mount Vernon was the plantation home of George Washington, the first President of the United States and a Founding Father. The historic estate, consisting of a beautifully preserved mansion, extensive gardens, and outbuildings, provides visitors with a glimpse into the life and times of George Washington.

The mansion itself is a magnificent example of 18th-century architecture, and visitors can explore its rooms and learn about Washington’s life, leadership, and contributions to the nation. The surrounding grounds, meticulously landscaped with gardens and scenic pathways, offer a serene and picturesque setting for visitors to enjoy.

Mount Vernon is not only a historic treasure but also a testament to the importance of preserving the legacy of America’s founding leaders.

The estate hosts educational programs, exhibits, and special events that bring history to life, making it a valuable destination for families, history enthusiasts, and tourists from around the world.

The sweeping views of the Potomac River from the estate’s piazza and the opportunity to see the tomb of George and Martha Washington further enhance the experience. Mount Vernon stands as a living tribute to the nation’s first president and serves as a reminder of the principles and values upon which the United States was founded.

13. Seneca Creek State Park

  • Distance from Washington DC: 24 miles
  • Driving time: 40 minutes

Last but not least on our list of the best day trips from Washington DC is Seneca Creek State Park, located in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The park’s centerpiece is the 90-acre Clopper Lake, which offers a range of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, and swimming. Visitors can rent paddleboats, canoes, and rowboats to explore the scenic lake or relax on its sandy beach during the summer months.

Seneca Creek State Park boasts an extensive network of hiking and biking trails that wind through lush forests, providing opportunities for nature enthusiasts to explore the park’s rich biodiversity.

The park’s varied terrain and numerous scenic overlooks make it a popular destination for outdoor activities, birdwatching, and photography.

In addition to its outdoor attractions, Seneca Creek State Park offers a variety of amenities, including picnic areas, playgrounds, and a nature center that provides educational programs about the park’s flora and fauna. The park is also a popular spot for geocaching, with numerous hidden treasures waiting to be discovered by adventure seekers.

Seneca Creek State Park provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and serves as a cherished destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers in the Washington DC metropolitan area.

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Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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