Best Road Trips from Washington DC for Adventurous Travelers

Despite vaccines and a reduction of illness, it’s looking like travel for summer 2021 and beyond is likely to be kept closer to home. But no worries, if you live in the Washington DC area or anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region for that matter, you will have loads of options for road trips that include a bit of adventure.

I asked travel bloggers for their recommendations for adventurous road trip from Washington DC and here are their top recommendations plus a few of my own. The list includes mountain and beach destinations, rural and city locations, short drives and longer ones, and places that are good for a weekend or a week. Whatever adventure you are seeking, you will find a road trip that works for you.

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Delaware Beaches

There are so many adventure road trips from D.C.! If you’re looking to hit the beach, one of the best options is to visit the Delaware beaches. These beaches are located on the southeastern coast of Delaware and are about 2.5 hours away from Washington D.C. by car. There are several beaches in this area, with the most famous being Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, and Bethany Beach. Cape Henlopen State Park is also nearby and has some wonderful beach and biking options.

If you’re looking to just visit one of these beaches, you could easily do this trip in a day. If you would like to spend a bit more time in the area to explore some more quaint towns, it’s recommended to stay for a weekend.

As mentioned above, the easiest way to get here is by car, and you’ll definitely want a car once you’re here to explore the area!

Head to Rehoboth beach first, the most touristy area, to see the famous boardwalk. If you’re hungry, be sure to visit Grotto’s Pizza and Thrasher’s French Fries. These fries are the best boardwalk fries you’ll ever have! Dolles’ Candyland is also a popular option if you want something sweet.

In terms of activities, this area is great for families! There’s a Funland amusement park right on the boardwalk and tons of mini golf places nearby.

Traveling with a partner or friends? Head to Lewes! Located only 15 minutes away from Rehoboth beach, the town of Lewes is “the first town in the first state”, and is full of charming boutiques, cafes, and museums.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a more adventurous activity, definitely rent bikes! There are tons of bike paths in the area that hug the coast.

Submitted by Nicole Rosania from The Abroad Blog

Rehoboth Beach Delaware beaches

Maryland

Asseteague Island, MD

Less than a 3-hour drive from Washington DC and just 8 miles from Ocean City, Maryland, Assateague Island offers outdoor enthusiasts a chance to immerse themselves in nature. The island is perfect for a weekend camping trip to get away from it all, or you can spend a week exploring the island and the surrounding area.

Assateague is famous for the 2 herds of wild horses that live on the island and frequent the beaches and sand dunes. They make awesome photographs, but stay the mandatory 40 feet away–they do bite and kick!

At 37 miles long, Assateague Island provides ample opportunities for popular activities like swimming, hiking, biking, and 4-wheeling on the sand (with permit). If you want a little more adventure, rent a canoe or kayak from Assateague Outfitters. If you have a line, shore fishing is possible with a license, or you can try catching some crabs for dinner.

 A better bet is to venture off the island for some Maryland Blue Crabs in Ocean City. Try Waterman’s or Hooper’s for an all you can eat crab feast, or Harborside for the best Crab Club Sandwich. Or you can always grab some grub on OC’s 3-mile boardwalk.

There are also many hotels in Ocean City if you don’t want to camp, or for a small-town experience, head to charming Berlin, where the movie Runaway Bride was filmed.  Stay at the historic Atlantic Hotel, and you just may sleep in Richard Gere’s old bed.

Submitted by Denise from Chef Denise

Assateague MD Wild hourse
Assateague MD image courtesy of Denise from Chef Denise

Cecil County MD/Upper Chesapeake

Cecil Couty MD is probably one of the lesser-known counties in the state but it is perfect for adventure seekers from the DC metropolitan area. Located just off of I-95 and only 2 hours from the capital, Cecil County and the Upper Chesapeake Bay region offer tons of outdoor fun. If you are into boating and bay life, head to Chesapeake City or North East. Both of these cute historic towns offer watersports such as SUP and kayaking as well as awesome fishing and crabbing.

Biking enthusiasts have many options in Cecil County. Road and gravel riders will enjoy the 10-mile ride along the C and D canal from Chesapeake City to Delaware City DE. If mountain biking is your thing, head to Fair Hill Nature Reserve. You will find over 25 miles of mixed-use trails. And riders from all over the mid-Atlantic region rave about the trails. 

And if you travel with your pet, Cecil County is an extremely pet-friendly destination for a getaway from DC. 

Turkey Point, Northeast MD

Charles County, MD

Charles County MD, just 45 minutes from Washington DC is perfect for a mini-road trip or day trip from the nation’s Capitol. And one of the best adventures this rural county offers is kayaking among the Ghost shipwrecks of Mallows Bay.

Situated on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, the shallow waters of Mallows Bay contain the largest collection of wood and steel-hulled shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere. It is one of only 14 sites in the country named as a National Marine Sanctuary by the NOAA.   

Mallows Bay is the final resting place of up to 200 shipwrecks. Their hulls peek out of the waters of the Potomac. The most visible of the vessels is the S.S. Accomac, a steel-hulled ferry used to transport cars and people across the Chesapeake Bay to Virginia before being replaced by the Bay-Bridge Tunnel.

Head to Mallows Bay Park (1440 Wilson Landing Road, Nanjemoy, Maryland). Here you will find a free kayak launch. From here it’s a quick paddle out the ‘shipwreck graveyard.” Plan your visit for low tide as this is when the wrecks are most visible. 

And if hiking is more your style, you can easily observe these sunken relics from the shore. Mallows Bay Park offers several easy trails with a number of vantage points from which to observe the sunken vessels. 

Kayaking at Mallows Bay Park

Ocean City, MD

Roughly 3 hours east of Washington, D.C. lies Ocean City, Maryland – NOT to be confused with Ocean City, New Jersey. A popular destination for families in the surrounding states, Ocean City offers something for everyone, ranging from surfing to family carnival rides. The best time to visit would be during the summer months from May to September as the cold water is a great place to jump into when the heat is too much. For a brief weekend getaway, the best things to do are to go to the beach, jet ski, or kayak in the ocean – you can rent some at Odyssea Watersports – and finish the days off by walking along the boardwalk and visiting the Ocean City Pier for the various family-friendly carnival rides. If you enjoy surfing and less crowded beaches, just a few minutes north of Ocean City lies Fenwick Island State Park which offers great surfing spots, lovely hiking trails, and other family-friendly activities like fishing!

Ocean City is one of the best spots for seafood enthusiasts, ranging from Maryland’s famous Chesapeake Blue Crabs to Jumbo Shrimp. You cannot go to Ocean City without visiting the original Phillips Crab House restaurant and try their Hoopers Island Crab Cakes, as it is a classic and probably the best crab cakes you will ever have! Other honorable mentions are Brass Balls Saloon on the boardwalk, On The Bay Seafood, Fish Tales, and Layton’s Family Restaurant for a family-friendly atmosphere.

In terms of accommodations, there are plenty of hotels that offer ocean views but the best deals will be the hotels just a block or two away from the boardwalk. Brand name hotels like Hilton and Marriott group hotels are usually the highest-rated and very comfy, along with usually being next to the ocean. Other hotels like Castle in the Sand, Grand Hotel & Spa, and Dunes Manor are highly rated and have ocean views as well.”

Submitted by Blair from Expedition Introvert

Ocean City MD

New Jersey

Atlantic City, NJ

Atlantic City, NJ isn’t just for gambling and lazy days on the beach. This coastal resort town just over 3-hours from DC offers great beaches with beach bars, the famed Atlantic City Boardwalk which is perfect for a morning bike ride, tons of watersport activities, and great food and places to drink. 

Ride a bike on the world’s longest boardwalk and the oldest in the US.  Rent a bike from AAAA Bike Shop and pedal from end to end. This 5-mile wood plank promenade has always been the centerpiece of Atlantic City and there’s no better way to see it than on a bicycle. And if you want to extend your ride, roll on into Ventnor. This will tack on three additional miles each way. 

And Atlantic City offers a plethora of watersports including jet skiing on the ocean or bay, windsurfing on Lakes Bay, parasailing high above the beach, and boardwalk and much more

Wildlife enthusiasts and outdoorsy types should try stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking in the back channels. You’re certain to see some shorebirds and perhaps a hawk or even an eagle. 

If you are inclined, you can catch your own dinner. Cast a line at one of the many fishing holes that dot the bay or head out on a fishing boat for the day. Crabbing is a favorite way to score a meal. Atlantic City and the surrounding area offer tons of spots for some great crabbing opportunities. 

End your day of activity with a relaxing sunset cruise. Or if you want to keep the action going, ride the carnival rides on the famed Steel Pier. 

Atlantic City boardwalk

New York, NY

New York City is the perfect road trip destination from Washington DC. The drive is relaxing and just over four hours so easily manageable in one day. Of course, there are endless things to do and see in New York City. As one of the largest and most popular tourist cities in the world, this might not be the first place that comes to mind when it comes to outdoor adventures. However, it might surprise you that there are actually a lot of fun adventure activities to choose from in the Big Apple.

If you enjoy water sports you absolutely need to go Stand-Up-Paddling on the Hudson River. There are a number of different companies that offer this, mostly in groups. You’ll get to see the incredible skyline of New York City from the water as you glide along the river. This is especially beautiful during sunset.

For those that aren’t too keen on water activities bouldering might be a better option. You can actually boulder outdoors in New York right in Central Park. Bouldering is very simple and all you need is some chalk for your hands and good shoes. Bouldering is best done in a group or at least with a partner who can watch out for you if you happen to fall.

Submitted by Victoria of Guide Your Travel

New York City

North Carolina

Asheville, NC

Asheville is a hip and progressive mountain town in Western North Carolina. Commonly referred to as “the San Francisco of the South,” Asheville is known for their large number of breweries and George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate. The downtown area and surrounding mountains leave visitors with plenty to do and see.

The top attraction is the historic Biltmore Estate. Guests can tour the mansion, enjoy the gardens, and explore the 8,000 acres with 22 miles of walking, hiking and biking trails. Lodging is available on-site at The Inn on Biltmore Estate or Village Hotel. The Biltmore Village is another fun stop on the grounds.

One of the best highlights of Asheville is driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, commonly referred to as “America’s Favorite Drive.” The views are second to none and there are plenty of hiking trails. Here are some of the best highlights along the parkway –

  • Chimney Rock
  • North Carolina Arboretum
  • Mount Pisgah
  • Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower
  • Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
  • Skinny Dip Falls
  • Sliding Rock
  • Moore Cove Falls

There are a number of highly recommended restaurants with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding area. Both the Dining Room, a contemporary American restaurant, and Vue 1913, a French American restaurant, have picturesque views and delicious food.

Other recommended downtown highlights are Chicken Alley, the River Arts District, Sunset Terrace, Asheville Emporium and the Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours. The tour will take you through the city’s historic landmarks as well as some of Asheville’s popular rooftop bars.

All this and you are still just getting started with all that Asheville has to offer visitors. 

Submitted by Candice Steele of csginger.com 

Asheville NC Biltmore estate
Asheville, VA image courtesy of Candice Steele of csginger.com 

Outer Banks, NC

One of the best places to visit on a road trip from Washington D.C. is also one of the best beach destinations – the Outer Banks, North Carolina. With stunning sunrises, miles of beaches, historical locations, and adrenaline-pumping activities, there is something for every traveler! 

If you enjoy nature, you can visit the wild horses of the Outer Banks or go bird spotting along Kitty Hawk Bay. Fans of history can visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial or Historic Corolla Park. Many of the attractions on the island are available year-round. If you want to get your heart racing, try jet-skiing, paragliding, or even hang-gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites! Of course, just relaxing on the miles of beach is the perfect way to take a break from the car. Sunrise on the east coast will take your breath away. 

Indulge your sweet tooth with a fresh, homemade donut from Duck Donuts. There are a few locations across the islands.  For a great place to stay, check out First Colony Inn in Nags Head. The home-like atmosphere is within walking distance of the beach. 

Located five hours from Washington DC, the Outer Banks is a great destination for a long weekend or week away!

Submitted by Pamela of The Directionally Challenged Traveler

Outer Banks North Carolina
Outer Banks, NC image courtesy of Pamela of The Directionally Challenged Traveler

With the right travel insurance your adventures don't need to be risky ventures!

Pennsylvania

Central, PA

Located roughly 4-hours from Washington DC, Central Pennsylvania makes a perfect escape for outdoor enthusiasts. However, the sylvan forests and the rugged terrain of Pennsylvania make it a mountain biker’s paradise. And the region known as Happy Valley and State College are full of surprises to discover.

Not far from Penn State’s Main Campus in State College you will find Rothrock State Forest. This state park offers some of the premier riding in Pennsylvania and hosts multiple MTB competitions throughout the year including the seven-day Trans-sylvania Epic, the Wilderness 101 endurance race, and Rothrock Trail Mix. But you don’t need to be a competitive rider to enjoy Rothrock.  With 431 miles of trails distributed across over 96K acres, every rider will find a trail that challenges their abilities.

South of Rothrock is a system of mountain bike trails designed by MTB riders and built in conjunction with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA)  and the Army Corp of Engineers at Raystown Lake. It consists of 24 multi-use trails covering 36-miles. The trails arranged as stacked loops offer sloping, moderate to rigorous inclines, stream crossings, and wildlife viewing areas. 

In addition to the stacked trails, riders can perfect their skills at the Raystown Mountain Bike Skills Park which consists of 2 acres of berms, natural and fabricated features, and some small vertical drops. It’s a nice complement to the Allegrippis Trails.

After a day of MB adventure head back to campus and enjoy one of 120 ice cream and sherbert flavors at Penn State’s own creamery, Berkey Creamery. If you’d rather have a cocktail or beer, visit any one of the off-campus bars. 

Jake's Rocks PA

Laurel Highlands

Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands were born for adventure-seekers. Located about 3-1/2 hours from DC,  this region is home to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania’s largest state forest, and the Great Allegheny Passage, as well as Frank Lloyd Wrights Fallingwater, La Trobe (known for Rolling Rock beer, Arnold Palmer and Mister Rogers) and much more

The region offers premier whitewater rafting and kayaking adventure. Hook-up with an outfitter in the tiny town of Ohiopyle for a thrilling whitewater adventure on the Yough River.

If you are a MTB rider, Seven Springs Mountain Resort’s wintertime ski slopes become downhill mountain biking courses once the snow has melted. If a trail ride is more your speed then consider a ride on a segment of the Great Allegheny Passage along the Youghiogheny River Trail from the tiny town of Ohiopyle to Connellsville. This 17-mile ride crosses a bowstrung truss bridge built upon the piers for the original structure that once carried trains from Cumberland MD to Connellsville PA.

Between Ohiopyle, Linn Runn State Forest, and Forbes State Forest, hikers will find miles and miles of trails that lead to waterfalls, natural waterslides, mountain vistas, and more. Furthermore, whatever your experience level there is a trail to suit.

Nature and award-winning architecture come together at Frank Lloyd Wrights Fallingwater. Take time to tour one of the best-preserved Wright-designed homes. This residence was built to be part of the landscape. After touring the interior, walk the trails surrounding the home. Late May or early June is the ideal time for this as the Mountain Laurel (Pennsylvania’s State flower) is in bloom. 

No matter how you choose to adventure in the Laurel Highlands, an LH Pour Tour is an awesome way to reward yourself for your effort. 

Virginia

Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville, Virginia is packed with a plethora of fun and exciting outdoor activities. At just over 2 hours driving distance from Washington DC, it is the perfect weekend getaway for an adventure road trip. Charlottesville and its surrounding area is a dream destination for hiking enthusiasts, with tons of gorgeous trails to roam and explore. And to make things even better, it has a thriving gastronomical scene. So after an epic day in nature, you can indulge in some culinary excellence!

Spend your weekend days exploring the top nearby hikes. Some of the best trails in the area include the Three Ridges Summit Trail, located along the Appalachian Trail and with stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley, or check out Fortune’s Cove for a more mellow hike. And after all that adventuring, relax and grab some food and drinks at one of the dozens of local breweries. Local favorites include Potters Craft Cider and Devils Backbone where you can soak up great views alongside your meal. 

Finally, be sure to check out the Downtown Mall for some retail therapy and local wares to take home. Charlottesville will not disappoint as one of the best weekend adventure road trip destinations from Washington DC for summer. You’ll be so glad you went.

Submitted by Sumeeta of Sumeeta Seeks

Charlottesville VA

Luray, VA

Luray, Virginia is a natural beauty that stuns visitors with rural landscapes, rolling hills and spectacular vistas. It’s also a crowd-pleasing destination in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for its outdoor adventure activities, like hiking, paddling, horseback riding and off-roading in ATVs. Even better, it’s an easy two-hour road trip from Washington, DC.

Shenandoah National Park’s Thornton Gap entrance is located in Luray, allowing easy access to Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park, including 101 miles of the iconic Appalachian Trail. Hike to 67-foot-tall Rose River Falls, which cools with a refreshingly dreamy swimming hole, or hike to Hawksbill Summit, the park’s highest point, for far-reaching mountain views.

Book a guided horseback trail ride at Skyland Stables to see the Shenandoah Valley from a new perspective; as in, from atop a horse as you trot across an old apple orchard along leafy trails. The more adventurous may want to sign up for rock climbing or rappelling in the national park with Shenandoah Mountain Guides. Paddling and tubing along the meandering Shenandoah River are also quite popular, as are ATV rides on bumpy trails with outfitters like Luray-based Appalachian Adventures.

Stay the weekend in a cozy cabin in Luray, also known as the Cabin Capital of Virginia. You’ll find more than 400 cabins for rent, like Shadow Mountain Escape, which has four elegant timber frame cabins, each with exposed beams and cozy fireplaces.

Submitted by Erin of Go Hike Virginia

Lurray VA
Hawksbill Summit in Luray image courtesy of Erin Gifford of Go Hike Virginia

Roanoke, VA

Adventure-lovers can enjoy a huge range of outdoor activities in Roanoke Virginia and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains on a long weekend escape from Washington DC. Here you’ll find fantastic hiking, paddling, cycling, and some of the best mountain biking in the Eastern U.S.

Terrific hiking spots surround Roanoke, from the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Fit hikers can tackle the Appalachian Trail Triple Crown—McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth—just 15 miles outside the city. For an easier all-ages adventure, hike the very scenic Cascade Falls loop trail which follows a pretty stream to a gorgeous waterfall. The region is also a designated IMBA Silver-Level Ride Center, one of only 16 in the world. Mountain bikers can tackle trails for every skill level at Mill Mountain, Carvins Cove, and Explore Park.

Stay downtown in the historic Hotel Roanoke for easy access to the hip, walkable downtown. After a day of adventure, stroll into town for a casual dinner at Alejandros and craft beer at Big Lick Brewing. Or spend a day exploring the city’s unique museums featuring everything from contemporary art to giant trains to pinball machines. Roanoke is a 4-hour drive from DC, and with so much to do, you’ll want to allow several days for your visit.

Submitted by Julie McCool of Fun in Fairfax VA

Cascade Falls Roanoke VA
Cascade Falls in Roanoke VA image courtesy of Julie McCool of Fun in Fairfax VA

Williamsburg and Jamestown, VA

The perfect road trip from Washington DC is to take in some of the history-filled coastline two hours south of the Capital. Take a trip to Williamsburg and Jamestown for a long weekend filled with immersive historical experiences.

In the 1700s, Williamsburg, together with Jamestown and Yorktown was the capital of the Virginia Colony At the center of the town is Colonial Williamsburg, a reconstructed living museum filled with homes and shops where visitors can stroll the streets passing actors in period costume, and discover what life would have been like for the residents three hundred years ago.

Drive 40-minute south of Williamsburg to discover more America’s earliest days at Jamestown where European settlers first arrived. Start at the Jamestown Settlement where you can explore a reconstructed village and learn about the first settlers and the hardships they endured here. If you’re traveling with kids, this is ideal for a family holiday to the USA  with real gunshots being fired and ships to clamber aboard.

After getting your fill of costumed actors and early American History, you’ll be ready for a bit of adventure. The ziplines and Treetop Adventures at Go Ape Williamsburg is the perfect place to go, well, ape! The 600-foot zipline and 30+ obstacles, including a Tarzan Swing make for a fun adventure. If freefalling is your thing, they offer the 40-foot Monkey drop with a 10-foot freefall experience. Kids and those who are not quite sure about aerial activities can try the Treetop Journey, a shorter obstacle course with lower platforms but all the fun of the Treetop Adventure. And if you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, try your hand, or should I say arm at ax throwing.

Submitted by Nichola of Globalmouse Travels

Jamestown VA
Jamestown VA image courtesy of Nichola West of Family Hotel Expert

West Virginia

Harper’s Ferry, WV

The perfect adventure from Washington, D.C. is located only an hour away in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Found at the crossroads of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, Harpers Ferry is also located where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers cross. Due to the short drive, this is a great option for a weekend getaway from D.C. And even better, Amtrak has a train station here, so it is easily accessible even without a car.

There are no chain hotels in Harpers Ferry, but there are numerous Bed and Breakfasts and inns in town, including Rockhaven B&B, a charming B&B with three unique suites to choose from. Some of the best places to eat are Hamilton’s Tavern 1840, The Rabbit Hole, and Battle Grounds Bakery and Coffee.

Harpers Ferry is most popular for its National Historical Park and the fact that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located here. These attractions, combined with the proximity to two rivers, make it an ideal spot for many outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, tubing, and white-water rafting. For the best hike with a view, the Maryland Heights Overlook Trail is one of the most popular, if challenging hikes. For water activities, kayaking is the way to go. Harpers Ferry is the perfect weekend getaway for those seeking outdoor adventures only a short drive away from Washington, D.C.

Submitted by Jordan Cierra Bradford from The Solo Life

Harpers Ferry West VIrginia
Harpers Ferry WV image courtesy of Jordan Cierra Bradford from The Solo Life
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Best adventure road trips from Washington DC

Susan Decoteau-Ferrier

Travel writer/blogger, photographer. Avid potter and wanna-be artist. Wife, Mom to 6 fur kids, gardener, coffee snob.

21 Comments:

  1. Lots of great road trip options! I’m going to check out OBX and Asheville for sure this summer!

  2. I love the DC area and am so excited that you showed me some really great places that I can explore as well. Thanks for all the information!

  3. Erin from Pina Travels

    This is such great road trip inspo for when I can finally visit DC! I would love to drive out to see the Cascade Falls in Roanoke, they look gorgeous. Thanks for this helpful post!

  4. Really great collection of places to visit. I hope I can return to the states soon and explore some of them.

  5. Puloma Banerjee

    Those were exciting toad trip accounts. Didn’t know Pennsylvania had biking trails. Also found the tree top adventure exciting! Can’t wait to see it!

  6. I absolutely LOVE road trips and this post was so thorough! Definitely pinning for next time I’m on the east coast. Thank you!

  7. I absolutely LOVE road trips and this post was so thorough! Definitely pinning for next time I’m on the east coast. Thank you!

  8. Very thorough round-up of destinations. I didn’t realize these were all so close to DC!

    • I’m not sure people from other parts of the country know this either. And certainly, visitors from other places in the world don’t know. I find that non-Americans think the US is NYC and LA. This is funny because I think they are the two most non-representative places in the US.

  9. We don’t live in the area, so have really only spentna day here and there in DC and Ocean City. Thanks for these ideas for when we find ourselves back in MD!

  10. Considering the way the world is right now with covid it is best to stick closer to home. Who needs to travel overseas anyway when you have such fabulous road trips on your doorstep! Great selection in this post.

  11. Can’t really argue with any of those recommendations. I think I would have put in the Blue Ridge Parkway as a destination its self.

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