Southern Maryland isn’t far from the beautiful parks and woods of Virginia. If you enjoy spending time exploring the outdoors, I’d recommend making a road trip west and taking advantage of all the hiking this area has to offer. Whether you’re looking to get some solo exercise or hike with a buddy, there are plenty of opportunities to bask in the scenery. I’ll highlight two different parks in Virginia near enough to Southern Maryland for a road-trip destination:
Shenandoah National Park
This gorgeous national park is only about 2 hours or so from the Southern Maryland region. It has spectacular views that can be achieved on brief hikes. In this park, you can find valleys and mountains with expansive lookout points as well as towering waterfalls. The famed Appalachian Trail runs through the park, and hikers will find themselves hiking across it on various hikes. Be aware that while many trails here are short, most are steep and pretty strenuous. Also note that many hikes are accessible from the Skyline Drive which runs high along the ridge, meaning that most hikes begin with a descent and end with a strenuous ascent back to the parking lot.
Upper Hawksbill Trail
Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the park at 4,050 feet. The view at the top is stunning, with a panoramic lookout including a view of Old Rag. The trail starts at the Upper Hawksbill parking area at milepost 46.7 and leads hikers up to the summit. This trail is about 2.1 miles round-trip, and it can be done in a short hour or two, making it accessible for most hiker abilities.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail
This trail is one of the most popular in the Shenandoah National Park, and it’s no wonder why. It’s a shorter family-friendly hike with a lot of bang for your buck. After just a short 1.4-mile hike downhill, you’re rewarded with a stunning view of three waterfalls cascading down a mossy rock wall. The trail follows a creek, giving you peaceful sounds of trickling water along the way. There are some challenging rocky areas to navigate, and the hike back will most likely take twice as long as the hike in, but most of it is in the shade and quite manageable.
Old Rag Trail
If you want a more adventurous hike that will challenge you, the Old Rag Trail might be for you. This is a full day hike, at about 9 miles total, and most people allow for 8 to 9 hours to complete it. This means planning ahead, grabbing a buddy or two, starting early in the day, and packing plenty of water and supplies. The hike includes a mile-long rock scramble, narrow rock corridors, and some dangerous areas, so it’s recommended for experienced and physically fit hikers. If you’re up for the strenuous challenge, this trail rewards hikers with a 360-degree view at the summit that can’t be beaten. Check out the National Park Service’s planning and info site before setting out for this hike.
George Washington National Forest and Jefferson National Forest
These National Forest lands are about 4 hours from the Southern Maryland area, but the scenery is certainly worth the road trip. They’re a combined forest system with 1,664,110 acres in Virginia. It’s a great opportunity to spend an overnight in the surrounding towns or to camp nearby.
This hike near Montebello is relatively short with a beautiful panoramic view at the top. At about 3 miles round trip, hikers say you can complete this trail in an hour or two. The trail leads you up a steep rocky road along the Appalachian Trail. You’ll need to scramble up a portion of the trail which is rock face, but once at the summit, you’ll be able to enjoy what many believe to be one of the best views in central Virginia. At the top, you’ll get a view of the Religious Range: The Priest, The Little Priest, The Friar, The Little Friar, and The Cardinal. You may also want to combine this hike with Crabtree Falls nearby where you can gaze on a 300-ft cascading waterfall.
Whether you’re new to hiking or you’re a seasoned expert in the outdoors, making the trip west to these Virginia parks is worth it. With a short road trip from Southern Maryland, you’ll find yourself in some of the most scenic forest lands and mountains around. The best part is that there are both beginner and family-friendly trails as well as those offering more of a challenge.