Off the beaten path


Eliana Wolf

Rocky streams and waterfalls are a major draw on the Great Falls Trail.

Being in the midst of nature is an experience like no other. To be surrounded by rushing streams, skyscraping trees and majestic animals creates a perfect space to reset one’s mind and body.

In the DMV area, there are many great hiking options that are only an hour from the CESJDS Upper School and are great to explore as the weather gets warmer. While there are the well-known trails in Rock Creek Park and the Capital Crescent Trail, there are also a lot of lesser-popular trails that afford a sense of privacy to the hiker. 

Billy Goat Trail: The Billy Goat trail is popular among people D.C. residents. It is located on the Maryland-Virginia border along the Potomac River. It is about 25 minutes from the JDS Upper School. It has a little bit of everything: a river, a rock scramble, a beautiful view and a good challenge for those who choose to accept it.

Rock scrambling is common on these local trails. It is a mixture of rock climbing and hiking where the hiker must use their arms to balance and traverse rocky and unstable terrain. 

Tori Ball, Dean of Experiential Leadership and Service Learning and avid hiker, regards the Billy Goat trail as the best local hike. 

“It is super beautiful to be above the Potomac River [when] you can see into Virginia,” Ball said. “It’s also a pretty challenging trail close by which is hard because we don’t have a lot of elevation here.”

The Billy Goat trail has three sections: A, B and C, but it is also a part of the larger Great Falls hiking area that has an overlook with the rushing waterfalls. Occasionally, kayakers are spotted rowing down the river, which can be exciting to see. A great path to take when at Great Falls is the River Trail, which is an easy yet pleasant stroll. What makes it particularly fun and special are the small areas for rock scrambling along the trail.

Maryland Heights: Another hike, which is around an hour from the JDS Upper School campus, is the Maryland Heights hiking trail. Next to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., the hike ranges from 4.5 to 9.5 miles and can take between three and seven hours. The trails include the Stone Fort Trail and a trail from the Lower Town of Harpers Ferry to the Maryland Heights Overlook. 

It is a unique hike in the area because of its steep inclines and summit. The top of the hike overlooks Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the town of Harpers Ferry along the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The scenery sports a landscape that is unforgettable with the Civil War era town, the intersection of rivers and the sea of trees that is different from any other hike in the area. 

Catoctin Mountain: Another hike with peaks is Catoctin Mountain. Around an hour from the Upper School, Catoctin Mountain has two sections, Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock. This mountain has over 15 trails that span 26.6 miles. There are campsites and a visitor center, but the most impressive part is the rock scramble at the top of Wolf Rock which creates a natural playground for people of all ages. 

This elevation is not common in the area, so the overlooks throughout the hike give a sense of accomplishment to the hiker. The best route to take is to go to Chimney Rock and then to Wolf Rock, to get both the rock scrambles and the overlook. 

Rock Creek Park: The most known hike in the area is Rock Creek Park, which spans across a large area inside Washington D.C. There are many different trails within the park, but what is special about Rock Creek park is that it is a haven for people who live in the city who need a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. 

Rock Creek Park has over 32 miles of hikes that stop by many areas such as the Rock Creek Horse Center, Rock Creek Tennis Center and areas to rent a boat along the Potomac River. It is easily accessible from many different areas in Washington, DC and there are many hikes that start on a road and within two minutes, the trail is surrounded by nature. 

Northwest Branch Trail: A hidden gem right next to the Silver Spring Trader Joe’s is a section of the Northwest Branch Trail with a lot of rock scrambles. It takes you along the Anacostia River where there is a place to sit by the water and listen to the waterfalls rushing and is the perfect place to capture nature through photography. 

There are also sections of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, such as Annapolis Rock and parts of the Shenandoah such as Old Rag that are hiking gems in the DMV. 

Hiking is so critical for wellbeing and there are so many opportunities to recenter ourselves so close by. All of these hikes are places to get a good workout, find mental clarity  and have a meaningful social experience, and they are all easily accessible. 

“When you’re in the presence of nature, and you sort of see how big the universe is, you can forget about yourself a little bit and you can just be the best you,” Ball said.