It can be difficult to enjoy August in the District. It’s hot, it's muggy, and the incessant honking of K Street traffic has everyone on their last nerve. Rather than deal with it, everyone goes away. Even Congress skips town.
So take at least a day during the month to get away from it all. There are dozens of hikes within a two-hour drive of the city, and enough nature to cure the dog-day doldrums whether you’re a seasoned mountaineer or someone who just wants to spend the day looking at something other than a computer screen. Outdoor experts Susana Mendez, president of local hiking club Wanderbirds, and Paul Elliott, author of “60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C.” and the trails group chair for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s D.C. chapter, have a few suggestions:
If you don’t have a car:
Take the B2 Metrobus to the U.S. National Arboretum, which boasts more than 400 acres of hilly, wooded grounds to wander. Elliott is a big fan of the bonsai collection, where many of the trees are more than 300 years old. It’s not quite untouched wilderness, but it’s certainly a change of scene.
To walk: Up to nine miles of easy to moderate hiking.
U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. NE. 202-245-2726. www.usna.usda.gov. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday. Free.
If you’re a Civil War buff:
Relive your high school history textbook with a trip into the Bull Run Mountains. This well-marked loop hike passes a cemetery, several 19th century trenches and two abandoned mills that Elliott calls “just awesome.” The hike is a few miles west of Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of two Civil War clashes, but that distance also means that it’s significantly less crowded than its more famous neighbor.
To walk: Four to eight miles of moderate hiking.
Bull Run Mountains Conservancy, 17405 Beverley Mill Dr., Broad Run. 703-753-2631. www.brmconservancy.org. Free.
If you want to get wet:
Mendez recommends Catoctin Mountain Park’s Falls Nature Trail: The three-mile out-and-back hike will take you to Maryland’s largest cascading waterfall. Like Bull Run, the hike can be lengthened by taking different routes to and from the falls. If you’re looking for a challenge, try the 8-mile Loop Trail, which along with the falls includes several scenic overlooks and a photo-op at Chimney Rock.
To walk: Up to eight miles of easy to strenuous hiking.
Catoctin Mountain Park, 14707 Park Central Road, Thurmont. 301-663-9388. www.nps.gov/cato. Free.
If you like to dine in style (and a little bit of danger):
Wait for a full moon (there’s one on Aug. 10) and hike to the top of Shenandoah National Park’s Hawksbill Mountain to watch the sun set. That’s what Elliott likes to do — he even brings a picnic blanket and some candles “for that added touch,” he says. He eats dinner at the summit, which, at 4,050 feet is the highest in Shenandoah National Park, then treks back down by moonlight (or flashlight).
To walk: Depending on where you park, the hike length can range from two to three miles — all options are fairly steep, though.
Shenandoah National Park, Central District, miles 45-46 on Skyline Drive. 540-999-3500. www.nps.gov/shen. $8 per individual or $15 per vehicle.
If you’re trying to fit multiple forms of exercise into one day:
Walking not enough for you? Black Hill Regional Park boasts over 10 miles of trails, a paved bike path, and a lakeside boathouse where kayaks, rowboats and canoes can be rented for $8 an hour. Swimming in the lake is prohibited, so you can’t stage your own triathlon, but try ending your hike or bike ride with a canoe trip. Elliott calls it “a lovely way of spending a summer evening.”
To walk: Up to 10 miles of easy to moderate hiking.
Black Hill Regional Park, 20930 Lake Ridge Drive, Boyds. 301-528-3490. www.montgomerycountyparks.org/facilities/regional_parks/blackhill. Free
Don’t want to hike alone?
Mendez’s club organizes hikes every Sunday for $25 ($20 if you’re a Wanderbirds member), and Elliott’s chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club also offers weekend hikes to non-members. Other local outdoors groups organizing weekly trips include the
Capitol Capital Hiking Club and the Center Hiking Club.