On beautiful days like this, when the Capital Weather Gang says the sky will be clear and the high temperature in the 60s, it seems a shame for our travels to be confined to cars or subway tunnels. Let’s look at more scenic — and healthier — ways to get around in the D.C. area. For Sunday’s Commuter page in The Post, I want to build a list of 20 trails worth trying.
Even within the confines of one of the nation’s most populous regions, there are plenty of choices for a top 20 trails list. So I’ve asked cyclists, hikers and outdoors people I know for their suggestions to narrow it down. Please join in. Some trails are so popular for walking, biking and in some cases for commuting that they’re on everybody’s list. Others are less well known, but their proponents urge we give them a try.
Build on the current list or talk about your own experiences on one of these choices.
Capital Crescent Trail
The Capital Crescent is complete for seven miles from Georgetown to Bethesda as a 10-foot asphalt trail. Heading east along the old railroad bed known as the Georgetown Branch it’s crushed stone to Lyttonsville, then two-miles on a road bike route to downtown Silver Spring. Construction of the Purple Line transitway could make this a hard surface trail into Silver Spring, where it would link to the future path of the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station. See trail maps.
Metropolitan Branch Trail
The north-south Metropolitan Branch Trail is paved and open between Franklin Street and New York Avenue in the District. Red Line riders see it when they look right out of trains from Glenmont heading downtown. The trail is an alternative commuter route, with a built-in work out. Eventually it will link the full eight miles between Silver Spring and Union Station, with its bike service center..
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath is the mega trail, stretching 184.5 miles from Georgetown west along the north side of the Potomac River to Cumberland, Md. Take smaller bites. I like to get out beyond the crowds at Great Falls and walk from the parking area at Pennyfield Lock, south of River Road, about three miles west to Seneca Creek.
Cross County Trail
Fairfax’s Cross County stretches from Great Falls Park in the north more than 40 miles south to Occoquan Regional Park and offers a variety of experiences for walkers and bikers. It’s reachable from the Vienna or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations, or from the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
The paved Washington & Old Dominion Trail runs 45 miles along an old rail bed between Purcellville in the west and Shirlington, near Interstate 395’s Exit 6.
The Custis Trail in Arlington links the W& OD Trail to the west with the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac. It’s also a convenient route for biking commuters to reach Rosslyn and the District.
Mount Vernon Trail
The very popular Mount Vernon Trail connects the Rosslyn area in the north with Mount Vernon, about 18 miles to the south along the Potomac River. My favorite is the quieter part south of the Capital Beltway. The Roosevelt Bridge provides a link used by commuters on foot or on bikes. You can link up with Metrorail at Rosslyn, Arlington Cemetery, Reagan National Airport and Braddock Road. Be cautious around the construction at the Humpback Bridge, which should be done in late spring.
Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Trail
Try the 5.6 miles of 10-foot wide rail trail between Route 450 in Glenn Dale northeast to the Patuxent River. See a pdf trail map.
Wilson Bridge Trail
You’re not far from the cars and trucks, but this trail on the north side of the Wilson Bridge offers some spectacular views of Washington and Old Town Alexandria. On the Virginia side, it links with the Mount Vernon Trail, Route 1 and Old Town. The east side ends at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.
Here are some suggestions for further exploration.
Chris Eatough, the program manager at BikeArlington.
He says his personal favorite is the Grand Tour of Arlington. This is 18 miles, all off street trail. It uses the Custis Trail, Mount Vernon Trail, Four Mile Run Trail, W&OD Trail. Great mix of surroundings, including urban, suburban, rural, riverfront and even some hills. See a pdf map.
His suggestions included Marvin Gaye Park Trail. This relatively new and well-maintained trail meanders through D.C. neighborhoods. It winds a bit and is great for families, he said. It's a 1.6-mile-long area of Northeast Washington formerly known as Watts Branch Park and rededicated in 2006.
He endorses selections above, but adds detail:
C&O Towpath. It’s unpaved, but many people don’t realize they can bike to a free campsite for the weekend, or that those looking for a long ride can take the C&O to White’s Ferry, take the boat across for $1, bike a couple miles into Leesburg, and pick up the W&OD back to the Custis for a full loop. (It’s nearly 100 miles altogether.)
Georgetown Branch/Capital Crescent Trail Extension. “I’m always surprised at the number of people who think the CCT stops in Bethesda. In fact, it continues through a tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue and on toward Silver Spring. It’s a less crowded, though unpaved, option for those seeking a bit more space than the Georgetown to Bethesda portion.”
Fairfax Cross County Trail. “This trail spans the county, alternating paved and unpaved, with a few stream crossings that might require cyclists to dismount and walk. But it’s a regionally less-known trail that passes through all types of landscapes. (There is a portion closed until June beneath the Dulles Toll Road, but still an excellent trail.)”
Jim Sebastian, a transportation planner with the District Department of Transportation.
He said some of the most underrated trails are along the Anacostia in the District and Maryland. The Anacostia Tributary Trails are 25 miles of stream valley trails in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. You can ride from Wheaton to Bladensburg to College Park. Also, there are a few miles complete in the District, mainly near RFK Stadium.
The Anacostia Tributary Trails also were on Farthing’s list. Of them, he said: “This network is comprised of a number of trails (Sligo Creek, NW Branch, NE Branch, Paint Branch, Indian Head). This network of trails through Montgomery and Prince George’s County and the District is beautiful, and provides excellent connections throughout the inner suburbs.”
Bruce Wright, chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.
He added these recommendations:
Lake Fairfax Park and Colvin Run Stream Valley Park. This is a popular mountain bike loop that starts in Reston. It’s also used by many hikers, although for shorter sections. Most cyclists park in the lot across from the ice skating rink, Skatequest, on Michael Faraday Court. The trail is mostly unpaved and winds through Lake Fairfax Park, continues along Colvin Run Stream Valley Park, connects to the Cross County Trail and the W&OD Trail back to Michael Faraday Court.
Lake Thoreau Loop Trail. It’s a very popular paved walking trail that connects surrounding neighborhoods with the South Lakes Village Center. People use it for recreation, dog walking, running, and shopping at the center.