The last few months have been tough for a lot of reasons. For me, nature has always been a respite, a place to find some clarity. Now that some of the stay at home restrictions are lifting, I'm prepping to hit the trails again with my best bud, Ollie. What about you? Are you looking to venture outside? If you're not sure how to do that or where to go—I got you.
Safety first—if the park is closed, respect that. If it’s open, practice social distancing while on the trail and think twice about going if the parking lot is overflowing. At this time it is not required to wear a mask while “exercising outdoors” but it’s not a bad idea. Visit the CDC’s website for more info.
It’s starting to get hot out there so if you are bringing your dog, plan your hikes early in the morning when it's cooler. Keep your hikes short and watch for signs of your dog overheating–rapid panting, pale or bright red gums, exhaustion.
Be prepared. Bring more water than you think you need for yourself and your dog. For day hikes, I recommend bringing the following:
- snacks for you and dog
- basic first aid kit
- poo bags
- hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes
- trail maps and a compass in case your phone dies
- warm layer and a light rain coat
- Keep your dog on a leash. All of the trails I’ve listed have leash laws in place. Respect them. It’s not just for keeping your dog safe it’s also for the safety of others and protecting the park’s fragile ecosystem.
- Leave No Trace. I know, picking up poo and carrying it with you for miles is not fun. Do it anyway. Also, don’t litter or feed wildlife and stay on the marked trail.
- Keep your distance. Leave wildlife alone and don’t assume everyone loves your dog. Pull over to the side of the trail when people approach you so they can pass safely.
Now, that you have the ground rules, here are a few of my favorite trails in the Washington, DC region.
Trail Details: 5.4 mile out and back, moderate
Trail Head / Parking: Coordinates: 38.5982144,-77.3701691 Due to covid-19, the park roads are closed so you will have to park at the Lake Montclair shopping center on Waterway Dr and cross Rt 234. Then walk up Spriggs Lane Fire Road to reach the trailhead. Check the park's website for up-to-date restrictions.
Features: This hike features a waterfall, a variety of native plants and trees and foundations of an old Pyrite Mine. Learn more and download maps on the park’s website. *Note: there are several shorter and longer trails at this location.
Trail Details: There are 3 defined trails on the island–Swamp Trail, Woods, Trail and Upland Trail. Since all of them are quite short, treat yourself by exploring them all!
Trail Head / Parking: Visit NPS site for directions.
Features: An urban park that feels like you’re in the wilderness. The island ecosystem was designed in the 1930’s to honor President Roosevelt and reestablish the natural forest that once covered the island. Great for bird watching and finding a bit of peace from the busy city nearby.
Trail Details: 5.5 mile loop, easy to moderate
Trail Head: Visitor’s Center, 6511 Sudley Rd Manassas, VA
Features: Historic battlefield, river views, fields and forest. Visit in April to view beautiful Virginia bluebells along the banks of Bull Run. In the summer months, wear bug spray and watch out for ticks. *Note: there are several shorter and longer trails at this location.
Trail Details: 6 mile loop; Follow the Blue Blazes
Trail Head: 7901 Comus Rd, Dickerson, MD — West View parking lot
Features: Moderately challenging with forest views and overlooks. Pack a lunch to enjoy at White Rocks with views of western Maryland farmland. Add 1/4mile on the Red trail to Sugarloaf’s summit at the end. *Note: there are several shorter and longer trails at this location.
Trail Details: 2.9 mile, moderate. With lots of options to shorten and extend.
Trailhead: Google Map to parking and trailhead
Features: Challenging ridge walk, scenic views of the Potomac and plenty of wooded trail goodness. There are a number of ways to shorten or extend this hike so make sure to bring a trail map. Be aware, while leash laws are in place here, many locals don't follow them.