Winter’s brutal persistence has verged on the comical this year, but we’re finally entering that fleeting phase of Washington weather when everything seems glorious. The temperature is climbing, the cherry blossoms are primed for a comeback, and we’re weeks away from the swampiness that envelops the District in the summertime.
What better time to lace up your sneakers and hit the trails? There are easy nature walks and legitimately tough hikes for those seeking fresh air and adventure. Here are some local favorites:
Great Falls: Billy Goat Trail
This is not your average stroll through the forest. The aptly named Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls Park will require you to climb over big rocks. If that’s not for you, Great Falls has plenty of options for adventures that aren’t quite so rugged. But if you’re game for a bit of a scramble, Billy Goat Trail is a local favorite.
As one online reviewer put it, this is the trail to pick if you want to feel like Spiderman. It’s also beautiful and promises lovely views of the Potomac River and surrounding wooded vistas. For the locals who already know and love this spot, the National Park Service sometimes looks for volunteer trail stewards. Check the NPS Web site for opportunities.
Shenandoah: Little Devils Stairs and Limberlost Trail
If you’ve already mastered the Billy Goat Trail and want something more challenging — and a longer road trip outside D.C. — Shenandoah National Park is the place to go. You’ll find Little Devils Stairs at the gravelly end of Route 614. This hike is strenuous, steep and unusual. Especially in early springtime, you’ll see lots of waterfalls around the trail. A word of warning from the National Park Service: Don’t try this one right after it rains because you won’t be able to navigate the streams that the trail crosses in multiple spots. No matter when you go, be prepared to climb over big rocks.
For something a little less grueling at Shenandoah, consider Limberlost Trail. It’s just over a mile long and is recommended for people of all ages. The path is about 5-feet wide, and you’ll be treated to lush forest views and — depending on the time of year — fresh blooming mountain laurel.
Rock Creek Park: Rapids Bridge Loop, Western Ridge Trail and more
Rock Creek Park is a classic for a reason. And now that the snow is gone, it’s a perfect time to hit up some familiar trails. Then again, there’s probably plenty you haven’t seen in Rock Creek Park. It’s easy to stick to the same well-worn paths — there are so many good ones! — but the park spans some 2,000 acres. (That’s more than twice as big as Central Park.)
You could hit up the two-mile Rapids Bridge Loop, which the National Park Service touts as one of Rock Creek Park’s most beautiful paths. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer and foxes, which like to hang out around here.
For a quick but peaceful jaunt through the woods, try the shortcut from Woodley Park to Georgetown on Normanstone Trail. With just a few gentle slopes, this walk is easy for most people, and it’s a favorite among dog walkers. Depending on where you choose to exit, you’ll wind up in the picnic-perfect Montrose Park next to Dumbarton Oaks, which is somehow rarely crowded.
If you’re up for a longer walkabout, try the 4.5-mile Western Ridge Trail, which runs north-south across the park. The other major north-south route is the Valley Trail, which runs along Rock Creek and Beach Drive. Most of the other trails are connectors between those two main trails, which means you can get as creative as you’d like in creating your own loop-de-loops between the two.
All in all, there are some 32 miles of trails in Rock Creek Park, according to the National Park Service. You can get trail maps online, or at the Nature Center.
Adrienne LaFrance is a freelance writer.