5 Under the Radar Road Trips Within an Hour of DC

There are many great places to visit within an hour of our nation’s capital that don’t get much limelight. Whether you live in the DC area or are visiting for the first time, there comes a point when you start to feel weary of visiting another museum or bumping into tourists on the National Mall. At times, it can be hard to look past the powerful city of DC, but when you do, you will find that there are some wonderful places to see in the surrounding areas as well.

When looking for a place to visit outside of the city, many people suggest visiting Mount Vernon, historic Annapolis, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Great Falls, or Tysons Corner Mall. These are all great places for sure, but from time to time you may want to go somewhere off the beaten path. In no particular order, we have come up with 5 such places within an hour of DC, a few things to do when you get there, and sometimes a friendly suggestion on where to get a bite to eat nearby.

5 Under the Radar Road Trips Within an Hour of DC

1. Fort Foote Park, Fort Washington, MD

(14.9 miles, 30 minutes)

Fort Foote Park, Fort Washington, MD (Photo credit: nationalparklover.com)

For Civil War buffs, Fort Foote Park is a convenient and welcome escape from the city. Its nearby big brother, Fort Washington, is also a great place to visit, but it didn’t make this particular list because of the entrance fee and the fact that it’s a major tourist site in the DC area.

Fort Foote Park features scenic grounds along the Potomac River. Completed in 1863 as a defense to keep Confederate naval vessels from attacking the capital, you can still feel its history as two cannons and much of its earthen works still remain. Bring your lounge chair and enjoy the solitude along the tree-lined embankments of the river. You are more likely to run into a local elementary school class doing a science project than a tourist group from Knoxville. In fact, you may be the only one there. For a bite to eat, there is no shortage of restaurants at the relatively new National Harbor up the road. The crispy beef at Grace’s Mandarin is worth the trip all on its own.

For more information visit www.nps.gov or call (301)763-4600

2. Maryland Heights, Harpers Ferry, MD

(58.3 miles, 62 minutes)

Maryland Heights, Harpers Ferry, MD (Photo credit: hiddencroftvineyards.com)

We have to admit, this second listing breaks the theme of the article by two minutes, but it is such a wonderful place that we had to include it. For those that like a hike where you can really work up a sweat, Maryland Heights is a great destination. It overlooks Harper’s Ferry, WV, (a place made famous by the slightly erratic abolitionist John Brown), and the meeting of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. The climb is so steep that a plaque has been placed where President Lincoln supposedly stopped his ascent, declared that any man who could make it to the top would “pass his must,” and walked back down.

If you manage to make it to the top, the vistas are breathtaking. If you still have any energy you can take a hike around the top and see the remnants of Civil War fortifications, but be sure to take plenty of water and energy bars. For a bite to eat after your descent, you can walk across the bridge to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia where a number of restaurants are located.

For more information and a printable hiking map, visit www.hikingupward.com/omh/marylandheights.

3. Chesapeake Beach, MD

(36 miles, 51 minutes)

Chesapeake Beach, MD (Photo credit: city-data.com)

Chesapeake Beach is a bayside community with a beach, waterpark, boardwalk, pier, shops, and museums. Off the beaten path, it has seen a lot of revitalization over the past decade and for good reason. On a day when the sky is clear and there is a nice breeze there is no better place to be.

The Chesapeake Resort and Spa is a wonderful and convenient way to get away for the weekend. It is located right on the boardwalk and boasts three restaurants on its property. Once you arrive, you never have to leave the premises if you don’t want to.

Take a leisurely scenic walk through the marshland along the Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail. If you are into fishing, you can charter a boat and try your luck with the bay’s bounty.
If you are interested in seafood try the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant, a Maryland institution since 1946.

For more information on the town of Chesapeake Beach, MD, visit www.chesapeake-beach.md.us. For more information on the Chesapeake Beach Resort and spa, visit www.chesapeakebeachresortspa.com or call (410)257-5596

4. Sugarloaf Mountain, Frederick, MD

(32.7 miles, 46 minutes)

Sugarloaf Mountain, Frederick, MD (Photo credit: mocoalliance.org)

It’s not Mount McKinley, but it’s less than one hour from DC. It’s the locals’ mountain. For years, families looking for a place to go to enjoy the colors of fall have trekked up Sugarloaf Mountain and then gazed down at the hues of orange, red and yellow on the autumn leaves. But at any time of the year, it is a nearby escape from the urban sprawl.
Up the road in downtown Frederick is Café Nola. Their brunch menu is amazing, and vegetarians and meat lovers alike will fall in love their varied menu and fresh take on American fare. Later in the day, don’t forget to try their locally brewed hard cider.

For more information, visit www.sugarloafmd.com

5. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, VA

(30.1 miles, 36 minutes)

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, VA (Photo credit: facebook.com/udvarhazycenter)

Despite the name, this is actually the National Air and Space Museum annex by Dulles Airport. The place is essentially a huge warehouse for retired planes large and small. You will be awed when you first walk in, and your little ones will love looking at all the planes hanging high above them. For some, the most exciting part of the visit is watching the planes come in for a landing from the observation tower. The majesty of an Airbus A380 flying so close by with its wheels extended ready to land is breathtaking.

You have to pay for parking, but if you are taking the whole family, it’s more than reasonable. There is overpriced fast food at the museum, but if you can fight the grumbling in your stomach until afterwards, there is the Khan Kabob House a few miles down the road. If you like the taste of tender and tangy cubes of lamb with the smells of curry and other spices wafting in the air, this is your place.


We’ve listed five destinations that are a bit under the radar for most folks, but still wonderful escapes from the city. There are dozens more we didn’t mention that are just as delightful, and will be included in later postings. Send us your favorite local road trip destinations and maybe yours will be featured next! This weekend, get in the car, drive an hour or less and check out one of these getaways outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Who knows, you just might find your secret hideaway.