Book Portrays D.C. as A Mecca for Hiking

Posted June 22, 2009 at 3:21pm

“Within a 2-hour radius of the nation’s capital … you can climb a 4,000-foot mountain, hike beachside trails, soak in the spray of waterfalls, and travel on foot across historic ground,— Theresa Dowell Blackinton boasts in her new D.C. hiking guidebook.

A native of Kentucky — where she fell in love with the outdoors — she became a Washington, D.C., transplant years ago and has found that the region offers more hiking opportunities than many give it credit for.

Blackinton features 80 hikes of all levels in “Moon Take a Hike Washington DC: Hikes Within Two Hours of the City,— but she admits there were many more that she could have included. Blackinton says she “hiked every mile of every trail detailed in this book, plus other trails that didn’t make the cut.—

The book is written in a conversational tone, and Blackinton doesn’t take herself or the guide too seriously. She does, however, offer vivid descriptions of the sights that you’ll see on the various hikes. She also offers suggestions for off-the-beaten-path excursions as well as the best times to visit each destination. It’s clear that she didn’t just visit each site once — she really spent time exploring the region’s green spaces.

“In the western reaches, the Blue Ridge Mountains soar, while the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay constitute the eastern boundaries. In between, rolling Piedmont hills and the riparian forests of the coastal plains spread out,— she writes about the vast expanses of the two-hour radius of the region.

One of the nice features of the book is that Blackinton includes several hikes that are accessible by public transportation for the many Washingtonians sans cars.

“Although part of the appeal of hiking is escaping the city, it’s not really necessary to journey far,— she says. “Step off a Metrobus and into the woods of Rock Creek Park and immediately swap honking horns for crackling underbrush.—

“Many of the trails are surrounded by heavily traveled thoroughfares and lively neighborhoods, although once you begin your hike, you’ll quickly forget that you’re in one of the busiest metropolitan areas in the country.—

Many people forget about Rock Creek Park or the many public gardens that have acres to explore.

A D.C. destination and one that Blackinton mentions repeatedly is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which offers an easy 2.4-mile trail among 35 ponds. The surprising Northeast spot, run by the National Park Service, is good for an easy stroll and offers many bird-watching and flower-gazing opportunities, especially now as we enter the lotus-blooming season. The only downfall is that photographers set up along the inner paths, but if you stick to the River Trail, you’ll find your peace and moment in history: Much of the riverfront marshland is remnant of the swampland that once covered D.C. and that the pre-Columbian people encountered.

Of course, not every hike is a “stroll through the park,— Blackinton states in a transition to some of the more difficult trails, including several “Butt-Kickers— in the Shenandoah National Park, which snakes 70 miles through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Blackinton outlines 30 hikes in this region, including everything from easy strolls to some that take six or more hours and ascend 2,680 feet.

She highlights the easy-to-moderate Dickey Ridge Trail as a “Best Historical Hike.— The trail is perfect for a quiet hike on your way out of the park — it’s the closest one to the entrance gate — after a nice night camping. It’s 5.2 miles round-trip, but you can cut it short at various points, and it offers a fun historical scavenger hunt of sorts as you look for landmarks such as a cemetery and century-old barn along the way. Many Shenandoah-goers don’t realize that the deeply wooded land was once farms and orchards, and on this circuit you find evidence of the people who worked the land.

Though the book misses some of the less well-known hiking opportunities — such as the acres of protected forests at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend — it does offer up more options than even seasoned D.C. outdoorsmen probably know about. And Blackinton freely admits that “this certainly isn’t a comprehensive listing of every trail in the DC area.—

Each chapter, or region, offers a nice overview map, a list of the best hikes under certain categories — such as summit views, historical hikes or kid-friendly walks — a detailed chart of different trail options and a brief yet interesting overview.

This isn’t a picture book or a visual tour guide, but there’s usually a photo for each hike, and it’s nice to know that Blackinton took most of them herself.

“For those in search of an afternoon away from the hustle and bustle,— she concludes, “easy escapes are plentiful.—