Exploring Washington DC Bike Paths

Trails and Rails To Trails

In the year since I starting cycling with my husband, we’ve ridden on bike paths in local national parks, like the Mount Vernon Trail and Rock Creek Park, and on rails-to-trails bike paths, like the Capital Crescent Trail and the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. I generally prefer the rails-to-trails paths because they are wider, but it is nice to have so much variety and so many options to choose from. Here are some of our favorite Washington DC bike paths.

1. Rock Creek Park. One cool thing about Rock Creek Park is that they close many of the roads through the park on weekends, so you can ride from end to end without having to ride in traffic. When I tried to plot a route on the park map, it was too confusing, so we decided to just go, follow others, and see where we ended up. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that we had ridden all the way from Georgetown through the city to Maryland!

Washington DC Bike Paths

Of course, a hot 20 mile ride needs a frosty recovery drink!

Part of the trail was very narrow with sharp twists and turns, and many places were rutted with tree roots, so it’s not our favorite place to ride, but the shade made it nice on a hot summer day.

2. The Capital Crescent Trail. The Capital Crescent Trail also starts (or ends) in Georgetown and takes a different route to Maryland. The path is a steady climb on the way out and I have to shift into my highest gear to make myself pedal on the way back.

Washington DC Bike Paths

Even though I had my worst bike wreck on this path, it is one of my favorites because it is mostly shady and there are only a few intersections towards the Chevy Chase end where I have to unclip and watch for cross-traffic. (The trail goes further, but switches from a paved path to a gravel path, so we always stop at the end of the pavement in Chevy Chase.)

3. The Washington and Old Dominion Trail. The Washington and Old Dominion Trail (also called the “W O & D”) is the longest paved bike path in the Washington, D.C. area. It starts near the Shirlington section of Arlington and goes all the way out to Purceville–40 miles! We are working up to a 75 mile (round trip) ride from Shirlington to Leesburg, which we hope to do to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So far, our longest ride was 42 miles, from Vienna to the outskirts of Leesburg.

This path is nice to ride on because it is wide and smoothly paved. The ride is different depending on where you are. From Shirlington to Falls Church, it’s mostly flat (although it does have a subtle, steady incline) with a number of busy intersections with cross traffic. Around Falls Church, there are several steep hills and more intersections. From Falls Church to Vienna there are long stretches that are relatively flat with few cross-streets. The Garmin data above shows the hill profile from Vienna to Leesburg. Some of those are hills and some are overpasses. At least that part of the trail has more shade.

4. The Mount Vernon Trail. I feel like I grew up on the Mount Vernon Trail. I have childhood memories of riding my bike along the shady, twisty part of the trail near Mount Vernon, and imagining all sorts of stories around the Civil War “ruins.” We usually start our ride at Shirlington and get on the Mount Vernon Trail right near the airport. On this day we rode south t0 Belle Haven.

Washington DC Bike Paths

The Mount Vernon Trail is one of my favorite places to run, but it’s not my favorite place to ride my bike. The section from Old Town north to Roosevelt Island is usually very crowded on weekends, but the path isn’t as wide as the W O & D or Capital Crescent, so passing walkers, runners, roller bladers and other cyclists can be hairy. The north end of the path is in the full sun, although there usually is a breeze off the Potomac River. The section from Old Town south to Mount Vernon is less crowded, but even narrower–or maybe the steeper hills and sharper curves just make it seem that way.  The south end of the path is very shady, so it is a good place to ride on hot day.

Which of these Washington DC bike paths do you think you’d like best? 

Do you have different paths that you can walk/run/ride on?

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7 Responses to Exploring Washington DC Bike Paths

  1. Miz says:

    I spent time with family this past weekend who live near you and LOVE the bike paths etc (he works for the govt).
    Id love to WALK them all 🙂

  2. It's been years since I've been to DC. Beautiful area to run and bike. Super jealous of all your paths!

  3. We don't have trails like that here – I would love to run on any of those trails that you described.

  4. Yum Yucky says:

    Hmmm. Wasn't there a song about Rock Creek Park back in the 70's? It went something like this: "doing it in the park, doing it after dark, ohh yeah. Rock Creek Park! Ohh yeah!" I'm sure they were talking about cycling. 100% certain.

  5. amandafolk says:

    DC isn't very far from Philly! I'd love to head down and check out those trails. The The Capital Crescent Trail looks TOUGH, but it'd be fun to conquer! Plus, I'd love to visit Georgetown.

  6. David H. says:

    There's a bike route that's partially finished between Richmond and Williamsburg that will one day be fully connected… would love to try that out. Now that I read this, it would be pretty cool to see Northern Va. and Richmond connected. There's got to be space for it paralleling 95 and the Amtrak tracks, right?

  7. amyc08 says:

    I'd love all those options for running – I like to run on the paved bike paths best!!

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