Four years is a long time to stay anywhere, even in a city as vibrant as Washington, D.C. When classes are a bit too stressful, campus can feel a bit claustrophobic, and the urban setting may not be exactly what you’re looking for. Nature can be the perfect escape; luckily, Georgetown is situated near many idyllic nature escapes. 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 fresh crisp air.
If you follow the Potomac River inland, you will eventually hit the serene little village of Harpers Ferry, located right across the West Virginia border at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Historically famous for its seizure by John Brown in 1859 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 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 105-mile Skyline Drive, the park is enough of a journey that you may want to devote more than one day to the experience by 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.” Entrance to the park costs $30 per vehicle or $15 per individual without a car.
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 trails offer panoramic views of the Potomac as it bounds and cascades along a drop of 76 feet over less than a mile; for the truly adventurous, whitewater kayaking is available. Entrance to the park costs $10 per vehicle or $5 per person without a car.
Transportation: Thirty minutes by car. Cut down the price of an Uber by taking the metro to Tysons Corner or Spring Hill on the Silver line and taking an Uber from there.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Although located in the Potomac right between downtown D.C. and Rosslyn, Va., the quiet and forested escape of Roosevelt Island drowns out the bustle 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.
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 to Georgetown is this state park along the Chesapeake Bay, which features lengthy beaches ideal for a bit of relaxation. Entrance to the park costs $3 per vehicle or $4 to $7 per person.
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 where he lived until his death. The history is palpable and the surrounding scenery is gorgeous. Entrance to the grounds costs $20 per person.
Transportation: Thirty minutes by car. On the metro, take the Yellow line to Huntington Station and catch the Fairfax Connector Bus 101.