Biking the C&O Canal near Brunswick
The entire 184-mile towpath makes for an epic bike ride, but the manageable eight miles from charming Brunswick, Md. — about an hour’s drive northwest of the District — to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is one of the most picturesque stretches. (The towpath’s first 20 miles are the most traveled, so for a socially distant experience you’ll need to drive further out.) On a recent Sunday, my quarantine crew of husband, 18-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son and I find the Brunswick parking lot nearly vacant. Minutes later we’re pedaling along the pleasant gravel trail, with the Potomac shimmering on one side, the B&O Railroad tracks and ruins of the locks on the other.
Gold-tinged grasses and watercolor wildflowers edge the trail, nodding in the breeze. At some spots we hear laughter from people tubing and rafting; further upriver there’s only rushing rapids and birdsong. The towpath is all-embracing. You can take it easy or fast; run, stroll or roll with any kind of bike. It suits families and all ages. Frequent short, steep paths lead to the river. We stop for a snack at the Huckleberry Hill campground, where the water laps a rocky slope.
As we near Harpers Ferry, the rugged vertical cliff of Maryland Heights, a Civil War site, towers above. We peer across the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers and catch sight of the historical town, its brick storefronts glowing in the slanting sun. That’s as close as we can get. The footbridge over the water is closed indefinitely, following damage from a December train derailment.
Back in Brunswick, we brush off the dust and treat ourselves at the Towpath Creamery.
Biking the Anacostia River Trail
Whether you start in Maryland or the District, this underused trail sweeps cyclists, dog-walkers and runners through meadows and wetlands so wide open and scenic they make that home office/dining-room table you’re sick of seem 100 miles away.
From our home, we bike to the nearby Sligo Creek trail and hook up with the Northwest Branch trail, which joins the Anacostia. Less than an hour later we’re at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, having lunch in the rustic wooden pavilion by the fishing pier. In the past we’ve come upon festivals and concerts here, but now we’re all but alone, save a few other cyclists watching the turtles, ducks and herons that dot the river.
Hiking Rock Creek Park on the Western Ridge Trail
If you start on the north end of this trail on the western border of the park (we parked near Picnic Area 13, off Ridge Road NW), you’ll find this trail offers a generally easy, forested meander. It takes you to Peirce Mill, where the old stone mill is closedbecause of the virus outbreak but the setting is transportive as ever, with its orchard, carriage barn and dam that creates a waterfall for the adjacent creek.
One Saturday evening, my husband and I continue on past picnic areas hosting small parties. Around a bend, couples watch the sunset or throw Frisbees. These areas are lively but not crowded, and there’s ample room for social distancing. The trail is only lightly traveled. It gets more technical a mile or so on, with steep climbs and rocky descents. We scramble up to a parallel ridge for the hike back, passing gatherings that are now bathed in amber light. It’s uplifting in so many ways.