Best Summer Backpacking Trips Near Washington, D.C.

May 3, 2014 8:00 AM

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Who says you have to travel to a foreign country in order to experience a backpacking trip? There are plenty of beautiful destinations located within a couple hours drive of DC to explore by foot. Grab your sneakers and backpacking gear and check out one of these best summer backpacking trips near DC today.

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211
Luray, VA 22835
(540) 999-3500

Known for its historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park also features beautiful peaks and valleys to explore by foot. The park features over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles along the Appalachian Trail. Hike up Old Rag Mountain, enjoy a picnic along the South River or admire the scenic views along the Limberlost Trail, a crushed greenstone walkway that is constructed to meet ADA accessibility standards. Look for beautiful birds, oak trees, waterfalls and even a horse or two. Shenandoah National Park contains two visitor centers and four campsites. A permit is required for backcountry camping. Fishing is also permitted in the park.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail
18393 Blueridge Mountain Road
Bluemont, VA 20135
(540) 554-8708

This 2,184-mile-long footpath traverses through beautiful vistas from Maine to Georgia. Built by private citizens in 1921, the trail is considered to the most diverse biologically in the entire National Parks system. Admire picturesque pastors and wildly wooded areas. Camping is permitted though visitors are encouraged to pitch their campsite at designated areas. There are also more than 250 backcountry shelters located along the trail. The Bears Den Trail Center provides overnight accommodations and facilities for Appalachian Trail hikers as well as nature trails and picnic areas. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail also features numerous changes in elevation, making it a truly unforgettable backpacking experience.

Related: Best Places for Horseback Riding In The DC Area

Assateague Island National Seashore
7206 National Seashore Lane
Berlin, MD 21811
(410) 641-1441

If you long to set your spirit loose like a pack of wild ponies, then make your way to Assateague Island National Seashore. Surrounded by sand and sea, the park offers plenty of things to do as you backpack your way through. Go kayaking, collect seashells or give surf fishing a try. Swimming and surfing are also allowed in the summer months. Assateague Island National Shore is also well-known for its wild horses  that roam freely. The park offers six camping sites, including two for visitors who traveled via horse. Backpacking along a barrier island brings its own set of challenges including heat, humidity and biting insects. Visitors are encouraged to wear sunscreen and keep plenty of bug spray on hand.

Catoctin Mountain Park
14707 Park Central Road
Thurmont, MD 21788
(301) 663-9388

Historic structures, sawmills and an old moonshine still can be found throughout this beautiful mountain destination. The 5,810-acre park offers pretty views, many plants and animals and bubbling streams. A mix of hardwood covers more than 95 percent of the forest, making it the perfect place to spot pileated woodpeckers, white-tailed deer and chipmunks. The park is also home to more than 20 known amphibian species and more than 750 species of vascular plants. Catoctin Mountain Park features 25 miles of hiking trails. Camping is permitted in the park. Cabin rentals are also available, including Camp Round Meadow which features dormitory-style lodging with a gym and a dining hall.

Related: Best Places For Off-Roading Near Washington DC

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
171 Shoreline Drive
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Recognized as one of the best walking parks in the country, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park provides a truly unique backpacking experience. Hiking trails include paths through Civil War battlefields and windy roads to the tops of mountains. Visitors can also traverse along the 184.5-mile towpath of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Harpers Ferry is home to more than 170 bird species and 30 mammals. The park is also home to various ecosystems including marshes, swamps and forests. There’s also plenty of places to go and things to do outside of the park including museums, restaurants and shops. Guided tours are available. The park also offers activities for children.

Susan Diranian is a freelance writer living in Ashburn, VA. She is covering Travel & Outdoors. Her work can be found at

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