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Washington area bike trails: W&OD Trail from Leesburg to Purcellville

Bikers on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail make the turn at Simpson Circle, just west of Leesburg. A nearby stone arch bridge is a good place for a water break.
Bikers on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail make the turn at Simpson Circle, just west of Leesburg. A nearby stone arch bridge is a good place for a water break. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

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Friday, April 30, 2010

W&OD from Leesburg to Purcellville

Surface type: Paved.

Distance: About 20 miles round trip.

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Degree of difficulty: Easy to moderate.

Detailed map available at: http://www.wodfriends.org.

The Washington & Old Dominion Trail runs more than 40 miles from Arlington to Purcellville, but it is the 10 miles from Leesburg to Purcellville that is arguably the best stretch of railroad-turned-bike path. There are fewer people to share the path with, and the stretch is bookended by linger-worthy destinations full of small-town charm.

Leesburg dates to 1758, and much of the town looks as if it is caught in an antebellum time warp. Find a parking spot in town, and take time to linger in the antiques shops and boutiques that line King Street.

Pick up the W&OD where it crosses South King near South Street SW, close to mile marker 34.5. The first couple of miles of trail wind behind suburban developments before snaking through dense woods.

There is a two-mile detour around mile marker 36. Mostly uphill -- though not steeply -- and with no shade, it is the most difficult portion of the ride. Still, the effort going out is rewarded by the thrill on the return, when you can practically fly down the hills as the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass fills your nostrils.

The trail is named after the W&OD Railroad, which operated from 1859 to 1968. Reminders of its heyday can still be seen along the trail. Take a break near mile marker 38 under the cool shade of a stone arch bridge that dates to the late 1800s.

As you get to Purcellville, the trail follows Route 7. The busy highway can be distracting, but look to the right to be rewarded with views of bucolic farmland and, in the distance, the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains.

The trail ends at Purcellville's quaint, sunshine yellow train station, built in 1904. Make a left and follow North 21st Street to the Purcellville Family Restaurant (110 W. Main St.) for an ice-cold pink lemonade. This place bursts with small-town charm. Bluegrass CDs by a local artist are sold at the cash register, faded concert posters immortalize the likes of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, and the regulars are quick with conversation.

When you get back to Leesburg, be sure to reward yourself with a frosty beer and bratwurst at Doener Bistro (202 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg). The small restaurant has an outdoor deck perfect for relaxing after your trip.


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