It's our last night in the North Cascades. Our campfire circle offers the perfect backdrop for soaking in the last few moments of the Wild Wilderness Women annual Babes Off the Beaten Path adventure. Amongst the fire, there are 20 pairs of glistening eyes: Women who have just met, leaning against each other. Old friends, laughing over new adventures. And real conversations on sex, self-care, and how to lead a satisfying life.
As one babe sings lullabies to the group, I can feel a sense of healing come over me–and many of the women around me.
"One bright morning, when this life is over, I'll fly away…"
Wild Wilderness Women of Washington, D.C.
Wild Wilderness Women is a Washington D.C.-based outdoor organization led by women, for women. Wild Wilderness Women hosts a variety of events, ranging from documentary screenings and skillshares, to overnight backpacking trips and cross-country skiing. My first event with the group was a simple post-work walkabout in the woods. While it was nice to get a mini-dose of nature mid-workweek, what struck me most was the instant connections that formed between the women, many meeting for the first time. I, along with many others, felt like I had finally found what I was seeking for in a community: acceptance of my current skill levels and interests, and the support to take on new challenges in the wild if I desired to do so.
Babes Off the Beaten Path is the culmination of the values Wild Wilderness Women members hold near and dear to their hearts: empowerment, connection, education, and adventure. Through this annual trip, Wild Wilderness Women members with diverse backgrounds and skill sets come together for a multi-day adventure in the wilderness. Thanks to the generous support of donors and sponsors, such as Gossamer Gear, Wild Wilderness Women is able to keep trip costs low to minimize economic barriers to entry for members.
Wild Wilderness Women in North Cascades National Park
For Babes Off the Beaten Path's third year, Wild Wilderness Women traveled to North Cascades National Park. And, like with any good adventure, the trip wasn't all serene singing and peaceful campfire circles. These blissful moments were shaped by the newfound trust we had for one another after the hardships and adversity we had along our journey.
Earlier in the day, before those campfire lullabies had begun their magic, we awoke to a heavy fog. It filled our lungs with thick smoke from a spreading wildfire. After cooking and devouring breakfast, we wandered to the visitor center to plot relocation options with the park rangers. While there, we quickly bought souvenir postcards and stickers before reluctantly having to return to break camp.
Our spacious main campsite hosted our hammock village, a connected string of colorful cocoons–a getaway for quiet reading and journaling time, gazing up into the trees, or even inside jokes with new gal pals. It had also become the space for our group breakfasts and dinners, activity planning and pb&j ( or pb&nutella !) sandwich making, gear sharing, and game playing. There was some disinclination to take down our carefully crafted campsite, but after three days of hiking and swimming and laughing together, we were filled with a renewed spirit and energy to keep moving forward to the next adventure. After a group discussion, where we patiently created space for everyone's opinions, we quickly got to work deconstructing the home we'd built for ourselves.
We drove west to escape the fire and fog–each car filled with a group of women eager to bond, sharing stories and snacks. It took three attempts to find a campsite that would take last-minute reservations. We cooked and scarfed down dinner. Darkness quickly settled over our campsite, but several of us decided to spring for one final and wild escapade–skinny dipping in the night.
We quietly giggled as we passed several cabins, the excitement of doing something risque overcoming us. A perfectly placed log by the water was quickly piled with flannels and wool socks. In pairs and trios, we yelped as we entered the cold Pacific water. Some babes dove in right away. Others entered inch by inch, waiting to adjust to the cold. But eventually, we all formed an impromptu circle, clasping hands to solidify our sisterhood. We took turns toasting to community, healing, women, and friendship.
Covered in sand and salt water, we slipped back on our clothes. We huddled together for warmth, and headed back for s'mores. And as the lullabies filled the night, I knew I was where I needed to be, and I was thankful for healing spaces like this. I had gratitude for these Wild Wilderness Women, and the wild women everywhere, creating their own adventures, and reaching out a hand for other women to come along, too. And I was thankful for all who lend support to make these spaces possible.
Sometimes, we long to be out in the wild, but we live in a city. Not every day can be a thru-hiking kind of day. However, many cities offer a surprising amount of outdoor recreation right within the throes of their concrete mazes. Washington, D.C. is a prime example of this.
There are many guides that will promise you the "best hiking trails in D.C.," but a majority of those lists actually describe hikes that are an hour or more drive away in Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia. There isn't always time after a long work day to battle rush hour traffic to get to a trailhead, though, so for all of the hikers out there hustling in our nation's capital, here are three of the best hiking trails in D.C. that are actually smack dab in the middle of in D.C.
Rock Creek Park Trails
Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre wooded, wild greenway right through the heart of D.C. It was authorized a city park in 1890, which made it the third national park designated by the federal government. It's rich with history, but also with some of the best hiking trails in D.C.
The park has two main trails that run north-south–the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail. These two trails connect with a wide array of shorter east-west trails, making for endless opportunities to explore. Depending on how much time you have, you can take a quick stroll, fashion up your own loop, or connect on to the Rock Creek Trail and keep heading on up into Maryland for some rest and relaxation on the shores of Lake Needwood.
To learn more and download trail maps, visit the park's website.
Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
The Anacostia River feeds into the Potomac River and adds shape and history to the capital region. Once a wild, beautiful waterway, the river has been victim over the years to pollution and neglect. However, new initiatives (and the great passion and dedication of people like this and this ) have gotten the Anacostia moving back toward its glory days. There's even hope that one day it will be swimmable again.
Part of making the river healthy again is helping people connect to it in a positive way. The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is one way the region hopes to do this. The trail will ultimately run for 20 miles along both banks of the river and will connect a range of D.C. gems, from the Nationals baseball stadium to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. So far, 12 miles of the trail have been completed and opened to the public. It's a great way to explore a unique area of the city, which is why it is one of the best hiking trails in D.C. Learn more and find maps here
Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park
The C&O Canal trail is a 184.5-mile car-free wonder that runs from the Georgetown neighborhood in D.C. all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. It follows the Potomac River, and while it might start out in a bustling neighborhood, the trail gets wild quickly. Hikers can expect to see a variety of birds, turtles, and other wildlife along the way.
The trail is great for an afterwork jog or a long weekend bike ride. You can also easily connect it to the Capital Crescent Trail to mix up an out and back walk. With its rich history and unfettered miles, it's one of the best hiking trails in D.C. Read more about adventures along its path here and find more information from the National Park Service.
Get Out and Explore the Best Hiking Trails in D.C.!
It can be easy to feel a bit rundown during the week when we'd all rather be looking at starry skies and lush forests than computer screens and PowerPoint presentations. But if you live in a city, nature might be closer than you think. Whether you're in D.C. or another locale, remember to get out and explore all of the goodness in the parks right around you.