Trails & Natural Areas
The DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) is blessed with an abundance of wonderful trails and natural areas. From hidden urban oases, remote mountain paths, and lazy beach strolls, we share some of our favorite local areas to explore.
Send us photos and a description of your favorite local trails or favorite local trail information source. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo above by Terri Pitts of Sugarloaf, Maryland in fall. Terri is also the photographer for the rainbow on the “Blog” page.
Virginia Trail GuideS
Get detailed descriptions of hikes in Virginia and beyond with photos and critiques of trail conditions. Among the resources are a list of top 20 favorite Virginia hikes and trails organized by location (Shenandoah, Blue Ridge, etc.). Want to hike the Appalachian trail across Maryland? Read about the entire length of the hike including details on the most foul outhouse, best camp site, water sources, etc.
Pickering Creek audubon center
Eastern Shore of Maryland
With 400 acres of woodlands, marsh and meadows, Pickering Creek Audubon Center is a peaceful place to hike, bird watch, or canoe. Pickering Creek Audubon Center is working with partners to improve bird habitat on the Eastern Shore. To make an even bigger impact for wildlife, every habitat project at Pickering Creek and in the community includes a student driven component. For an Audubon Center closer to the metro DC area, visit the Woodend Sanctuary.
8940 Jones Mill Road ChevyChase, MD
Eastern Shore of Maryland
Soft sandy trails lead through lush woodland forest to a boardwalk over a heron and egret patrolled estuary to the eroding cliffs and fossil rich beach. More experienced fossil hunters come after storms with sieves and shovels but even casual amateurs can dig up ancient shark and ray teeth. There's also an impressive tire playground at the parking lot making one more reason that this is a fantastic hike for young families. In late May and June an abundance of Mountain Laurel bloom along the trail. Several areas afford excellent bird watching with eagle and osprey regularly patroling the sky.
$5 a car
10540 H G Trueman Rd,
Lusby, MD 20657
Blockhouse Pawpaw Trail
Check out the Pawpaw Trail at Blockhouse Point Conservation Park. Park on River Road near the intersection of Petit Way. Follow the Blockhouse Trail for 1.5 miles then take the short Pawpaw trail a quarter mile to a rock outcropping with a spectacular view of the Potomac River and the C&O Canal Trail. When the trees are not fully leafed out you can see all the way to Dickerson. There's a perfect rock outcropping to sit on and enjoy the view.
14750 River Rd,
Potomac, MD 20854
Muddy Branch trail
Quince Orchard, Maryland
Sometimes the best things are hidden in plain sight. That's often true of neighborhood trails. The Muddy Branch trail is an oasis within a highly developed area of our county. The trail is maintained by volunteers from the Muddy Branch Alliance. www.muddybranch.org
The stream flows southwest for about 7 miles, through Muddy Branch Park and Blockhouse Point Conservation Park, under the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near Pennyfield Lock, to the Potomac River. Included in the watershed are portions of Gaithersburg, Rockville, North Potomac, Travilah, Darnestown and Washington Grove. The Kentlands, Lakelands, the Rio, Tobytown and Dufief all share a common link in that the runoff from their properties all drain to the Muddy Branch.
McKee - Beshers
Wildlife Management Area
Head northwest on River Road beyond Riley's Lock to find 30 acres of sunflower fields at McKee-Beshers. A fun place for to walk for children and adults with lots of bumblebees and a few other pollinators visiting the flowers. We even saw a bluebird.
Though most people visit during sunflower bloom, it’s a great place to walk any time of year, especially in the wetlands areas. Photo below was taken in May by Terri Pitts at sunrise.
The Arboretum grounds are open every day of the year except December 25 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is open 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Check out their website for special events and classes. Great to visit in various seasons. Some of my favorite areas are fern valley, the azaleas and dogwoods in spring and the Capitol columns in fall. Kate Cummings, a member of ESE, has been a weekly volunteer in the children's garden, engaging her own children in gardening there.
Lilypons aquatic garden
Adamstown, MD near sugarloaf
Lilypons is a lovely place to wander and do bird watching. Lilypons is an aquatic garden center started 100 years ago in 1917 by G. Leicester Thomas, Sr. who in 1925 expanded and purchased the current 250-acre tract of land that is Lilypons Water Gardens -- not far from Sugarloaf. Because the ponds have been here for so long and are surrounded by acres of open fields and woodlands, it's a fine place to wander and observe wildlife.
Adding a water feature to your own property can also attract more songbirds and other wildlife. This garden center is an amazing resource, particularly for advice if you're just starting out. Plus it's worth supporting a local business that's been preserving 250 acres of wetlands in a manner that supports both their business and local habitat for 100 years.
KENILWORTH PARK & AQUATIC GARDEN
Northeast Washington DC
Kenilworth Park and Garden is a national park in the heart of Washington DC. Flat smooth trails meander through a collection of small pools filled with a stunning array of lotus, water lilies, and papyrus collected from around the world. The lotus flowers regularly grow over 6 feet tall. Native button bush line the walk, filling the path with butterflies and other pollinators. Beyond the gardens a boardwalk gives visitors a beautiful view along the Anacostia River.
1550 Anacostia Ave NE,
Washington, DC 20019
Seneca Creek Greenway Trail
Montgomery County, Maryland
The natural beauty of Seneca Creek and woods is accessible through the Seneca Greenway Trail. If you live in Montgomery County, MD, the Seneca Creek watershed covers 28% of the county and has an average flow rate of 62 million gallons per day (measured at Route 28). The trail has been completely built and maintained by volunteers. It covers more than 15 miles from the mouth at the Potomac (at Riley's Lock) to Rt. 355. There's another 8 miles of trail to Watkins Mill. Additional trail areas are yet to be built.
Photos below include native plants found along the trail in spring (Jack in the pulpit, mayapple, pinxter azalea).
Seneca Creek's first mill, dated ~1732, is located near Riley's Lock, tucked back in the woods on the North of the creek. Its ruins have an Indiana Jones feel -- fun to explore but watch for poison ivy. There were 19 mills built along Seneca Creek, considered the best mill stream in the county. Seneca Greenway Trail passes several interesting mill structures including Black Rock Mill below.
Kudos to the folks who cared enough to see that this natural area was preserved and built a trail so it can be enjoyed.
National Historic Park
A biking and hiking trail that extendss 184 miles, the C&O preserves America's early transportation history. Consider doing more than taking a stroll along the C&O. During the summer you can take a short ride on an historic boat at the Great Falls Tavern then hike along the Billy Goat Trail. Currently the Great Falls Overlook trail is closed for renovation which means it's a great time to explore less used trails.
Consider traveling in time by staying overnight in one of the C&O lock houses. Experience something of life from the past. Bring along bikes or kayaks and explore the water and trails of the C&O Canal. For information on renting a lockhouse for a night call 301-745-8888 or visit www.CanalQuarters.org. We stayed at the Pennyfield Lockhouse which is delightfully secluded and thanks to its thick stone walls, cool even on a hot summer's day.