8 Great Hikes Close to Home

When you want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, check out these can’t-miss trails to feel closer to nature. 🥾
Great Falls

Great Falls, a waterfall on the Potomac River, is just a short walk from the Great Falls Park visitor center. (Photo by Bette Canter)

You may not realize it while sitting in traffic or waiting for the metro, but there’s a plethora of hikes in or near Arlington just a short distance away. Whether you’re looking for a short loop to take your daily runs off of the roads, or want an all-day adventure with some serious elevation, you can find both options nearby.

Here are eight hikes near Arlington to add to your list. To top it off, November 17 is National Take a Hike Day, so there’s no better time to plan your next excursion.

A quick note before you hike: Be prepared! Bring adequate water and snacks (for both people and dogs, if you’re bringing your pooch in tow), wear sunscreen and a hat, lace up your sturdiest shoes, charge your phone, carry out all trash—and dog poop—and prepare backup methods of finding your way in case your phone does not get cell service.

Potomac Heritage Trail – George Washington Parkway | McLean – Arlington, VA

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is one of only 11 officially designated National Scenic Trails in the nation, along with the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. The entire trail network runs from the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trailhead in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay—more than 800 miles. 

There are several hikes in the Northern Virginia section of the PHT, and one popular section of the trail runs right through Arlington, alongside the George Washington Parkway. (If you’re looking for a quiet hike away from traffic, this isn’t the one for you.) Start at the Theodore Roosevelt Island footbridge in Arlington (park in the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot), and wind your way up 10 miles to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean. The trail isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s rocky, rugged and a bit overgrown. 

▪️ Trail information at AllTrails (note: The route shown here is an out-and-back)

Theodore Roosevelt Island

The footbridge leading to Theodore Roosevelt Island just after sunrise. (Photo by Bette Canter)

Theodore Roosevelt Island | Arlington, VA

Located in the middle of the Potomac River between Arlington and Foggy Bottom, Theodore Roosevelt Island offers some reprieve from the din of city life. You can circle the outer swamp trail, which is just shy of 1.5 miles around, or you can turn in on the Woods Trail or the Upland Trail and make your way to the monument of Theodore Roosevelt in the center of the island.

The trails are almost completely flat and easily passable, making the routes great for all ages and activity levels. However, the boardwalk section on the east side of the outer swamp trail can be slick if the weather is rainy or humid. Pets on leashes are welcome, but bikes and motorized vehicles are not. 

You can get to the foot bridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island via the Mount Vernon Trail, or by driving and parking in the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot, accessible via the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Learn more about the history of Roosevelt Island here

▪️ Trail information at AllTrails

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve | McLean, VA

The Scott’s Run waterfall is one of the closest waterfalls to Arlington, making it a popular hiking spot for local families. For a shorter hike, you can hike from the parking lot directly out to the waterfall along the blue trail. We recommend hiking the outer loop in a counterclockwise direction, starting on the Woodland Trail from the parking lot, to save the waterfall for the end of the hike.

If you decide to hike this loop, be sure to follow the Scott’s Run Nature Preserve Park Rules—most notably, no swimming allowed. And be sure to carry out all of your trash!

▪️ Trail Information at AllTrails

Turkey Run Loop Trail in Turkey Run Park | McLean, VA

This hike, located off the George Washington Parkway in McLean, combines the Turkey Run Trail with part of the Potomac Heritage Trail. On nice days, you’ll get beautiful views of the Potomac River.

Park at the Turkey Run Park C-1 parking area, and follow the signs for the Turkey Run Loop at the fork. You can also go the other direction, down a set of stairs—hiker’s choice!—which will loop you back to the parking lot, as well. There is some rocky singletrack to watch out for, so wear the right shoes. And bring a printout of a map, since some areas may not be incredibly well-marked.

▪️ Trail information at AllTrails

Img 6457

The River Trail hike at Great Falls Park provides stunning views of the Potomac River. (Photo by Bette Canter)

The River Trail Loop at Great Falls National Park | McLean, VA

Great Falls Park boasts some of the best views and family-friendly hikes in the area, and on nice days, the park near the visitors center can be packed with people walking out to the overlooks to see the Great Falls. To best avoid the crowds, we recommend turning your hike into a loop and staying away from the River Trail until the second half. This way, you can also save the views of Great Falls until the end! 

From the visitors center on the Virginia side of Great Falls, follow Old Carriage Road or the Swamp Trail down to Difficult Run Trail, where you’ll see some beautiful views of the Upper Potomac River. Then, hike back along the Ridge Trail, which connects to the River Trail. While the River Trail is flat, there is some tricky terrain and some rock scrambling, so definitely wear your sneakers.

There’s plenty of parking at Great Falls Park, but it does cost $20/vehicle; additionally, paying the fee can cause a bit of a traffic backup when you’re driving in. 

▪️ Trail information at AllTrails

Donaldson Run Trail in Potomac Overlook Regional Park | McLean, VA

The Potomac Overlook Regional Park is hidden in plain sight at the end of a residential road in North Arlington. The park includes a handful of short trails with Potomac River views, which can be combined into routes of various lengths. Be ready—if you choose the Donaldson Run Trail, it will include stream crossings.

From the Potomac Overlook parking lot, follow Marcy Road to the trailhead, and bear left at the fork. The Donaldson Run Trail will take you all the way out to the Potomac, and you’ll have to retrace your steps back in order to finish the loop. If you want to extend the hike some, you can follow the Potomac Heritage Trail for a distance of your choosing.

▪️ Trail information at AllTrails

Gulf Branch Trail at Gulf Branch Nature Center | Arlington, VA

The Gulf Branch Nature Center, established in the 1960s, features exhibits, restored log cabins, blacksmith demonstrations and more. Right now, the nature center is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. However, you can hike from the property any day of the week from sunup to sundown.

Starting at Glebe Road Park, the location of the Gulf Branch Nature Center, you can follow the Gulf Branch Trail for about a mile out to the Potomac overlook. The trail through Gulf Branch Park to the overlook is an easy hike, but getting down to the river level requires some rock scrambling. Read about the Gulf Branch Nature Center’s star-studded past here.

▪️ Trail information at AllTrails

Sugarloaf Mountain

While the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain provides sweeping views of the surrounding area, the White Rocks vista is a photo-worthy spot, as well. Photo by Bette Canter)

Sugarloaf Mountain | Dickerson, MD

Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland is a bit of a drive from Arlington, but the sweeping views at the top—Sugarloaf has a summit of 1,282 feet—are well worth the effort. You can park in one of three parking lots (East View, West View, and Potomac Overlook; no cost to park) and hike up either the Green Trail or the Orange Trail to the summit. The Green Trail provides steps, while you’ll need to do a bit of rock scrambling to get up the Orange Trail. Both are short (about ¼ of a mile) but steep, so be ready to climb.

From the summit, you can access a number of trails of varying distances. The Blue Trail, or the Northern Peaks Trail, takes you out to the White Rocks, which a great place to stop for a snack and some beautiful scenery. The White Trail keeps you closer to the summit. For something a little different, the Yellow Trail, or the Saddleback Horse Trail, loops around the base of the mountain. You’ll need to access it via the White Trail or the Blue Trail.

▪️ Trail information from AllTrails

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Categories: Health & Fitness