Everyone knows that going outside and exercising every day is beneficial for both your mental and physical health. It can lower stress, improve your mood, and strengthen your heart – to name a few. And our dogs can experience these same benefits along with increased engagement and stimulation. With the fall season steadily upon us, we can add one more benefit to that list: getting to admire the beautiful fall foliage that graces the D.C. area.
Taking your dog on your next fall hike can help add to the adventure for both of you with new sights, new smells, and new experiences. So, we’ve taken the time to create a list of 5 parks in and around Washington, D.C. that make excellent destinations to hike and explore with your dog, all while taking in the autumn leaves.
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre park in the Northwest part of D.C. This park has a long history, being the 3rd national park ever designated by the federal government! With over 32 miles of hiking trails throughout the park, you can follow a suggested hike or make your own! With two main trails (Western Ridge Trail and Valley Trail) running North/South and several smaller connecting trails running East/West, it’s possible to make a variety of looping trails ranging in lengths from 1 to 10 miles.
If you’re more of a take-in-the-sights person than a take-in-the-history person, no worries – this park still has plenty to provide! If you’re interested in the park’s history, you can try the 1.75-mile Mikehouse Ford Hike, which takes you past a Civil War fort, a poet’s cabin, and a historic creek crossing. You can try the slightly longer (2.0 miles) Rapids Bridge Hike that takes you through the forest and along Rock Creek for a more scenic route.
Billy Goat Trail
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is home to the well-known Billy Goat Trail. This hike is one of the most popular trails in the D.C. area because of the rock-hopping features that make up much of the trail. Before the rock-hopping aspect turns you away from this trail, know that Billy Goat Trail contains three different hiking sections – section A does not allow pets due to the trail’s difficulty, but sections B and C are pet-friendly! However, as of right now, only section C is open to you and your pup. Section B is currently closed due to trail damage and erosion.
Section C of Billy Goat Trail is 1.6 miles long and can be accessed from the Carderock recreation area. This section is also considered to be the easiest to complete of all the sections.
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Walk amongst one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. Scott’s Run, located in McLean, Virginia, is part of the Potomac Gorge, taking up 384 acres and containing several interconnecting trails. These trails range in difficulty from gentle and winding to strenuous and steep – so make sure you know the difficulty of your trial before beginning your nature excursion.
The Outer Loop Trail is a 3.1-mile loop generally considered a moderately challenging route. This trail follows the Potomac Heritage Trail, leading across two creeks and to a waterfall!
Harper’s Ferry National
Harper’s Ferry National is home to around 3,500 acres across the states of West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. Along with its generous acreage comes 22 miles of hiking trails. Depending on your path, these hikes can be anywhere from .3 to 2.4 miles long. If you’re looking for a quick hike, you can check out the Virginius Island and Hall’s Island Trails or the Bolivar Heights Trail.
If you want a longer trek, the Maryland Heights or Loudon Heights trails might be a good choice for you, coming in at 4.5-6.5 and 7.5 miles, respectively. Remember to keep your dog’s stamina and endurance in mind when considering longer trails, as they also tend to be more difficult.
Shenandoah National Park
Last but certainly not least, a list of fall hikes wouldn’t be complete without the beautiful Shenandoah National Park. Located 75 miles outside D.C., Shenandoah is an excellent place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Shenandoah National Park sits on 200,000 acres and over 500 miles of trails. Their trails range from 0-2 miles to 7+ miles, so you’re bound to find the perfect hike for you and your pup.
Blackrock Summit trail is about an hour-long hike that takes you up to beautiful views of Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain. Doyles River Trail is a 3.3-mile trail that leads you to Doyles River Falls.
While Shenandoah is one of the few national parks that allow dogs on their trails, there are some trails where dogs are prohibited. So, make sure to check trail information before deciding on your hike.
Because these trails are likely to have more people, dogs, and wild animals than you encounter on your usual afternoon walk, make sure to always have your dog on a leash and their collar on with up-to-date tags. It’s also a good idea to carry a hiking kit with you containing everything you and your pup might need on your journey – a first aid kit, trail map, water, snacks/treats, and a sweater/jacket for both you and your dog in case the autumn chill gets to be a bit too much.
Fall on the East Coast is beautiful but fades quickly into winter. So, take some time this year to escape into nature with your canine companion. And remember to always check park websites before a trip to look for any park news, safety updates, or trail closures.