20 Best Road Trips From Washington DC
If you live in the D.C. area or just visiting the Federal City, a road trip out of the U.S. capital can be a welcome break from the tourist crowds standing in lines at historic sites.
Whether you want to escape to the beach, go on a city break or drive some of the greatest roads in the United States, Washington D.C. is within easy reach of some really amazing places which makes it a perfect starting point for a road trip.
Starting with the shortest and moving to some amazing long drives, here is our list of the 20 best road trips from Washington D.C.
1. Annapolis, MD
45 minutes from Washington D.C. (32 miles)
The city of Annapolis is often overlooked when considering city break destinations with Baltimore not far away an other coastal locations competing for visitors.
This unassuming capital of Maryland is well worth your time and is the nearest of our road trip options, taking less than an hour to escape the hustle and bustle of D.C. along route 50 to Annapolis.
Annapolis is on the shore of Chesapeake Bay and water is what this city is all about. The United States Naval Academy is in the city and if you want to explore the Bay or one of the many rivers, streams, creeks and bays that feed into it, you can hire a boat for the day - bring a picnic to have on the water!
If you don't want to do the sailing yourself, there are a number tour boat options or you can hire anything from a kayak or paddleboard to a seafaring fishing boat complete with gear and crew to have a go at catching your dinner.
When you're back on dry land, you can try local seafood specialities - the oysters, rockfish and crab are a staple and you've got to give them a try.
Don't miss the historic city itself - the streets are full of some of the most important parts of American history and there are important sights to see.
The State House might not look like much but it is the oldest one in the country that is still in use. It was also the capital of the United States for a few months between 1783 and 1784.
It was here that George Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army while trying to step down from his public role... about 6 years before becoming President!
2. Baltimore, MD
1 hour from Washington D.C. (39 miles)
Baltimore is another city on the Chesapeake Bay, located further north at the point where Patapsco River flows into it.
It may not have the historical and cultural credentials of Washington D.C. or Philadelphia further up the coast, but Baltimore is a hugely important city in American history which also means there is plenty to see and do here.
Fort McHenry is a National Monument that became so famous after the 1812 war that the U.S. National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was inspired by it.
If that's not enough culture for you, how about the Baltimore Museum of Art - it is free to view over 95,000 pieces of art including large collections of Matisse and Andy Warhol as well as a number of prominent Maryland painters.
The Walters Art Museum has great collections of ancient art from Egyptian to Byzantine to armor from Europe dating back to the Middle Ages.
To relax, take a walk along the Inner Harbor - a lot of Baltimore's life revolves around this area and some other attractions including the National Aquarium can be found here, but you'll also find some great restaurants and bars where you can try local craft beers or Maryland wines.
3. Harpers Ferry, WV
1 hour 15 minutes from Washington D.C. (67 miles)
Just over an hour to the northwest of Washington D.C. is the pretty town of Harpers Ferry. It sits at the point where Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet.
It has been designated as a National Historic Park due to the significance of the town in the run-up to and during the Civil War - the famous arsenal siege by John Brown took place in Harpers Ferry and the Bolivar Heights battlefield is a short walk from Lower Town.
Getting here is fairly easy, but once you get to Harpers Ferry, parking up can be an issue. You're not likely to find a spot in Lower Town and the public parking lot gets filled up quickly so the best and easiest choice is to park at the much larger lot at the Visitor Center and either walk into town or get the shuttle.
You should cross the river along the railroad bridge. The Appalachian Trail passes through Hapers Ferry and crosses over the bridge - you get some amazing views in all directions.
Once on the other side, you have the option of hiking to the top of Maryland Heights - it's the highest peak in the area on top of a cliff overlooking Harpers Ferry and if you have time for a 2 hour hike up (and another 2 to come back down), the views will be worth it!
4. Richmond, VA
1 hour 50 minutes from Washington D.C. (109 miles)
The 2-hour drive down to Richmond is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is follow the I-395 Expressway out of D.C. before continuing along the I-95 that will take you all the way into Richmond - no complicated directions required.
The capital of Virginia is another historic city - Richmond was a prominent city pushing for independence and was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. After more than 5 years of defending the city against the Union, most of the city was burned down as the Confederate troops retreated but the historic city still has a lot of history for you to see.
If you want to learn more about Richmond's history through the Civil War, you are spoiled for options - the American Civil War Center has five historic buildings you can visit including the Confederate White House.
Then there's the Church Hill Historic District with houses dating back to the 1700s, the State Capitol building built in 1788 and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture as well as a lot more things to see walking along the promenades that run the length of the James River-Kanawha Canal.
A few steps away from downtown is the Richmond National Battlefield Park that has trails that will take you along key battleground locations with fortifications and interactive displays.
If you want a little bit more history, the John Marshall House is a museum that depicts life as it was in the early 19th century when Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
I know I've gone on about the history of the place, but don't forget to spend time seeing the city as it is today too. There's an amazing food scene, great local breweries and endless activities in the parks located along James River that flows through Richmond.
5. George Washington and Jefferson National Forests + Appalachian Trail
2 hours from Washington D.C. (106 miles)
Although there are many places you can drive to from Washington D.C. to get to the Appalachian Trail. Harpers Ferry at #3 above has the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and both, Skyline Drive (#10) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (#20) follow the trail closely.
However if you want to explore more than the trail itself and immerse yourself in wilderness, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest is the place to go on a road trip from Washington D.C.
The forests sit along the Appalachian Mountains and stretch from Virginia into West Virginia and even Kentucky. Depending on where in the forests you choose to go can mean a journey from as little as 1 hour up to 6 hours each way.
Further away are the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area but close to D.C. are the Lee and North River Ranger Districts - the Appachian Trail follows the ridge line further east along Skyline Drive, but there are some great (and much less busy) trails to the west of the South Fork Shenandoah River.
The Massanutten Storybook Trail is a great easy walk - it's paved and is less than a mile in length but you get great views down into the valley from the overlook and the observation deck further along.
6. Philadelphia, PA
2 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (139 miles)
I know we've covered a lot of historically important cities already, but Philadelphia has to be on the list of anybody looking for a road trip destination from D.C.
If you're in D.C. already, you are probably not too opposed to a dose of classic architecture or nationally important landmarks so hop onto the Washington-Baltimore Parkway and then the I-95 out of Baltimore (or just follow the I-95 from D.C. all the way) to get to Philly.
How long you should spend in Philadelphia really depends on how much time you have. You can spend a week and still feel like you've not seen all of what the city has to offer!
The main historic place to visit is the Independence Hall and the George Washington Statue outside - you need to get your hands on free tickets for the tours, but these can fill up quickly, especially at weekends so plan ahead.
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed here by the Founding Fathers and you can see a copy of this declaration when you go inside. 11 years later, 12 of the 13 founding colonies gathered here to agree the principles for the U.S. Constitution with only Rhode Island boycotting the Constitutional Convention.
Other historic sites include other buildings that are part of the Independence National Historic Park, the Liberty Bell, City Hall and Society Hill Historic District.
Philadelphia Museum of Art is just one of the many great art galleries and museums in the city, but the grand building and the long staircase leading up to it were made so famous by Sylvester Stallone, there is a statue of Rocky outside the museum.
Lastly, don't forget to visit Reading Terminal Market. This market has operated since 1893 and along with fresh meat and fish you will find everything from fresh BBQ food to ice cream and donuts - there are few more authentic places to grab lunch in Philadelphia.
7. Bethany Beach & Rehoboth Beach, DE
2 hours 45 minutes from Washington D.C. (141 miles)
The two small coastal downs in Delaware are only a few miles apart and separated by the Delaware Seashore State Park. Getting between the two takes a few minutes over the Indian River Inlet Bridge so you can stay anywhere along this stretch of coast if you're coming for more than a day (and you should).
There are hotels and other lodging options available in both places, but you may be better off renting a house in Bethany Beach for a few days instead - you'll get a lot more space at a reasonable price. This is the option a lot of city dwellers who come to the Delaware coast choose.
The beaches themselves are everything you want from a relaxed summer break miles away from pre-dawn alarm clocks and urgent assignment deadlines.
You'll get long wide stretches of fine sand, a boardwalk to stroll along and a few quirky local shops and cafes to get a drink and sit around for an hour drinking it without furiously typing away at your laptop. The waves rolling in are a much better view.
8. Ocean City, MD
2 hours 50 minutes from Washington D.C. (146 miles)
Only a few miles further south along the same coast is Ocean City. As you cross state lines from Delaware and into Maryland, the barrier island that separates the mainland from the ocean continues and Ocean City covers most of it until you get to Assateague State Park.
Unlike Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, Ocean City is more of a full on seaside resort. You've got more of a holiday destination feel with hotels, bars and a touristy boardwalk.
Although busy, the Ocean City Boardwalk is great for indulging in kitsch gifts, seaside fast food that you really shouldn't but will have and people watching.
For those who want to be a little more active, there are a couple of small amusement parks (don't expect too much - it's a local affair) and a golf course nearby.
If you want to get away from the crowds, head a few miles south to the Assateague State Park I mentioned earlier - there are far fewer people here, the beaches are pristine and you'll get to see wild horses who live on and pass through the island on which the park is located through the year.
9. Atlantic City, NJ
3 hours 15 minutes from Washington D.C. (190 miles)
Staying on the beach theme, Atlantic City is further away from D.C. than the Delaware and Maryland coastal destinations, but won't take much longer to get to.
After reaching Philadelphia along the I-95, the Atlantic City Expressway heads right to the New Jersey coast for a total journey of just over 3 hours.
Everything in Atlantic City is going to be a little bigger than the other seaside destinations on our list - the beach is wider and longer, the pier is big enough to house an amusement park and the Boardwalk is wide and full of shops, restaurants and bars and evening entertainment.
Atlantic City got notoriety as the Vegas of the East Coast as casinos were built and a city within easy reach of New York, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia looked to build a reputation as the place to come to party and gamble.
In recent years, that reputation has begun dwindling and some of the big casinos have shut their doors for the last time, but 10 large casinos still operate and there's more than enough slot machines and black jack tables for those who want to unwind late into the night.
10. Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park
3 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (175 miles)
Skyline Drive is one of two outstanding roads that closely follow the Appalachian Trail on our list. The second (and much longer one) is the Blue Ridge Parkway which follows on where Skyline Drive ends and goes all the way to Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
Skyline Drive starts fairly close to D.C. - just follow I-66 west until you get to the turning for the Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive starts right at the Front Royal Entrance to the park - around an hour and a quarter from downtown D.C.
Driving the length of the route through the park will take over 3 hours, but if you like driving and if you like picturesque roads with stunning views, these 3 hours may just feel like heaven.
We're talking a perfect road that twists and turns along the ridge of the mountain range with views that stretch for miles and miles of forests, valleys and mountain peaks.
There are plenty of places to stop with small parking lots, places to stop by the side of the road and overlooks for some of the best views along the way.
You will notice that the landscape gets more mountainous as you make your way south and it can be an amazing idea to park up by one of the trails and stretch your legs by doing an hour or two of hiking - you'll get lungs full of fresh air and listen to the trees swaying in the wind.
11. New York, NY
4 hours from Washington D.C. (225 miles)
If you are up for a city break, there are few cities in the world that can compete with all that the Big Apple has to offer.
I may be a little biased having spent almost a year living in New York, but the vibrancy of Manhattan, the amazing architecture and the richness of the city's neighborhoods makes it an amazing destination whatever your interests.
Getting to New York from D.C. is very easy - the I-95 takes you the entire way although you may want to follow the New Jersey Turnpike to avoid traffic through Philadelphia.
Once in New York, park the car up. Trust me - there is zero point in driving around New York and finding places to park - the cabs and subway are a far better option. If you're only planning on visiting New York and nowhere else on the way, you might even opt for the train or a Greyhound bus - both great and very easy options.
Times Square, Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, the 9/11 Memorial and the Rockefeller Center should keep you busy. Want more things to see? No problem. Brooklyn Bridge, the High Line, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grand Central Station and the Flat Iron Building.
Enough reasons to go on a road trip to New York? We haven't even touched Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island and the amazing communities that live there.
After sightseeing, you've got the best of the world's cuisines on your doorstep, the world's best musicals on Broadway and music clubs to suit every taste. So what are you waiting for? Hop in the car and all of this is only 4 hours away!
12. Pittsburgh, PA
4 hours from Washington D.C. (245 miles)
Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania is around 4 hours away from Washington D.C. - interstates 270, 70 and 76 will make the journey easy although relatively uneventful.
Unlike some of the other cities further up our list, Pittsburgh is a refreshing breath of a great everyday city where queuing in line to get into world famous museums is not what it's all about.
The city of Pittsburgh sits at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merge into on - the Ohio River that runs all the way to the Mississippi.
The outdoors is a big part of what Pittsburgh is all about and you can start by getting the Duquesne Incline trolley up the steep cliff on the south bank of the river. The views over the city from the Points of View Park or the Grandview Overlook a few hundred yards away are amazing - you can see the city's bridges, downtown skyline and the Point State Park Fountain right in front of you.
Things to do in Pittsburgh include the Andy Warhol Museum, the largest single artist museum in the United States and the very unusual Mattress Factory Museum where local artists create contemporary art installations.
Make sure you head to the Strip District where the old factory buildings have become a busy hub for bars and restaurants, shops and markets - you can grab everything from breakfast to a midnight snack here!
13. Raleigh, NC
4 hours 15 minutes from Washington D.C. (278 miles)
Raleigh might not be the first place on your list of potential destinations from Washington D.C. - after all there is an abundance of great cities in every direction with bucket fulls of history, culture and things to do.
But Raleigh is a worthy city for a weekend trip or as a stopover point if you're heading further south to Charleston or Savannah.
The city was originally founded in 1792 and, quite unusually, it was specifically built to be the capital of the state with the initial city plan involving little more than the blocks surrounding the State Capitol building.
Today Raleigh is a vibrant up-and-coming city. A technology boom has led to a number of start-ups and big tech companies setting up in the city and as a result, there is plenty to do ranging from great museums to craft breweries to food halls.
Live music is a big thing in Raleigh with large outdoor concerts happening all the way through the summer and indoor venues continuing to host performances in the colder winter months.
14. Delaware River, Callicoon and the Catskills
6 hours from Washington D.C. (320 miles)
The Catskills may not be the tallest of mountains and they do not have the grand ski resorts you will find in other parts of the country.
Having said that, the Catskills have got to be one of the most relaxing destinations anywhere along the East Coast, so if spending a few days doing absolutely nothing split up by trips to eateries in local towns sounds good, this is where you should be headed.
The perfect place from which to explore the Catskills is a small town called Callicoon. It sits right on the Delaware River on the edge of the Catskills, but don't follow your navigator to get here.
Instead, head up to Philadelphia before following the I-476 to Allentown. From here, go past Bethlehem and Stroudsburg through the Delaware Water Gap to Port Jervis.
Here, continue following the Delaware River north along State Route 97. This road winds its way close to the river and is one of the most scenic drives I know in the United States. Hawk's Nest is a small section of this route with a series of sharp twists and bends that has been used in adverts, movies and on TV over and over because of the amazing scenery.
Callicoon may not seem like much - there's one brewery, a few shops and two restaurants but spend a day in the area and you'll begin understand what it's all about. Your best option for lodging is to find a house on AirBnB - there are some amazing options nearby.
From here, you can drive up and down the river or head into the Catskills to see some of the small towns, waterfalls and trails that are so popular with the visitors.
I'd give it approximately 3 days before you begin researching what it would take for you to sell all your worldly possessions and move to live here in the slow lane of life.
15. Tour of Long Island, wineries and Montauk
6 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (360 miles)
Long Island may well be the second home destination for New York's super rich and the place city dwellers come for a long weekend, but there is so much more to it that a trip from D.C. is absolutely worth the long drive.
To get to Long Island, try to get past the busy streets of New York before traffic gets busy later on in the day. Here's a top tip from someone who has driven through New York enough times to know - there is no such thing as the fastest way to get through the city to Long Island.
Whether you go through Staten Island and Brooklyn, take the Holland Tunnel, drive through Midtown after making it through Lincoln Tunnel or try to bypass Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge and the Bronx, the journey will take exactly the same amount of time.
Just pick which way you like the sound of - whether it's getting the views of the city as you drive over the bridge to Brooklyn or getting right into the middle of everything and crawling along at half the average walking pace along 36th street, it'll take however long it takes.
Although Brooklyn, Long Island City and Queens are technically all on Long Island, every Long Islander will tell you that you haven't really arrived until you get to Nassau County having left Queens behind you.
Nassau County and the much larger Suffolk County are hugely different. Nassau is quite suburban and built up. Long Beach and Fire Island are popular destinations, but they can get crowded and you don't get the relaxed Long Island feeling of being far away from the skyscrapers of Manhattan until you've driven a little further.
Once you get to the Hamptons, Long Island proper will appear. The beaches along the south coast are amazing for watching the sun rise, set and do everything in-between. Head north and you'll find the wine country which is actually a thing and produces some really great wines in the North Fork.
Further along is the pretty town of Montauk. The famous lighthouse has attracted tourists for decades and more people have begun visiting after the Showtime series The Affair was set in the sleepy town.
16. New England Road Trip to Boston, MA and Providence, Rhode Island
7 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (455 miles)
New England seems like a long way away from Washington D.C., but you may be surprised to find that you can go on a road trip through some of the best that places like Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and even Maine and New Hampshire are not as far as you'd think.
If should take you around 5 hours to get from Washington D.C. to Stamford on the Connecticut coast. You have to navigate the traffic around Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York on the way so try to time your driving to avoid rush hour traffic.
Setting off early is good to make sure you get past New York before the late afternoon. Better still, you can make your road trip even more epic and add one or more of these as stops along the way!
A lot of the historic towns in New England sit along the coast, so follow the ocean and you'll find places like Mystic in Connecticut and Providence and Newport in Rhode Island.
Boston is an amazing city to visit - the weather swings a lot between the seasons so if you're planning to drive in February, make sure your car likes going through thick snow!
There is so much to see in Boston, you could easily spend a week here and feel like you're leaving too early. Two of the country's finest universities are in the city and you can walk around the campuses and see what Harvard and MIT are all about.
Catching a game at Fenway Park is a unique experience whether you are a baseball fan or not and then you've got some of the best museums in the United States, classic buildings including the 1713 Old State House and the USS Constitution - the oldest active commissioned US Navy ship which dates back to 1797!
17. Explore the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina
8 hours from Washington D.C. (500 miles)
If you had to name the most visited National Park in the United States, you'd probably get guessing with Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or maybe even the Olympic National Park near Seattle.
The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina attracts more visitors than any two of the above combined with over 11 million people coming to see the blue haze of the valleys in the National Park for themselves.
The park covers a long stretch of the Appalachian Mountains, so you won't notice the crowds here despite its popularity. Getting here from D.C. is pretty easy following the I-81 almost the entire way.
If you want to get here in style, you're in luck. Combine the length of the Skyline Drive (#10 above) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (#20 below) and you'll get here without setting foot on the freeway.
It will take you about 20 hours' worth of driving though - at least a couple more days than the direct route but if you have time, it is absolutely worth it. You can always go the fast and easy option on the way back!
Whatever season you come to the Great Smoky Mountains, there will be amazing things to do. Hiking to find the pretty wildflowers in spring, kayaking along mountain lakes in the summer and seeing the jaw dropping mix of colors of the forests in the fall are all perfect reasons to come.
18. Myrtle Beach and Charleston, SC
8 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (530 miles)
Charleston is a grand city on the South Carolina coast. It may be a long drive down, but you can break up the journey and add interesting stops in Richmond (#4 above), Raleigh (#13) and Myrtle Beach.
The city was built on a narrow wedge of land sitting between Ashley and Cooper Rivers and with space at a premium, it was quickly built up in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Much of Historic Charleston has kept many of the mansions and unique architecture, especially in the South of the Road area near The Battery.
Some of the colonial buildings can be visited as museums, but to get the full dose of the local Southern culture, check out the Historic Charleston City Market which has stood here for over 200 years.
Myrtle Beach along the way to Charleston is almost the exact opposite of the city - it's a relaxed beachside town where everything is a little less serious.
Stop over to walk along the Boardwalk, build a sand castle on the seemingly never-ending beach and try the local muscadine dessert wines which are actually very good - worth staying the night for! The large muscadine grapes only grow in the southeastern part of the United States so this is the one place in the world to try the stuff!
19. Savannah, Georgia
8 hours 40 minutes from Washington D.C. (575 miles)
Savannah may just be my favorite city in the United States, so even though it'll take you a day to drive down (or longer with stops), I would say it most definitely is worth it.
The usual argument of "why drive when you can fly there" doesn't work for me when you're considering a road trip from Washington D.C. to Savannah.
The flight takes 2 hours and you'll want to be at the airport at least an hour before take off to get through security and onto your flight. Add in an hour to get to the airport from D.C., half an hour to get off at the other side, another hour and a half to pick up your rental and get into Savannah and we're already talking at least 6 to 7 hours if everything goes perfectly and you leave no spare time anywhere along the way.
Suddenly the stress of packing everything you might need into your carry on suitcase, wondering whether you'll make it to the airport in time, squeezing into a seat next to the one guy on the plane you wouldn't want to sit next to and then taking photos of every scratch on your rental just in case doesn't seem worth it.
Savannah is a unique city where the best activity by far is simply walking. The city grid is centered around the parks - there's 22 or the original 24 parks spread out through the city.
The streets and avenues that run up and down through Savannah are covered in a sprawl of live oak and lined in colonial style wooden clad houses that let you know you are in the South.
Add to this, outstanding Georgian food (if you have a chance to try the sticky peanut sauce chicken wings, you will know what I mean) and amazing local sights. The world famous oak-lined alley at the Wormsloe Historic Site is a must visit and find time to visit one of the many museums dedicated to local history and the plantations.
If you want to add things to do along your road trip, Richmond, Raleigh and Charleston are all good stops along the way (see above for all 3). If time really is on your hands, Skyline Drive (#10 above) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (below) both take you in the right direction, but will take much much longer than the freeway!
20. Drive the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway
17 hours 30 minutes from Washington D.C. (610 miles)
There are few driving roads in the world that come close to the Blue Ridge Parkway in terms of sheer quality of the experience and this makes it one of the best road trips you can do anywhere in world.
The road starts at the North Entrance which is only about 140 miles away from D.C. - a drive that should take around 2 hours 30 minutes.
From here, though, the route follows 469 miles along the Blue Ridge mountains with one stunning view replacing another as you follow the bends through the longest linear park in the United States.
The main bit of the Parkway took 30 years to build from 1936 to 1966 with a final section that required a complex viaduct around Grandfather Mountain only being completed in 1987. Yes - it took 52 years to build an engineering masterpiece just so you could drive along it with a smile on your face.
Once you complete the route, spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains (see #17 above) before heading back.
If the 15 hours it will take you to drive the route doesn't feel like long enough, fear not. You can start your journey further north and do the Skyline Drive first, before merging right into the Blue Ridge Parkway. That should add a day onto your journey and the two combined may well be the most epic driving road ever built.