Four National Parks just outside the DC Metro Area
River & Trail Outfitters is helping to celebrate the National Park System’s #FindYourPark Summer!
If variety is the spice of your life, a trip to Washington DC and the surrounding parks is a perfect vacation getaway. Just outside the Nation’s Capital and within one and a half hours are four national parks and trails to be explored.
Spend a few days visiting iconic monuments such as the Parthenon-inspired Lincoln Memorial and the soaring obelisk of the Washington Monument. All ages will enjoy exploring history, science, and culture at the Smithsonian Museums, nineteen in all, located within walking distance on the area known as the National Mall.
After having your fill of the city, the next day rent a zipcar and within the time it takes to eat a leisurely lunch, arrive in the tri-state area of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, an area rich in Civil War History and the site of four National Parks & Trails.
#1 Antietam Battlefield National Park
Hear the canons explode as you explore by car, segway or bike this National Park serving as the site of the first major battle of the Civil War fought on Union soil. Highlights include the park headquarters, featuring a 26 minute film on the history of Antietam, climbing the observation tower overlooking Bloody Lane, and viewing the picturesque Burnside Bridge. For the outdoor enthusiast, there are miles of trails through fields and forest. Kayaking, canoeing, and tubing on Antietam Creek and under a canopy of trees offer a unique way to float through history while staying cool! Brunch and historical tours are also available.
#2 Harpers Ferry National Park
A renovated civil war town, this quaint National Park has a “European village” feel. Featuring the John Brown Wax Museum, an African American History Museum, and numerous shops and cafe-style restaurants, this town takes a half or full day to explore.
Feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you encounter men and women dressed in the clothing of the Civil War era. Nestled at the confluence of the Shenandoah & Potomac Rivers, whitewater rafting, inflatable kayaks, and tubing are great ways to float through history while learning the historical highlights.
#3 Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park
The C&O Canal features 184.5 miles of trail bordering the Potomac River. Operated between 1831 and 1924, it was initially an effort to connect the Eastern waterways with the Great Lakes and Ohio River. Although the effort failed, those who use this great scenic trail are grateful for the recreational opportunities it provides.
Camping, biking, hiking, and horseback riding are the most popular uses of the trail today. Bike rentals and bike shuttles are available for one of the most scenic sections of the canal near Harpers Ferry. Camping is largely hiker/biker access only in the Harpers Ferry area except for Brunswick Family Campground (6.5 miles from Harpers Ferry) and Antietam Campground near Sharpsburg, MD.
#4 Appalachian Trail
This national treasure crossing fourteen states and five national parks has its headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV. Visitors may stop by the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) headquarters which offers a wide variety of books, trail guides, and a topographical map of the entire trail. If you’re lucky, you may witness the dogged determination or sweaty fatigue in the faces of hikers half-way finished their trek to Maine. Kids to active adults can also hike a scenic section of the Appalachian Trail to Weverton Cliffs, offering a stunning view of the Potomac River and Short Hill Mountain. Hiking shuttles and group hikes are available.
River & Trail Outfitters has been facilitating rafting, tubing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking shuttles, and biking in Knoxville, Maryland, 3 miles east of Harpers Ferry for 43 years. Visit their paddling shop at 604 Valley Road for area information on how to paddle, bike, or hike your way through the National Parks in the DC area.
was born and raised near Harpers Ferry and has been adventuring on its rivers and trails all her life. She has traveled, studied, and worked in parts of Europe, Central & South America, and Asia but always comes home. She has worked as a river guide, manager, and president of River & Trail Outfitters, a family-run adventure sports company for over 28 years.