5 easy weekend getaways from Washington, D.C.
Feeling beaten down by the Beltway grind? Lucky for you, there are plenty of rejuvenating escapes only a short drive from D.C. From scenic hiking to whiskey sipping, below are our five favorite ways to get away from it all for the weekend.
1. Discover History and Hikes in Sperryville, Virginia
Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sperryville is a tiny farming village founded in 1820. Located just an hour and a half from D.C., this is the perfect spot to soak up the small town lifestyle and explore the great outdoors. Stay at a country inn and stroll the streets, stopping in at eclectic antique shops and charming eateries.The town is also just a stone’s throw from the entrance to Shenandoah National Park’s rugged wilderness and remote camping grounds, as well as Skyline Drive, a 109-mile scenic driving route that runs through the park. Come in the fall to see the leaves change from green to yellow and red along this drive.
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll definitely want to hit up Shenandoah National Park and challenge yourself on the Old Rag hike. This gnarly 9-mile trail climbs steep switchbacks and includes a number of rock scrambles that will test your upper body strength. It’ll all be worth it when you get to the top and look out at the panorama of green-cloaked mountains and valleys below. It should be noted that this trail is very popular, so it can get crowded. Head here in the early morning for a quieter hike. If you still have the energy when you get back to Sperryville, reward yourself with a trip to the Copper Fox Distillery to sample unique whiskies hand-malted with barley and flavored with apple and oak chips and cherry wood smoke.
2. Wine and Dine in Charlottesville, Virginia
Besides being the historic home of not one, but two U.S. presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe), Charlottesville is also the home of the University of Virginia, which UNESCO has designated as a World Heritage Site for its lengthy and celebrated history. Charlottesville is also a prime craft beer and wine tour destination. More than 20 wineries are located near the city, and the Monticello Wine Trail is a must for serious oenophiles and anybody who likes a good glass of vino. There are plenty of transportation options to get you from spot to spot, but we suggest Monticello Wine Tour & Coach Co. They offer private tours and car services with highly knowledgeable drivers who will take you to some of the area’s best beer and wine offerings. Be sure to get in a trip to Early Mountain Vineyards to sample their Bordeaux-inspired wines and gourmet cheeses. However, if you really want to eat like a local, try Ace Biscuit & Barbecue for their laid-back vibe and great grub like breakfast biscuits with pulled pork, burgers, and buttermilk fried chicken.
3. Step Back in Time in Ellicott City, Maryland
Located just an hour from D.C. by car, Ellicott City is an old Quaker town with a number of buildings that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Here you can take in historic sites like the Thomas Isaac log cabin and the B&O Railroad Museum, America’s oldest surviving railroad station. Yet despite all its old school splendour, Ellicott City is still very much a part of the 21st century with a slew of hip cafes, eateries, and microbreweries, as well as gorgeous parks where you can soak up views of the Patapsco River.
Your day in Ellicott City could go something like this: Start by grabbing a French roast coffee or pumpkin latte from Bean Hollow, and then stroll along the main street admiring the quaint country stores, book shops, and art galleries. After perusing the shopfronts and chatting with the locals, head to the Trolley Stop and have lunch in their cozy dining room located in a historic building that was originally an inn and tavern in the 1830s. Then set off for an easy 1.5-mile hike past streams and through woodlands on the Trolley Line #9 Trail. For more greenery, head to Centennial Lake Park to explore 325 acres of leafy trees and wide open spaces. Finally, end your day with tapas and vino at Pure Wine Cafe.
4. Hike and Bike in Harpers Ferry National Park, West Virginia
Head an hour and a half northwest of Washington, D.C., to Harpers Ferry National Park, where you will find a labyrinth of hiking trails suited to all types of trekkers. The park spans 4,000 acres across the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and it includes steep mountains, mighty rivers, and living history villages, not to mention a section of the Appalachian Trail, the world’s longest hiking-only footpath. Stay in one of the two tiny villages of Harpers Ferry or Bolivar and enjoy small-town hospitality, great boutique shops and restaurants, and easy access to this monster of a park.
The hikes in Harpers Ferry National Park range from easy strolls along riverside paths, longer treks across historic battlefields and past old wooden structures, and exciting adventures up the sides of steep mountains. Of course, you’ll definitely want to hike a bit of the Appalachian Trail, which starts in Maine, runs through Harpers Ferry, and ends all the way down in Georgia. On the trail you can visit Jefferson Rock, a huge shale rock formation that offers sublime views of the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. If biking is more your bag, try the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park for its well-maintained sand and gravel trails that wind past streams and forests filled with wildlife.
5. Go Ghost Hunting in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
You may have learned about the Battle of Gettysburg in school, but actually visiting the place where it all happened is a whole other experience. Of course you can visit the Gettysburg National Battlefield in the Gettysburg National Military Park, but why not learn a bit of local lore on a spine-tingling Ghosts of Gettysburg Tour? The tours are based on eerie sightings reported in Mark Nesbitt’s best-selling “Ghosts of Gettysburg” book series, and they are the only tours in Gettysburg sanctioned by the author himself. You’ll walk around the city and learn about what life was like during various time periods, visit haunted houses, and, if you’re lucky, maybe even catch sight of a spirit or two.
For those who prefer to play in the world of the living, there is plenty to do in Gettysburg besides boning up on history. One hour north of Gettysburg, the Indian Echo Caverns make for a nice day trip. To get the most out of the site, take a 45-minute guided tour of the caves and see its stalactites, flowstone, and lakes. Ready for some above-ground action? Head to the Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve and explore more than 600 acres of nature trails through woodlands and wetlands.