Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Where are the bike trails? Whether you are new to the area or just visiting for a few days, Washington DC has some great multi-use / multi-terrain trails and routes for your riding pleasure.

Map of DC Multi-Use Trails

Map of DC Multi-Use Trails

Most of these trails converge near Theodore Roosevelt Island in Rosslyn VA. That's why I like to call Roosevelt Island "Bike Central". Although the island itself is off limits to bikes, the parking area makes a great jumping off point for trips all over the area. To get to Roosevelt Island, check out the Park and Bike Guide. In case the parking area is full (which is often the case), an alternate place to park is across the river under the Whitehurst Freeway (easy access to the C&O Towpath from here).

From the island, you can access many of the trails listed below, or you can try some local routes, such as the Potomac Tour or the Arlington Triangle.

I'm a new biker. Where are the "easy" bike trails? Check out the region's great Rail Trails. These paths are nearly flat, having once been railroad beds.

Can I take my bike on the Subway? Yes, but there are several restrictions. Refer to the Bike-on-Rail page for details.

Safety and Crime? Like any major city, DC has some trouble spots. The green areas are quite safe, while the red areas show the rougher neighborhoods.

Descriptions of Major DC Area Trails

Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD):

Length: 45 Miles - Width: 10 Feet - Surface: Paved

The W&OD (pronounced "wad") is probably the best all around trail in the area. This is a 45 mile long rails-to-trails conversion between Shirlington and Purcellville, VA. The surface is paved for the entire length, and there is a side horse trail along much of the route. Virginia has sunk a lot of investment into this trail, (and continues to do so). The trail is continuously maintained and there are several improvement projects ongoing.

The main complaints about this trail are its popularity (it can be quite crowded at times), the number of street crossing in the eastern part, and the fact that the trail follows a power line right-of-way for most of its length. However, the western-most 15 miles are very nice, with a mostly rural setting. Access to this trail from Roosevelt Island is made by using the 4 mile long Custis Trail.

Detailed Map of Georgetown Area

Detailed Map of Georgetown Area

The Custis Trail:

Length: 4 Miles - Width: 10 Feet - Surface: Paved

The four mile long Custis Trail runs parallel to I-66 through Arlington, VA, which is probably the most bike friendly jurisdiction in the region. The Custis is mainly used as the easiest access route to the W&OD from the downtown area. However, it also has numerous side trails that provide easy access to many areas of Arlington. The trail is quite narrow and has limited sight lines, however it is very well maintained and has very few road crossing.

Capital Crescent Trail:

Length: 13 Miles - Width: 10 Feet - Surface: Paved/Crushed Stone

The CCT is another wonderful Rail-to-Trail conversion, this route goes from K street in Georgetown to Downtown Bethesda. The first three miles parallels the C&O Towpath, but then heads up the hill through the affluent neighborhoods NW of DC. The first 7 Miles between Georgetown and Bethesda are paved. Once you arrive in Bethesda, you can continue east using the unpaved Georgetown Branch Trail to the Rock Creek Trail.

Access from the Roosevelt Island is also via Key Bridge. Again, head for the C&O Towpath. Once you get there, hang a left and then look for any access down the hill to your right toward Water Street (there are several choices). At Water Street, hang a right. The CCT starts where the street ends.

Mount Vernon Trail:

Length: 18 Miles - Width: 8 Feet - Surface: Paved

This is probably the most scenic of the trails. It runs south along the Potomac River from Roosevelt Island to George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon. Along the way, you will get a great view of the aircraft at National Airport and you will also pass through Olde Town Alexandria. The trail is paved, but narrow. It is also typically crowded on nice weekends. The route is mostly flat with a few hills at the southern end. The trail is about 50% shaded and the river provides a cooling breeze, so this is a nice route during the hot summer days.

Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath:

Length: 184 Miles - Width: 12 Feet to Dual Track - Surface: Clay/Stone

This is my favorite trail in the area. The canal is mostly gone nowadays, but its towpath remains. Now a National Historic Park, the C&O Towpath follows the Potomac River for 184 miles between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD. Along the way, sights will include Great Falls (mile 14), the Monocacy River Aqueduct (mile 42), historic Harpers Ferry (mile 60), and the Paw Paw Tunnel (mile 155). The canal bed still contains water up to about mile 22. From then on, trees have pretty much taken over the remains of the old canal bed. This makes the towpath very shady and cool during the hot summer months. The trail surface is mostly finely crushed gravel and clay. Also, the thing is almost completely flat (as long as you stay on the trail!).

Access to the canal from Roosevelt Island is via the Key Bridge. You can get to Key Bridge by taking the funky looking pedestrian overpass at the north end of the island parking lot. When you get to the far side of the Key Bridge, cut through the park to your right, and that will take you down to a footbridge which puts you right on the towpath. Beginning at mile 26, you will find Overnight Camping Areas and water pumps about every 5 miles. There are also modern accommodations available at Harpers Ferry, WV (mile 160) and Hancock, MD (mile 124). For more information, see the Towpath Biking Guide.

Rock Creek Hiker/Biker Trail:

Length: about 20 Miles - Width: 8 Feet - Surface: Paved

This "trail" has slowly evolved over the years. It is really an informal collection of paths that were eventually linked together to form this baby. While the trail is not too bad in Montgomery County, it does leave something to be desired in the District. In fact, a portion of the route is on-road (Beach Drive). The good news is that this section of Beach Drive is mostly closed to autos on the weekend. The remaining bike path sections in DC are now in pretty poor shape. Sights on this route include the National Zoo, and the Equestrian Center at the Candy Cane City playground. There are also some nice picnic areas along the way and at the north end of the path.

To get to the trail from Roosevelt Island, cross Key Bridge (as if you are heading to the C&O Towpath). When you get to the footpath over the Canal, don't cross it. Instead, follow the path to your right on the M-street side of the canal. Eventually, the path becomes brick paved, and then ends at the Rock Creek Path. Hang a left and good luck!.

Sligo Creek Trail:

Length: about 8 Miles - Width: 6 to 10 Feet - Surface: Paved

This is a nice "family trail" through the Sligo Creek Valley between Hyattsville and Wheaton, Maryland. The trail is narrow in some spots and there are a couple of busy intersection crossings. The south end of the trail begins just west of the West Hyattsville Metro Station, where it joins the Northwest Branch Trail. The north end terminates in Wheaton Regional Park, near Wheaton Metro. The park makes a great place for a family picnic.

Anacostia Northwest and Northeast Trails:

Northwest Trail Length: 7 Miles - Width: 8 Feet - Surface: Paved

Northeast Trail Length: 4 Miles - Width: 8 Feet - Surface: Paved

These trails run along the two major branches of Anacostia River (Washington's "other" river). Both trails begin near the eclectic community of Mount Rainier. The Northwest Branch Trail heads up through Langley Park to Silver Spring. The Northeast Branch Trail heads up toward Greenbelt. Both trails provide easy access to the University of Maryland at College Park.

Like the Rock Creek Trail, these paths consist of several different segments which have slowly evolved into a nice trail system. However, the trails appear to be wider and in better condition than the Rock Creek Trail. Future additions are also planned.

North Bethesda Trail:

Length: 4 Miles, when complete - Width: 10 Feet - Surface: Paved

This new trail connects south Rockville to Bethesda. The two major components (interstate overpasses) were finally completed in July 2003, however some sections require riding on residential streets (until at least 2005). Regardless, the trail provides a great commuter route to NIH and Downtown DC (by way of the Capital Crescent Trail).

Metropolitan Branch Trail: (proposed)

This trail will run north from DC's Union Station to Silver Spring, Maryland along the west side of the CSX Railroad tracks. Combined with the Capital Crescent Trail, it will eventually complete the "Bicycle Beltway" around the Washington DC Business district.

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Washington and Old Dominion Mount Vernon Trail C and O Towpath Northwest Branch Northeast Branch Sligo Creek Trail Rock Creek Trail - Maryland North Bethesda Trail Capital Crescent Trail Rock Creek Trail - DC Martha Custis Trail