IT’S THE FASTEST way to get out of D.C. physically and mentally,” says Washington Area Bicyclist Association‘s Ben West about the pebbly path. “Within 10 minutes of riding, you’re out there in the green.” The 184-mile trail begins in Georgetown and parallels the Potomac River until it reaches Cumberland, Md. Nature abounds: Turtles sunbathe on logs and hawks swoop from trees.

Birds to Beware: Ride carefully around the geese that block the trail every now and again. They’re not so bike-friendly.

» Explore a full list of the year’s winners at the Best of 2009 index.

Photo by Frank Johnston for The Washington Post