Four years is a long time to stay anywhere, even in a city as vibrant and active as Washington, D.C. When classes are a bit too stressful, campus can feel a bit claustrophobic and urban escapes may not be exactly what you’re looking for — relax in nature, instead. Georgetown is perfectly situated near blissful nature escapes. And while many of them may seem utterly forbidding during the winter, the gorgeous color change of the leaves in autumn and the rebirth of life in spring are perfect opportunities to breathe in some crisp fresh air.
If you keep following the Potomac inland, you will eventually hit the serene little village of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Potomac River and the Shenandoah Valley right across the West Virginia border. Historically famous for its seizure by John Brown and later its role in the Civil War when it swapped hands eight times between the Union and the Confederacy, the town now features plenty of little antique and historical shops along its main thoroughfare, while hiking through the nearby national park offers breathtaking views of a cleaner Potomac and superb greenery.
Transportation: One hour and 20 minutes by car. For the vehicle-less (i.e., everyone), a public MARC train runs directly from Union Station to Harpers Ferry
Shenandoah National Park
Best visited in the fall, when the array of colors is breathtaking, Shenandoah offers hikes up the mountains and down into the waterfalls. Following the 109-mile Skyline Drive, the park is enough of a journey that you may want to devote more than one day to the experience, taking advantage of its lodging or camping options. Spend enough time here, and you won’t be able to stop humming John Denver: “Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River … country roads, take me home.”
Transportation: One hour and 30 minutes to the north entrance by car.
Great Falls Park
Far closer to Georgetown is this small National Park Service site located near the end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Several viewpoints along an array of hiking trials offer panoramic views of the Potomac River as it bounds and cascades along a drop of 76 feet; for the truly adventurous, whitewater kayaking is available.
Transportation: Thirty minutes by car.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Although located in the heart of the DMV area, the quiet and forested escape of Roosevelt Island drowns out the bustle and noise of the surrounding metropolis. The central monument dedicated to the 26th president captures his love for the outdoors, while the trails throughout the island offer stunning views of Healy Hall and the Georgetown waterfront.
Transportation: A 30-minute walk across the Key Bridge and through Rosslyn, Va.
Sandy Point State Park
Swimming in the Potomac is generally ill advised, and D.C. is far enough inland that beaches are not easily accessible. The closest one is this state park along the Chesapeake Bay, which features lengthy beaches.
Transportation: One hour by car.
Once you’ve seen the Monuments a few times and want to find some other historical landmarks, take a trip to George Washington’s plantation house, which was finished in 1778 and was where he lived until his death. The history is palpable and the surrounding scenery is gorgeous.
Transportation: Thirty minutes by car. On the Metro, take the Yellow Line to Huntington Station and catch the Fairfax Connector Bus 101.