hiking | biking trails
BILLY GOAT TRAIL, SECTION A
There are three sections of the Billy Goat Trailin the C&O Canal National Historical Park inPotomac. Section A, running from Great Fallstoward Old Angler’s Inn, is the most popular—andmost rigorous. Roughly 4 miles round-trip, this hiketakes two to three hours and provides stunningviews of Great Falls and the Potomac River below.
The trail begins near the Great Falls Tavern VisitorCenter, and continues straight along the PotomacRiver for roughly 2 miles of varied terrain, from dirttrails through thick forests to rock scrambles. Savetime by taking the C&O Canal towpath back to theparking lot, or savor the views again by retracingyour steps.
ROCK CREEK PARK
Those looking for an escape into the naturalworld can find it in their backyards—sometimesliterally—with the 2,000-acre Rock Creek Park,which abuts many neighborhoods in Silver Springand Chevy Chase. Pick up the Western RidgeTrail on Beach Drive, near the Washington, D.C.,line, and follow the green-blazed, 4-plus-mile trailthrough the heart of the park. Side trails lead tothe park’s Nature Center and Planetarium, at 5200
Glover Road NW, or the Smithsonian National Zoo
at 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, both in the District.
Or stick to the path as it winds through thickly
forested woods, and you’ll forget you’re in the city
MONONGAHELA NATIONAL FOREST
Those looking to escape summer crowds might
want to drive a couple extra hours beyond
We may live in a major metropolitan area, but getting close to nature is easy.
Here are some of the region’s best hiking and biking routes.
Shenandoah National Park to Monongahela
National Forest in West Virginia. The roughly
7-mile, three- to four-hour Cowpasture Trail loopoffers something for history-seekers and would-be botanists alike. From the Cranberry MountainNature Center, walk northeast on Route 150 untilit meets up with crumbling blacktop, the site ofthe old Mill Point Federal Prison Camp, a 1930swork camp with no bars, fences or barricades.
(The remote location was thought to be enoughto prevent escapes.) Follow the Cowpasture Trailas it leads into the woods and eventually meetsup with the boardwalk through the CranberryGlades, a series of five peat bogs created duringthe last glacial period. The area’s acidic soilsupports plant life more commonly found inCanada than in the Mid-Atlantic region, includingcranberry vines and carnivorous plants. Afterfollowing the boardwalk around, meet up withRoute 150 again and retrace your steps back tothe nature center. It’ll take you four hours to driveback to Bethesda, so consider reserving a spotto pitch a tent at the Cranberry Campground forthe evening.
OLD RAG MOUNTAIN
The 9.2-mile Old Rag loop near Sperryville,Virginia, is as much a warm-weather D.C. traditionas the National Cherry Blossom Festival. But beforewarned: On sunny summer days, the routeto the 3,291-foot mountain gets as crowdedas the Beltway during rush hour, so start thehour-and-45-minute drive from Bethesda early.
The hike starts in the Old Rag parking lot. From
there, walk less than a mile uphill along State
Road 600, then follow the blue-blazed Ridge Trail
through several switchbacks to the first of many
viewpoints at the 2-mile mark. The fun begins less
than a mile later, when you scramble over a series
of rock formations for the last mile of the trail.
This includes shimmying through a narrow crevicein a large rock formation and walking through asmall cave. Continue to follow the blue blazes tothe summit for expansive views of ShenandoahNational Park, then follow the blue-blazed trailand map directions to get back down. With steep,uneven pathways and inevitable stops for photoopportunities, it’s wise to set aside an entire dayfor the hike. (No pets allowed.) Families with youngkids may want to view the National Park Servicevideo detailing the dangers associated with thehike before planning a trip.
This 1,282-foot mountain in Dickerson—just a
35-minute drive from Bethesda—has arguablysome of the best hiking in the area. Try the 7-mileloop around the base of the mountain, open tohikers and horseback riders year-round and bikersfrom Memorial Day through Labor Day, weekdaysonly. Follow the 5-mile blue trail from the Westviewparking lot through a thick forest of oak, tulip poplarand Eastern hemlock trees. Or take a quarter-milehike on the green trail from the Westview parkinglot to the summit. With 15 miles of trails within therecreation area, visitors have plenty of well-markedoptions to shorten the route. Stop for a winetasting at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard on ComusRoad, near the entrance to the recreation area,before heading home.
Looking for something less strenuous than OldRag? Try the three-hour, 4.6-mile out-and-backWhiteoak Canyon hike, also in ShenandoahNational Park. Highlights include some of the park’shighest waterfalls and multiple swimming holes.
Start at the Whiteoak Parking Area along SkylineDrive and follow the Whiteoak Canyon Falls Traildownhill. The trail will eventually parallel WhiteoakRun, a babbling stream you’ll follow until you reachUpper Whiteoak Falls. Stop to admire the 86-footcascade, the highest of the Whiteoak falls, andcool down in one of the swimming holes below itbefore heading back. Intrepid hikers may want tocontinue on to the lower falls, adding 2. 7 miles(and a 1,100-foot change in elevation) round trip totheir journey. You’ll be hiking uphill on the way back,though, so conserve your energy. As with Old Rag,it’s best to arrive early to avoid congestion.
fitness & beauty
A beautiful vista fromSugarloaf Mountain