You don't have to be Lance Armstrong to bike the Mount Vernon Trail. Frankly, the scenic ride is more suited for the weekend warrior pedaling for fitness while savoring skyline views of our nation's capital.
The paved route follows the Potomac River's Virginia-side shoreline from Theodore Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon, and the skill level required is so minimal that even the most athletically challenged can enjoy at least a portion of the ride. The trail was constructed in 1973 and is one of the older bike paths in the area.
The fun starts at Theodore Roosevelt Island, where there's parking (arrive early!) and room to unload your gear. Bikes can't be ridden on the island, so bring a lock -- and some mosquito repellant -- if you plan to explore the 91 acres of marsh, swamp and forest before spinning your wheels.
Slow down as you reach the heart of Old Town. Here, you can dismount in Founders Park to join a game of volleyball and check out the street performers by the water. For a different kind of show, head over to Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, where all the frozen flavors are created from scratch with chocolate, caramel, nuts and candies. (It's like a scene out of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," sans oompa loompas.) Pop's only takes cash so make certain you pack a few bucks.
Just down from the ice cream shop, Big Wheel Bikes is all too happy to adjust your seat or gears if you need a tuneup. And if you, heaven forbid, wind up with a flat tire, it can fix that for $15. Once you've finished exploring Old Town, get back on the trail and head south for some history.
The construction around the Woodrow Wilson Bridge makes it a little confusing (and some days, this section of the trail may be rerouted and access could be limited; for updates, visit http://www.wilsonbridge.com/ ), but just follow the signs and go under the bridge to find Jones Point Lighthouse. Originally constructed in 1856, the beacon was decommissioned in 1926 and relit in 1995. You can't go inside, but you can sit on the shore and watch the boats pass.
The final stretch of trail has one particular incline that may prove challenging, but once you're over the hill, you can coast to George Washington's 500-acre estate. Lock up your bike and prepare to stand in line. Or skip the tour and make your way to the restaurant for some fried green tomato parmesan, followed by what else? Cherry pie.
--Karen Hart ("Road Trip" for the Sunday Source, July 2, 2006)
18.5 miles from Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon
Dogs are allowed on the trail.
Restrooms are available at various rest areas.