Dog Friendly DC Area Hiking Guide
A Dog Friendly DC Area Hiking Guide with insights into the best hiking spots within reasonable driving distance of Downtown Washington, DC.
Our dog Layla is a vivacious vizsla with boundless energy. We enjoyed hiking before we got Layla, but once we welcomed her into our family and saw how much she loved hiking it became a big part of our lives. The trails are truly her happy place!
Within the Washington DC metro area, in both Northern Virginia and Maryland there are plenty of dog friendly hiking trails available. I’m highlighting some of our favorites in Northern Virginia, Maryland and a little farther out in VA in Shenandoah National Park!
Hikes in Northern Virginia
We are lucky to live in Northern VA which gives us relatively easy access to lots of great, dog friendly hiking trails. Most of our free weekends include a hike on one of the following trails.
Scotts Run Nature Preserve
Distance from Downtown DC – 12 miles, off of GW parkway.
A short drive from the city, it makes a great half-day trip. Scotts Run Nature Preserve is located right next to Great Falls Park on the VA side, but it is much less crowded and free to get in! There are many short trails all of which lead to 3 main points, Stubblefield Falls Overlook, Burling Cabin Site and Scotts Run Waterfall.
There are 2 parking lots, both lead into the park and eventually to all of the same trails. There is a trail that connects the 2 lots.
The trails are pretty well marked with colored markings on the trees, but the way the trails weave together can be a little confusing. I suggest taking a picture of the trail map before you set out on your hike.
Burke Lake Park
Distance from Downtown DC – 22 miles, the park surrounds Burke Lake in Fairfax County.
This is the closest park to us, so Layla and I often venture there for a run on weekday mornings. The Lake Trail is a nearly 5 mile loop all the way around the lake. It’s a beautiful, flat hike with lake views nearly the whole way around.
During the week it is quite empty, but on the weekends it can get pretty crowded. There is plenty of parking and space for all, but just be aware if your dog isn’t big on lots of people.
You can also camp around or fish on the lake and in the summer there are other activities in the park like mini-golf and an ice cream parlor.
Hemlock Overlook Regional Park
Distance from Downtown DC – 32 miles, located in the cute, historic town of Clifton, VA
From the parking area at the end of Yates Ford Rd. a trail leads down to the river and connects to part of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail, you can take this left or right and hike along the river before looping back to the parking area. If you go right the hike is less than 2 miles, and right a little less than 3 miles. Both hikes are relatively short, but have steep sections.
Though the hike is short, you should still wear proper hiking shoes due to the steep inclines and uneven terrain.
The parking lot is spitting distance to Paradise Springs Winery. Pack a picnic and make it a day trip with a hike and wine tasting!
If you have time, drive through downtown Clifton, it’s a quaint, historic town with a few great restaurants.
Turkey Run Park
Distance from Downtown DC – 11 miles
A short drive out of the city into VA via GW Parkway will put you at Turkey Run Park, which runs right along the Potomac River. It’s location allows for beautiful views with no real elevation gain.
Despite it’s close proximity to DC, it is usually relatively quiet on the trail.
Because of the trails proximity to the river, it can be very muddy after rainy weather.
There are a few rock/water crossings, so wear sensible shoes.
Sky Meadows State Park
Distance from Downtown DC – 60 miles, located in Delaplane, VA
A little farther out into VA, but still a do-able day-trip from DC. Sky Meadows State Park is located in a beautiful part of Virginia surrounded by farms and vineyards. The park is rich in history and has 22-miles worth of hiking trails. Our favorite route is to take to the North Ridge Trail to the Appalachian Trail to Ambassador White House to Piedmont Overlook. The hike is a little over 6 miles long and it starts and ends in the main parking lot.
The park can get pretty crowded, especially on nice days, so try to go early.
Pack a picnic lunch, there are some picnic tables scattered about that make a nice resting spot.
Be on the lookout for butterflys!
The park has strict leash laws.
Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a natural treasure that we are so lucky to have close by! From downtown DC the closest entrance into the park is about 70 miles. It’s a do-able day-trip if you get up early and pack a lunch. Or consider making a weekend out of it, there are lots of camping and lodging options available in the park. (see my post about staying with your dog at Big Meadows Lodge).
Lewis Falls Trail Circuit
Trail Access – Mile Post 51.2 (Big Meadows Lodge Area)
A lovely hike to view Lewis Falls. You can pick this hike up at Big Meadows Lodge and loop right around back to the lodge. Lewis Falls is a beautiful waterfall you will come across a little more than halfway through the loop. The circuit is just under 3 miles and is moderately difficult.
It is a bit narrow and quite rocky, so may not be the best for all dogs depending on age/agility.
To get the best view of the falls, veer off the circuit trail and follow the trail down to the overlook, it is a little steep, but there is a railing to help you hike down and the view is amazing!
Consider checking out Big Meadows Lodge before or after the hike, it is has a dog-friendly great room that is a cozy place to take a breather. They also have a restaurant with lots of delicious options (the restaurant is not dog friendly, but you can order food and eat in the great room).
Rapidan Camp Hike
Trail Access – Mile Marker 52.4, Milam Gap Parking Lot
This is an out-and-back, 4-mile hike that takes you to the Rapidan Camp where you can see the recently restored summer retreat of former President Hoover. The trail is pretty wide and not terribly challenging other than the fact that you have to make 3 stream crossings. The first 2 are easy with stones placed for a walking path across, but the third can be more challenging depending on the water level.
If you are into history, this is the hike for you! You hike to a small museum at the Rapidan Camp where there is often a volunteer answering questions.
Wear sensible shoes for possible river crossing.
Hawksbill Loop Hike
Trail Access – Mile Post 45.5, Hawksbill Gap Parking Area
One of my favorites! This hike will take you up to the top of Hawksbill Mountain, the highest peak in the park at an elevation of 4,051 feet. The views from the top are breathtaking, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing. The loop is just under 3 miles.
This is a very popular hike, aim to go early or later in the afternoon, it’s a short hike so you can easily pair it with another, less busy hike for mid-day primetime.
The Salamander portion of the hike is the most challenging, it’s narrow, pretty steep and rocky, but the other portions are relatively easy.
If you want an easier, hike option to the peak for the views, park at the Upper Hawksbill Parking Lot (mile post 46.5), from there it is a gradual uphill climb on a very well cut, wide, trail to the summit. Out-and-Back is about 2 miles.
Passamaquoddy Loop Hike
Trail Access – Mile Post 41.7, Stony Man Parking Area
This is a 3.4 mile loop hike just below the Stony Man summit, the second highest peak in Shenandoah. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the trail that leads up to Stony Man, but regardless this hike offers beautiful, sweeping views that are well worth the hike.
Stony Man is a very popular hike so the parking lot and trails can be a bit crowded.
Stop to take in the views! There are several great spots for photo-ops.
Overall Run Falls Hike
Trail Access – Mile Post 22.2, Mathews Arm Campground
This is the only hike in the guide where you hike down instead of up. This hike takes you down 1,291 feet to Shenandoah’s largest waterfall at 93 feet. Unfortunately, the waterfall is often not very impressive unless there has been substantial rainfall. The hike is just over 5 miles long.
This hike is challenging because it’s long with steep downhills and the up-hill portion takes place on the back-end – bring plenty of water and snacks.
The waterfall is not very impressive (at least it wasn’t when we visited), but the foliage is beautiful and the trail is relatively quiet making for a relaxed hike.
Little Devils Stairs Loop Hike
Trail Access: Mile Post 19.4, Keyser Run Parking Area
This is my favorite hike in the guide! You feel like you are hiking straight up a waterfall which is a very cool experience! The Little Devils Stairs Trail takes you on a strenuous, rocky climb, but once you reach the top you loop back around on a fire road for an easy, gradual down-hill hike. I love starting with a challenge and having an easier back-half. The loop is just under 7.5 miles.
The portion of the hike on Little Devil Stairs Trail is tough for humans and dogs, if your dog is not very agile it may not be the best hike for them.
This is a long hike, don’t forget water and snacks!
We hiked this in April and saw almost no one, I assume it’s more popular during nicer times of the year.
Hikes in Maryland
Being that we live in Northern VA, we don’t make it to Maryland nearly as much, so this portion of the guide is less extensive. The hiking we have done in Maryland has been very enjoyable and we are looking forward to exploring more of what it has to offer!
Distance from Downtown DC – 65 miles, Knoxville, MD
This hike is just barely in Maryland, it’s right over the Virginia boarder and very close to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It’s a short, but pretty steep 1.5 mile out-and-back hike with rewarding views at the top.
The trail head is a small opening in the trees across the street from the parking area.
This hike is a 5-minute drive to downtown Harpers Ferry, a quaint, historic town where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. Walk around, have lunch or do some shopping after the hike!
Distance from Downtown DC – 48 miles, Urbana, MD
Sugarloaf Mountain has 4 main circuit hikes of varying lengths and difficulties. The circuits are color-coded and well-marked, making it easy to navigate. The best views are from the White Rocks area which is accessible from the blue or purple trail. You can also take a short hike from the parking lot up to the summit.
There are 3 parking areas about 3/4 of the way up the mountain. Park in the East View or West View lot for easy access to the circuit trails and summit hike.
Sugarloaf is a popular destination, so it can get crowded.
5 Tips for Hiking with Your Dog
- Don’t forget to bring water for your dog, they will get very thirsty and you don’t want them turning to muddy puddles for relief. We have this pop up dog bowl whic is very convenient to carry with you.
- Pay attention to the temperature, dogs can easily get overheated in very hot temperatures. Try to avoid hiking during the heat of the day in the summertime.
- Be aware of your surroundings, you don’t want your dog encountering an unfriendly critter or eating anything potentially harmful.
- Be courteous to other hikers. Not everyone likes dogs, so make sure yours is under control when crossing paths with others.
- Beware of other dogs that may be hiking with their owners, not all dogs are friendly, ask before allowing your dog to say hello.
Wishing you lots of happy hiking with your four legged friends!
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