Explore Trip Ideas

Destination National Capital Region/Chesapeake Bay

As the capital of the United States, Washington, DC is the dateline for daily news accounts all over the globe. Nearly every day, policies are proposed, debated, and implemented—many with impacts beyond U.S. borders. The District of Columbia, commonly referred to as Washington or simply “DC,” is known for wide avenues, stately government buildings, memorials, museums, and icons like the Washington Monument and the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But did you know that the District of Columbia is a gateway to a diverse set of natural, cultural, historical and recreational lands and waters beyond the National Mall?

Here is a sample of some of the special places and rich experiences available in Capital Region USA, which includes DC, Maryland, Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. The bay is teeming with fauna and flora and over 300 species of fish and birds including Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. The wetland interface, a mix of fresh and salt water, supports numerous floras on both the land and underwater. The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network can help you plan your visit to the Chesapeake Bay. In search of recreation, discovery and recovery, people are drawn to the beach, to hiking trails, bird watching, boating, canoeing and unique local culture, food and music festivals.

District of Columbia Sites

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

MLK Memorial
Stop at the quiet and peaceful MLK, Jr. Memorial, which rests on the shore of the Tidal Basin on a sight line between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The Memorial is on the National Mall, but is quiet and peaceful, and captures King’s message of hope and possibility for a future anchored in dignity, sensitivity and mutual respect. Allow your visit here to set the tone for the rest of your journey.

Rock Creek Park

Coursing through the “District Diamond,” Rock Creek Park is in stark contrast to the teeming metropolitan hub of power politics known as Washington, DC. Exploring the nation’s history, walking along a quiet trail, bicycling along Rock Creek, and viewing wildlife are a few of the experiences available in the park. Take in a ranger program at the Rock Creek Nature Center where you can also explore the night sky in the only planetarium in the National Park System.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

From his home on Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave, civil rights advocate, orator, author and statesman, could look across the Anacostia River to the Capital City’s monuments and reflect on his conferences with Abraham Lincoln in the White House. Douglass encouraged Lincoln to allow African Americans to engage in the Civil War; fighting for their freedom had a particularly salient meaning. Visitors learn about his efforts to abolish slavery and his struggle for civil rights for all oppressed people, including Native Americans. Tours are available year-round at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

African American Civil War Memorial

When Frederick Douglass’ proposal was adopted, nearly 210,000 African-American soldiers and sailors fought for the Union in the US Civil War. Their bravery and sacrifice is commemorated at the Memorial at the Vermont Avenue, 10th Street, and U Street triangle. Directly across the street, the African American Civil War museum enables visitors and descendants of the US Colored Troops to better understand these stories. The U Street corridor is a vibrant neighborhood, traditionally the heart of African-American entertainment and theater in Washington.

Maryland Sites

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge includes 27,000 acres of mostly rich tidal marsh. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, Blackwater is a stopover for migratory ducks and geese. The refuge is also a haven for several troubled species including the American bald eagle, the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, and the migrant peregrine falcon. The beautiful Visitor Center at Blackwater and popular Wildlife Drive afford an excellent overview. Experience four hiking trails, three paddling trails, fishing and crabbing.

Fort McHenry National Monument and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

A star-shaped fort guarding the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, Fort McHenry National Monument is best known for its role in the War of 1812. During a successful defense of the harbor from an attack by the British Navy, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a poem that would eventually be set to music as the national anthem of the United States. Connected to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor by water taxi, you can pair history with Baltimore’s great food, entertainment and shopping.

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Michele Whitbeck)
A part of the Chesapeake Marshlands Complex, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is a 2,286-acre island located at the confluence of the Chester River and the Bay. This refuge assumes a key role as a sustainable tourism demonstration. Visitors are attracted to its waterfront vistas, peaceful walking trails and watchable wildlife.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway

Traversing a living land-and-waterscape, the nationally designated byway commemorates Harriet Tubman and everyone—black and white, enslaved and free—involved in the Underground Railroad. Not a railroad in the true sense, the Underground Railroad was the name given to the secret network of roads, waterways, trails and hiding places, used before the Civil War by enslaved people fleeing from bondage.

A comprehensive three-day itinerary will help you navigate everything you need to see on the byway.

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

Harpers Ferry (Robert Baker)
Sitting above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers on the border with Maryland, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is just inside West Virginia. On this spot, Thomas Jefferson said, “The passage of the Patomac [Potomac] through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.” The park is also intersected by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and rail trail and the Appalachian Trail which transects between Georgia and Maine. In 1859, a precursor to the Civil War, abolitionist John Brown led an unsuccessful raid on the armory intent on arming slaves and leading them in a rebellion to overthrow slavery. Today, Harpers Ferry visitors experience a unique blend of history and outdoor recreation.

Virginia Sites

Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge

Located at the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most important avian migration funnels in North America. Each fall, like colorful clockwork, the refuge is the scene of a spectacular drama as millions of songbirds and monarch butterflies and thousands of raptors converge on their voyage south.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

From Gettysburg to Monticello, it’s known as the region Where America Happened ™. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground includes National and World Heritage sites, over 10,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, hundreds of African American and Native American heritage sites and the largest collection of Civil War sites in the nation. Besides these significant history stories, the region encompasses unique natural, scenic and cultural experiences, with farms and orchards; woodlands and forests; rivers, streams and unspoiled landscapes. A designated National Scenic Byway, the region is alive with vibrant historic downtowns, rich agriculture and a bounty of wineries, inns and unique cultural events.

Shenandoah National Park

Encompassing part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah National Park sits between the Shenandoah River and Valley on the west and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east. The Skyline Drive winds along the crest of the mountains through the length of the park providing vistas of spectacular landscapes on either side. Hiking trails may follow a ridge crest, or they may lead to high places with panoramic views or to waterfalls in deep canyons. Many animals, including deer, black bears and wild turkeys flourish among the rich growth of an oak-hickory forest. Shenandoah offers advance reservations for camping.

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers. This National Wildlife Refuge has a unique mix of wetlands forest and native grasslands providing a diversity of habitats for a wide variety of species. Noted for its grassland nesting birds, over 600 species of plants, and 65 species of butterflies, visitors and animals both seek a quiet escape. Experiences include hiking, wildlife photography and environmental education.

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

Jefferson National Forest (Dennis Ennis)
Located in west central Virginia and southwest Virginia respectively, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests contain 1.8 million acres including 325 miles of the Appalachian Trail, scenic byways, campgrounds and cabins, picnic areas and boat launches. Whether driving a back-country road or savoring peaceful wilderness, visitors experiencing these natural places will find a cultural counterpart in local gateway communities. This region is rich in unique arts, foods, music and history, including the site of a tobacco farm where Booker T. Washington was born into slavery.

Did You Know?

World Heritage Logo
In 1972, the United States proposed the World Heritage Convention to the international community and was the first nation to ratify it. The World Heritage Convention is the American national park idea being carried out worldwide.


Monticello and the University of Virginia - Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and a talented architect of neoclassical buildings, designed Monticello, his plantation home and his ideal "academic village"—the University of Virginia. Recognized World Heritage Site since 1987.