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10 social distancing day trips from Washington, DC

By Laura Brown
January 27, 2022
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©drnadig/Getty Images
Washington, DC is fortunate to be located near a plethora of amazing day and weekend trip options. We've got a list of 10 great ideas for you to get out of town and still be safe with social distancing rules.

1. Great Falls Billy Goat Trail

Great Falls Park is just outside the beltway on the Potomac River, where the river has carved a rock paradise that seems perfectly designed for an excellent afternoon of hiking. The Billy Goat trail is 3 miles of climbing over rocks and exploring hidden crevices. It’s a great workout.



2. Kayak in Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary

Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary is the newest marine sanctuary in the United States. Visitors can kayak or canoe through the largest ship graveyard in the western hemisphere, featuring over 225 sunken ships. It is located 30 miles south of DC in Charles County, Maryland.

Interested visitors can book a guided tour through Charles County Parks & Recreation https://www.charlescountyparks.com/parks/kayak-tours or bring their own canoe/kayak.


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Teddy Roosevelt Island. Photo: Eric Lewis, Grand Atlas Tours

3. Explore Teddy Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island is mostly wilderness—deliberately so, and appropriate for the president who founded the National Park Service. Accessible only via a footbridge from the Virginia side of the Potomac River, the island is actually legally a part of the District of Columbia.

There are miles of trails to walk in relative solitude around the perimeter of the island and bird watchers will often find wading birds, raptors, and warblers. In spring and early summer, flower enthusiasts enjoy gorgeous wildflowers.

Another way to enjoy the island is to canoe/kayak; those so inclined can bring their own craft: simply you can put it in the water near the footbridge from the Virginia shore or near the culvert between the two parking lots. You can also rent a vessel in Georgetown; note that the Potomac is wide—and often busy!

Getting to the footbridge without a vehicle is possible. Pedestrians and bicyclists can reach the parking lot and footbridge by following the Mount Vernon Trail south from the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lynn St. in Rosslyn, near Key Bridge. The closest Metro station is Rosslyn, on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.

The centerpiece of the island is a plaza with the centerpiece memorial, dedicated in 1967. It includes a 17-foot-tall statue by famed American sculptor Paul Manship and four large stone towers with a selection of Roosevelt's quotations. Contemplate them in relative solitude.


4. Canoeing/Tubing in Front Royal

The town of Front Royal, about an hour west of DC on I-66, features both the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. It is also a great launchpad for day trips on the plethora of local rivers nearby. Front Royal Outdoors offers canoeing, kayaking and tubing trips.

Bring friends and some beers, and enjoy a day on the relaxing Shenandoah River.


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©Rob IJsselstein/Shutterstock

5. Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is a 105 mile parkway that winds through the top of the mountain ridge through Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is a perfect way to spend a weekend driving through the mountains and chasing the sunset. It is especially magical in late summer and early fall, where meteor showers and brilliant sunsets abound, and the leaves of the mountains begin turning into their infinite shades of gold and red.

The park’s North entrance is in Front Royal, Virginia. There are 3 additional stops to highways that can take you home along the way. Campers will find a well-managed campground at Big Meadows Campground (51.2) and Loft Mountain Campground (Mile 79.5).

There are also several major hikes to fill the day. We recommend Old Rag for the experienced hiker and Stony Man for those wanting an easier day.


6. Manassas Battlefield

Just outside DC in Manassas, Virginia, is the site of the first and second battles of Bull Run, the first major conflict of the American Civil War. The battlefield and related era structures have been preserved, There are more than 40 miles of hiking trails available for people who want to spend a day stepping back in time.


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©Lissandra Melo/Shutterstock

7. National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum was created in 1927 and is operated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Azalea, boxwood, daffodil, daylily, dogwood, holly, magnolia, and maple specimens are among those visitors to the Arboretum enjoy on foot. Other major garden features fill the 446 acres, including aquatic plants, the Friendship Garden, and a collection of conifers.

In the National Grove of State Trees, each state is represented across 30 acres. Walk among bald cypresses one might see in Louisiana. Just beyond are pines and birches one would recognize from New England. Redwoods represent California and cottonwoods will remind guests from Great Planes states of home.

A particular highlight is the National bonsai collection, and perhaps most famous are the National Capitol Columns, originally from the United States Capitol, replaced when the building was enlarged in the 19th century. It’s an especially popular place for wedding photos—you’re quite liable to see an engaged couple posing for very unique shots!

Picnicking is allowed in the National Grove of State Trees.

There are two entrances to the Arboretum: the R Street gate is open to cars and pedestrians 1pm to 2pm weekdays and from 8am to 5pm on weekends.

From 2pm to 5pm on weekdays, the R Street gate is pedestrian only.

The gate at 3501 New York Avenue is open to cars whenever the Arboretum is open.


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Loudoun County has 40+ vineyards. Source: Visit Loudoun/Todd Wright Photography

8. Spend the weekend in Loudoun County

Loudoun County is a winning choice for a road trip in the greater DC area – without having to deal with the big city. Just 25 miles west of the nation’s capital, it offers a mix of rolling vineyards, mountains, and colonial towns that will delight travelers looking for off-the-radar choices. It’s a getaway that won’t make you feel like your social distancing – and the perfect place to plan an outdoor and safe vacation amidst this new era we live in.

There’s plenty to do for everyone without feeling like travelers are conceding to rigorous restrictions. Social distancers can take the LoCo Ale Trail and sample the best local craft beers Loudoun has to offer, responsibly of course. There’s also Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet, full of outdoor adventure activities including whitewater rafting, tubing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. The center also offers the possibility to camp, and features both cabins and camp space to bring your own tent. Or rent one of 12 vacation cottages along the Potomac River at Algonkian Regional Park. Keeping six feet away has never felt so good. Stroll or bike the Washington and Old Dominion Trail or get lost in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park with its Blue Ridge Mountain vistas, river views, and a generous dose of Civil War. Unwind later in the day with some rosé from one of the 40+ vineyards in the region.


9. Go apple and pumpkin picking near Frederick

Less than an hour Northwest of DC is a town called Frederick, Maryland. Frederick is surrounded by farmland, making it an ideal place to go in the Fall for apple picking and pumpkin patch outings. Summers Farm offers a pumpkin patch, corn maze, sunflower field, and all sorts of fall-themed activities that kids and their parents can enjoy.


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The Lincoln Memorial at sunset. Photo by Laura Brown

10. Take a guided tour of the National Mall

DC has some of the world’s best monuments, and everyone should take a professionally guided tour of the National Mall sometime in their life. Our favorite tour company is Grand Atlas Tours, which offers affordable and personalized private tours of DC catered to your interests.

We especially recommend touring the monuments at night, when lights bring out the shining marble of the monuments against the night sky.

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National ParksBudget Travel Lists

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Budget Travel Lists

15 unbelievably cheap private islands you can rent in the US

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The A-frame cabin sleeps up to 10 people in three bedrooms and has all the amenities – including three patios, floating diving dock, and a fully-equipped kitchen. A boat is available for rent for just $200, and the private island itself costs only $375 per night. Hilton Head, South Carolina When you rent the Private Islands of Old House Cay, you get not just one private island but three – all for the low price of $536 a night. This lowcountry group of islands is just 10 minutes from Hilton Head, but feels like a whole world away. The main island included with the rental comes with an off-the-grid, modern home that’s equipped with all the creature comforts you’ll need for a relaxing getaway. A tour boat passing between islands at Thousand Islands National Park © Getty Images / iStockphoto Thousand Islands, New York For a cheap private island getaway in the Thousand Islands, rent Quadkin Island. 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The private island hosts a three-bedroom cedar log cabin that was built in the 1800s, and is surrounded by two-acres of densely wooded land. A boat is included with the rental to close the 300ft gap to the shoreline. Bremen, Maine This log cabin nestled on a private island in Maine can be rented for just $150 a night by groups of six or less. The gorgeously designed house features a fieldstone fireplace, cathedral ceiling, and a screened-in porch. The island is a short row away from mainland Damariscotta, and there are three kayaks and life jackets available for guests to use to explore the surrounding waters. Explore miles of pristine shoreline in Minnesota © GeorgeBurba / Getty Images Lake of the Woods, Minnesota Blackbird Island, on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, is just one mile from Canadian waters and provides the perfect base for exploring the 65,000 miles of pristine shoreline nearby. The private island’s charming cabin sleeps up to eight, and rental prices start at just $143 per night. Poulsbo, Washington From the shores of Poulsbo, Washington, guests are ferried over to their private paradise on Island Lake via an electric raft (a service that’s included in the $304/night rate). The island’s main house sleeps up to eight people, and for stays of four nights or longer, a second cabin will be made available for the group’s use so they can spread out even more. Gloucester, Rhode Island The large cabin on this private island comfortably sleeps 11 people, so a big group might pay just $31 per person per night – a true bargain considering the beautiful sandy beaches, rowboat, beach chairs, and picnic table that come along with the rental. The island is kept natural and wild, so there’s no running water or electricity, but there are solar lights, a wood-burning stove, firepit, and gas grill. Douglas, Massachusetts Forget camping – a private island in Douglas State Forest can be rented for almost the same price as a campground spot. Dodd Island sleeps eight people, bringing the cost down to $34 per person per night. The 7-acre cheap private island is perched on Whitins Reservoir, a warm and shallow lake with visibility down to 40ft, making it a paradise for snorkelers and divers. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire Foley Island is a private island surrounded by the beautiful waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. A secluded swimming area and over-water sundeck make this a true island paradise, and it can all be rented by up to 12 people for just $386 per night. Sands Island, North Carolina Sands Island rents for $325 per night and gives groups of up to four 32-acres of undeveloped land to explore. The private island’s two-bedroom cottage is the only building on the entire island and was built from locally milled pine. It uses solar power to seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment. Eagle Island, Georgia A 1500-sq-ft house with wrap-around screened porch, hot tub, and wood-burning fireplace can be yours for as little as $475 per night on Eagle Island, which includes access to the entire private island. Boat rentals, fishing tours, and eco-adventures are also available to book at an extra cost. Swansboro, North Carolina This famous private island in Swansboro, North Carolina, has appeared on the Island Hunters television show. If you missed the episode, the island has a small cabin that sleeps up to four people. Surrounded by white sandy beaches, the island is great for relaxing, but not too far from civilization (you can kayak right up to nearby bars and restaurants with dock entry). Rates for this ultra-cheap private island start at $101 per night. This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.

Budget Travel Lists

Budget Travel's favorite Fourteeners

The United States claims at least 93 fourteeners and they are all located in only four states. Colorado is home to the most fourteeners with a total of 56, next comes Alaska at 20, California with 14, and 3 from Washington. Mountain trails above 14,000 feet are given a difficulty rating based on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). Ranging from one to five, class one mountains are the easiest and typically have good trails while class fives require technical climbing involving ropes and belaying. Be sure to research individual trails before you start so that you know what to prepare for. Traveling specifically to access fourteeners is common and many people have goals surrounding fourteeners. Here are some highlights of the US’s most mighty mountains. Since there are 93 fourteeners in the United States, choosing one to suit your needs and desires is very possible. Here is our list of our favorite Fourteeners: Most Scenic The scenic Coloradan mountains called Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the state, and in a state with the most fourteeners– that’s a lot of photographs. The Maroon Bells consist of Maroon Peak (14,163 ft.) and North Maroon Peak (14,019). Many people opt for a loop that includes both peaks, takes between 3 and 4 days, and covers 26.6 miles. Be advised though, those who choose to embark on this trail must have a permit for the loop. Grays and Torreys peaks. ©Image by Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock Best for beginners Although in the tenth highest summit in the Rocky Mountains, Gray’s Peak is one of the easiest climbs as far as fourteeners go. Many experts believe Gray’s peak to be one of the best fourteeners for beginners. This is often attributed to its relatively short length, seven miles round trip. Furthermore, hikers do not gain much elevation during the course of the trek, only 2,769 ft. Colorado's most famous As the second most visited mountain in the world, Pike’s Peak has made millions marvel. It is accessible by cog railway, driving, and of course hiking. At the top, there is a gift shop famous for its donuts, refreshing after the 13.5 mile ascent. There are many different points of access, but the most convenient is located only 12 miles west of downtown Colorado Springs, making trail head accessible by rideshare. Be warned however, the ride to the base may be easy, but the climb can be quite tough. Even with an elevation gain of 7,400 ft., the hike is still rated at a class two YDS. Just as there are several trailheads from which to begin, there are also several trails by which to ascend. One of the most difficult, and well known methods is through using the Incline. The Incline is a mile of railroad tie stairs that go straight up Pikes Peak. They cut out 3 miles of the 13.5 mile trek. Highest At 20,308 feet, Alaska’s Denali is the highest mountain not only in the United States, but also in the entirety of North America. After Mount Everest and Aconcagua, Denali is the third most isolated mountain in the world. Named Mount McKinley from 1896-2015, this mountain was restored to its Koyukon Alaskan Native name by former president Barack Obama. It is not for the faint heart, as climbing this fourteener averages between 17 and 21 days and requires mental, physical, and logistical preparation. It should only be attempted by expert mountaineers. ©Gleb Tarro/Getty Images Washington favorite Mount Rainier is a Washington favorite for good reason. As an active volcano, the mountain has a wild amount of flora and fauna. Additionally, it is the origin of five major rivers which provide diversity to the landscape. But the mountain’s real claim to fame is the fact that it is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, meaning there is ice on it year round. The mountain has an elevation gain of 13,219. With over 260 miles of hiking trails, the YDS class varies. It is also a National Park and can be accessed by driving 3 hours southeast from Seattle. Mt. Shasta in California. ©Zack Frank/Shutterstock California favorite Mount Shasta is the shortest class four fourteener in California at 14,162 feet. Because of the persistent year round ice, it is recommended to carry an ice pick while hiking. Additionally, a permit is required to hike the peak. Route dependent, the climb is typically ten to twelve miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 7,000 feet. Be sure to visit the town of Mount Shasta just below the peak for a vegan smoothie. Grace Klaus is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.

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