Hiking the Appalachian Trail from Washington, DC – Landmarks and Trails in Virginia and Maryland

Backpackers hiking Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia
Hiking the Appalachian Trail through Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia (Photo courtesy Jeff Greenough for Virginia Tourism Corporation)
Humpback Rocks along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
The hike to Humpback Rocks in Virginia is challenging but rewarding, with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and forest.
McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia
Don’t forget your camera – the overlook at McAfee Knob provides postcard-pretty photo opportunities.
Ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia
The wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia often graze right along the park trails.
Backpackers hiking Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia
Humpback Rocks along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia
Ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

By Idoia Gkikas

If you’re looking to have an only-in-America outdoors experience while visiting the USA’s Capital Region (which includes Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland), this is it. The Appalachian Trail runs approximately 3,500 kilometers from Georgia to Maine. Whether you’re interested in a multi-day trek or simply want to enjoy a day hike, don’t miss a chance to explore this storied trail.

Here is a list of easy trail access points, organized north to south. 

Washington Monument State Park, Maryland

Located atop South Mountain in western Maryland, Washington Monument State Park is the site of the first monument dedicated to the nation’s first president, George Washington. After checking out the monument, stop in the nearby museum to see historical artifacts related to George Washington and the Civil War Battle of South Mountain. Most of the hiking trails within the park are part of the Appalachian Trail. 

Gathland State Park, Maryland

Originally the mountain home of Civil War journalist George Alfred Townsend, Gathland State Park now features restored buildings and a museum with artifacts from Townsend’s life and the Battle of South Mountain. Follow the Trail through the park to pass the War Correspondent’s Arch, a national historic monument dedicated to the memory of Civil War journalists.

Annapolis Rock, Maryland

This popular trail is a moderate hike appropriate for most age ranges. The lookout at Annapolis Rock displays stunning views of the Cumberland Valley and Greenbrier Lake. Great for trail running or day hikes, the area offers campsites for overnight stays as well.

Humpback Rocks, Virginia

With easy access from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the hike to Humpback Rocks in Virginia is well-traveled. The trail to the top is just 1.6 kilometers; the ascent is difficult, but there are benches for resting along the way. There is a visitor center on the Parkway at milepost 5.8 – stop here to check out the farm museum.

Cole/Cold Mountain, Virginia

Just a few hours south of DC, Cole Mountain Trail (sometimes referred to as Cold Mountain) in central Virginia is a moderate hike of about 9.5 kilometers that offers panoramic valley views at its summit. Be sure to stop at the Cow Camp Gap shelter, where you can find a hikers’ log where Appalachian Trail through-hikers and backpackers leave notes about their journeys.

McAfee Knob, Virginia

One of the most-photographed sections of the Trail, the McAfee Knob trail outside Roanoke, Virginia, is as popular as it is rewarding. Plan an overnight stay to see the cultural attractions in town.

Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

A 4.5-kilometer section of the Trail runs through this state park in southwest Virginia. Grayson Highlands is well-known for its population of wild ponies, which you are likely to see during your hike. For unforgettable 360-degree views, take the Rhododendron Trail to the Appalachian Trail, then hike along Wilburn Ridge. 

Getting Here: Just 42 kilometers west of Washington, DC, Washington Dulles International Airport is centrally located in the Capital Region USA and convenient to all destinations and activities across Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland. Nonstop flights to Washington Dulles International Airport from major destinations worldwide make getting here easy.

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