Top 10 Scenic Drives in Washington DC

With a total area of just 68 square miles, travelers may overlook the opportunities for scenic drives in Washington DC. That, however, would be a mistake with so many sites of historic interest in this compact spot. Plenty of byways pass through the heart of the nation’s capital before stretching into neighboring states, where natural wonders await to behold. Here are some of our favorite routes that – although they are not limited to the small region – are located in or pass through Washington DC:

No. 10 – Highland County Way

Highland County Way Washington DC
Flickr user: Mark Plummer

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Highland, VA
Length: 202 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This winding drive southwest from DC is ideal for a weekend trip to Highland County, VA for camping or staying the night in one of the area’s romantic lodges. It passes through both Shenandoah National Park, renowned for its mountain views, and the George Washington and Jefferson National Park. Highland County is known as “Virginia’s Switzerland,” with sheep and cattle grazing freely through the area’s sweeping valleys.

No. 9 – Elk Spotting

Elk Spotting Washington DC
Flickr user: David Clow

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Elkton, MD
Length: 126 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

If you have a pocket full of change for the tolls, this route through Queenstown to Elkton is a particularly beautiful one. Water views are as plentiful as the green, rolling hills, and travelers should definitely stop to explore historic Kent Island on the way. Once in Elkton, which does have its share of elk, feel free to detour to Elk Neck State Forest for outdoors adventure.

No. 8 – Annapolis

Annapolis Washington DC
Flickr user: Jeff Weese

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Annapolis, MD
Length: 32 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Enjoy a quiet drive between DC and Annapolis, with the chance to pull over and commune with nature that is always near. This route passes numerous parks and the Globecom Wildlife Management Area, where photo opportunities abound. In Annapolis, browse the quirky shops downtown or just enjoy watching the various boats in the harbor.

No. 7 – G.W. Parkway to Great Falls

G.W. Parkway to Great Falls Washington DC
Flickr user: Pam Corey

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Great Falls, VA
Length: 18 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive along the George Washington Parkway is one of the few ways out of DC that isn’t always jammed with traffic, giving anyone driving it a chance to truly relax. The route passes numerous mansions off the winding road, and there are opportunities to get out and hike on Mount Vernon Trail or see the Potomac River up close. In Great Falls Park, the outdoors activities range from birdwatching to whitewater rafting.

No. 6 – Baltimore-Washington Parkway

Baltimore-Washington Parkway Washington DC
Flickr user: Kevin Labianco

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Baltimore, MD
Length: 48 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This trip north along Route 95 has the perfect blend of urban and country sights. Travelers start and end in two very different metropolitan areas and experience the beauty of rolling verdant hills along the way. Once in Baltimore, check out the historic Domino Sugars factory and the M&T Bank Stadium, where you may even glimpse a member of the Baltimore Ravens. In Oriole Park at Camden Yards, get a taste of nature right within the city.

No. 5 – Race Day

Race Day Washington DC
Flickr user: Joe Loong

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Charles Town, VA
Length: 65 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This route crosses the Shenandoah River and through lush, rolling hills before arriving at the final destination of Charles Town, WV. Before then, however, travelers may want to stop and stretch their legs in the 200-year-old town of Hillsboro. Once in Charles Town, the horse races and gaming run 24/7, keeping excitement high and establishing an atmosphere much like Vegas but on a smaller scale.

No. 4 – Miles of Hills and Wine

Miles of Hills and Wine Washington DC
Flickr user: Ron Cogswell

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Middleburg, VA
Length: 43 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this isn’t the fastest means to get to horse and hunt country in Middleburg from the capitol city, Route 50 is by far the most beautiful way between the two points. It passes through rolling hills that seem to last for days, and wine connoisseurs may enjoy stopping at one of dozens of wineries along the way. Once in Middleburg, quaint specialty shops line the brick streets for those in need of shopping therapy.

No. 3 – Washington DC Neighborhoods Tour

Washington DC Neighborhoods Tour
Flickr user: Lynford Morton

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Washington DC
Length: 3.6 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This short driving tour goes through three of the region’s most well-known and beloved neighborhoods – Downtown, Penn Quarter, and Chinatown. Each of these areas has its own personality and illustrates the diversity not just of Washington DC, but the nation as a whole. Travelers are encouraged to park and explore places of interest like the National Mall and the Smithsonian Art Museum.

No. 2 – Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Washington DC
Flickr user: National Heritage Areas

Starting Location: Charlottesville, VA
Ending Location: Gettysburg, PA
Length: 305 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

The entire length of this historic byway is 305 miles, but Washington DC lies in the middle of the route so the actual length from DC in either direction is actually far shorter. Travelers choosing to go north can see the Potomac River and the Gettysburg battlefield. Going south brings delights like the vineyards in Barboursville and Jefferson’s home of Monticello.

No. 1 – DC Monuments Tour

Washington DC Monuments Tour
Flickr user: George Rex

Starting Location: Washington DC
Ending Location: Washington DC
Length: 3.7 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Normally, a less-than-three-mile drive wouldn’t top a list of scenic routes, but this trip is anything but typical. It starts at the Capitol Building and ends at the Lincoln Memorial, which is enough all by itself to pass an afternoon with stops to explore. This tour of the DC Monuments, however, also includes the White House, Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Only in Washington DC could there be so many places of historic significance in just under a few square miles!


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