Best Bike Rides around Washington DC
With an extensive network of trails for commuters and bike enthusiasts alike, it’s no wonder that DC has topped several lists as the fittest city in the country.
For me, the bike friendliness and connectivity of our nation’s capital has shaped my lifestyle in so many ways, I can’t imagine living in a place that doesn’t honor cycling the same way. I’ve done a lot of exploring the last four years, but there’s a few memorable and scenic trails that you can’t miss if you live in or are visiting the District.
Here’s a few of the Best Bike Rides around Washington DC:
1 – Capital Crescent Trail
Distance: 11 miles
Surface: Asphalt & crushed limestone
Starts: Silver Spring, MD
Finishes: Georgetown, DC
Following the old Georgetown Branch rail line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is the perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon. My preferred direction is starting in Georgetown and riding the first paved 8 miles to downtown Bethesda, along the Potomac River, C&O Canal, and through suburban Maryland.
The remaining 3 miles on the crushed limestone Georgetown Branch section of the Capital Crescent Trail will take you in the heart of Silver Spring where you can enjoy a plethora of tasty lunch options to reward yourself for a job well done. The trail is eventually meant to hook up with the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which can take you all the way back down to Union Station, so keep an eye out for that.
2 – Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
Distance: 185 miles
Surface: Crushed limestone
Starts: Georgetown, DC
Finishes: Cumberland, MD
The most action packed trail around DC, the C&O Canal Towpath is an excellent option for those trying to escape the city for a proper hiker/biker adventure. Built between 1828 and 1850, the C&O Canal, also coined as ‘The Grand Ole Ditch’ was short lived due to the railway built running parallel to many parts of the canal.
The first 20 miles of the trail are the most heavily trafficked due to close proximity to Georgetown and nearby popular attractions such as Great Falls Park. Once you make it 25 miles outside of DC, you’ll find free hiker/biker campsites every 5 miles along the Potomac. With fire pits, plenty of drift wood along the river bank, and even a Porta Potty, they are a real treat.
A cyclocross, hybrid, or mountain bike is preferred for the C&O Canal. Yes, you can make it with traditional road bike tires, but it won’t be the most comfortable ride. Also, if you are planning to do an overnight trip from DC, pack all necessary food and supplies with you as shop options are very slim picking along the towpath.
3 – Custis Trail
Distance: 4 miles
Starts: Rosslyn, VA
Finishes: W&OD Trail – Bluemont, VA
It isn’t the longest trail on the list but with steep hills, speedy blind curves, and great connectivity, the Custis Trail is a must ride in the DC Metro area. After crossing the Key Bridge from Georgetown, the Custis follows I-66 going westbound with a unique collection of switchbacks and overpasses along the highway.
For disc golfers out there, get off near the Ballston Metro stop and take the Bluemont Juntion Trail over to Bluemont Park for a mediocre round of golf. If you’d like to extend your trip, consider the Arlington Loop, a 17 mile ride combining the Custis, W&OD, 4 Mile Run, and Mt. Vernon Trails.
4 – Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
Distance: 15 miles
Starts: Navy Yard, DC
Finishes: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, NE DC
One of my new favorites, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail starts right off Nats Park, crosses the South Capitol Street Bridge, and extends up the river through SE and NE Washington, DC. Until last year it stopped at Benning Road, but thanks to the trail’s newest section, it now connects deep into Maryland via the Anacostia Tributary Trail System.
The trail itself is gorgeous, in excellent condition, and relatively tame compared to some of Virginia’s trails. Kenilworth Gardens is a marshy mecca of exploration, a great place for a remote picnic and to check off your DC bucket list.
Continue onto the Northwest Branch Trail further up in Maryland and cruise into College Park to check out the University of Maryland Campus or catch a round of disc golf at my home course, Calvert Road DGC.
5 – Mt. Vernon Trail
Distance: 18 miles
Starts: Rosslyn, VA
Finishes: George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Home, VA
Last but not least is DC’s quintessential trail along the Potomac River, the Mt. Vernon Trail. Linking up marinas, the National Airport, wetlands, and Old Town Alexandria, it’s a great way to acclimate yourself to the DC biking scene. Be sure to check out Gravelly Point, a popular picnicking spot, for up close and personal views of planes coming and going at Reagan National.
Servicing commuters and recreationalists from Alexandria and beyond, the trail can get quite busy on the weekends so bring your bell and patience. Just like the Custis Trail, the Mt. Vernon Trail also connects to the 4 Mile Run and W&OD Trails if you want to keep your ride going and circle back to DC on a different route than on your way down.