Amid all the world’s disasters, problems and conflicts, is there still time for recreation and enjoyment? You bet. Here is a non-comprehensive list of biking trails in the Washington, DC area.
Trails are generally safer than riding on the roads, but they pose special dangers, too. With people, families and little toddlers walking all over the trails, there is a greater chance of a crash, but, of course, it is less likely to be as serious as something that would happen on the roads. The side of the trail, the lip, often poses special dangers to cyclists. If it is raised by half an inch or more, you can crash by trying to come back on the trail too quickly if you go off the side. What often happens is that a cyclist sees he’s off the trail and is already pulling back on, causing the tire to hit at a sharp angle and the rider to go down. You have to try to counteract the impulse to steer the bike right back to the trail.
Some trails in the DC area, such as the W&OD, do allow enough space for all out road riding and even drafting. Cyclists need to be aware, however, that these are shared spaces and that others have the right to use the trail without being threatened with danger. Courtesy almost always wins friends. Enjoy.
Baltimore, & Annapolis Trail: This is a paved trail that goes all the way from Annapolis to BWI Airport. You can loop around the airport and return to Annapolis, if you want to add to your ride. The trail is often crowded in some sections during the weekends. Generally, scenic and enjoyable. DANGEROUS road crossings where motorists are going 30, 40 mph and above. Use great care and don’t barrel across the roads, ever. 13 miles, one way. Parking on both ends of the trail
BWI Trail: Loop around Baltimore-Washington International Airport. About 11 miles. You can hit this trail from the Baltimore & Annapolis or park near the airport and just do the loop around it. Fun watching airplanes land at BWI from the park. Much of the trail is out in direct sunlight, so it can be quite hot in summer days.
Washington & Old Dominion Trail: This 45 mile long rail trail is one of the DC areas top, long rides. There are long sections under shaded trees near Leesburg and going into Purcellville, as well as long sections in direct sunlight. A ride out from Alexandria to Purcellville and back would give you an 90 mile RT. The trail passes through or near lots of suburban development, so you can find places to eat along the way. Leesburg has eating establishments not far from the trail, too.
The Custis Trail: The Custis Trail goes next to I-66 through Arlington, VA., connecting the W&OD with DC’s downtown. 4 miles.
Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath: This 184 mile long trail to Cumberland, Maryland, is the ultimate ride for campers and vacationing casual cyclists. Much of the trail is loose, fine gravel, which generally doesnâ€t cause too much trouble for cyclists. The very narrow racing tires might not be suited for the entire distance. There were some short sections that required carrying a bike, but these could have changed in recent times. The C&O Towpath is a National Park. A freeway was proposed to cover part of it in the 1960s, but a campaign by Chief Justice Douglas and Attorney General Robert Kennedy and others managed to reverse the plans and preserve the canal, which was started during George Washington’s time to provide a link to the “interior” of the new nation.
Mount Vernon Trail: If you want a good, long taste of the glory that is your nation’s capital, this trail is for you. It is paved, can be narrow in spots with fast, serious cyclists bearing down on casual riders. People, including families with strollers, use this trail, too, so be aware and careful. 18 miles. Can be reached by crossing Key Bridge following the end of the Capital Crescent.
Rock Creek Hiker/Biker Trail: This trail starts at the northern end at Lake Needwood, a public park and recreation area east and south of Rockville, Maryland. Most of the ride is under heavy tree cover. The trail is paved, but has some rough spots and gullies. During the warmer months, the trail is a tour of Washington, DC at play as it passes through various park areas. The trail slopes generally downward heading into DC and gently upward if you are heading north.
Capital Crescent Trail: This is the most popular trail in the DC area and it affords sections where biker riders are the majority and others where walkers, skaters and families predominate. There has been controversy about cyclists going too fast on this trail, so a speed limit of 15 mph was imposed, but it seems to be loosely enforced. If you want to hammer in the sections without much foot traffic, no one is likely to bother you, but be aware that people can step onto the trail from the side at any time. One complaint of trail users is that cyclists donâ€t signal or shout out that they are passing, causing a scare for those who are passed too closely. Bladers also use the trail, sweeping their blades back and forth and reducing the safe area for cyclists.
Sligo Creek and Branch Trails 20 miles (+/-) of paved trails through what is generally park land. Many riders jump over to the nearby streets in some sections.
North Bethesda Trail: Rockville, Maryland to Bethesda. Md. 4 miles.
There are other trails available, both active and planned. The DC area offers one of the best riding environments in the nation, with the beauty of the Maryland and Virginia countryside available in half an hour or less of driving from the middle of the city. While cyclists do encounter some hostility in the more rural areas, drivers are generally becoming more accustomed to cyclists on the road and, in the main, are willing to allow space. Many roads, however, are becoming overcrowded and in those conditions riding becomes questionable and dangerous. The best advice: talk to fellow cyclists about the best, safest places they have found to ride and join a local bike group.