Northern Virginia Dayhikes

Inside or near the Beltway

Billy Goat Trail
main loop: 4 miles, a lot of short ups and downs photo
main loop using forest trails: 6.8/500
B loop: est 2.4 miles
main loop to B loop: 0.6 one way
C loop: est 2.7 miles
B loop to C loop: 0.4 one way

Location: Great Falls Park, Maryland. May also be accessed from parking lot across the street from the Old Anglers Inn. The C loop is accessed at Carderock.

Picture: Looking up river at the Mather Gorge. See also my other Great Falls photos.

Map: Maps and more information from the National Park Service.

Description: The main loop follows the edge of Bear Island along the top of the cliffs of Mather Gorge, providing many excellent views of the Potomac River and many scenic spots among the rocks. The return half takes you back on the towpath along the historic C&O Canal (by crossing the C&O canal, you can extend the loop using some forest trails). You can also head downstream to the very pleasant (and less crowded) B section of the trail and continue even further to hike through the Carderock area on the C section.


last hiked: Spring, 2019

Potomac Heritage Trail
10 miles one way, up to 0.5 miles to access trail photo

Location: Trail runs along the Virginia side of the Potomac River, starting at the Beltway and extending south to Rosslyn at Key Bridge. Recommended access points (N to S):
Turkey Run Park - several nice trails down to the river
Parking lot at Chain Bridge - easy access to Pimmit Run and overlook
Zachary Taylor or Potomac Overlook Park - scenic hike down Donaldson Run
Windy Run park - nice access to southern end of trail

Picture: Sessile Trillium (Toadshade) on the trail in mid-April.

Map: An on-line brochure has a very good map of the trail (although a map isn't really necessary for hiking this).

Description: Although right next to DC, you won't see many people on this trail during a weekday. It mostly follows the edge of the Potomac River, bordered by rocky bluffs and passing several large streams along the way. The northern portion, accessed via Turkey Run Park, is probably the most scenic and the most isolated from the urban noises around you. At Chain Bridge there is a short but pretty section of trail which runs along Pimmit Creek and also a good overlook from a high bluff. A loop hike can be made on the southern portion of the trail by crossing Key Bridge into Georgetown and then following the C&O Canal up to Chain Bridge.


last hiked: 2013

Manassas Battlefield Park
First Manassas loop: 5.4 miles photo
Second Manassas loop: 6.2 miles
Combined loop: approx 9.6 miles
various other trails available to extend either loop
all trails are mostly flat

Location: Manassas, VA

Picture: a battlefield just outside of the Visitor Center.

Map: Map and description of area.

Description: These walks take you through open fields and forest, over streams, and past many historical markers and artifacts as it also takes you back in time to re-live the Civil War battles of First and Second Manassas. The First Manassas Trail is probably the more scenic of the loops as it takes you through a swamp to the Stone Bridge over Bull Run.


last hiked: 2004

Great Falls/Difficult Run
Distance: 5 - 7 miles, one hill of about 100 feet photo

Location: Great Falls Park, VA

Picture: The Virginia side of Great Falls, from an overlook near visitor center. See also my other Great Falls photos.

Map: Maps and other information from the National Park Service

Description: The trail goes through forest, a small swamp and follows the rocky Difficult Run down to the Potomac River. It runs along the top of the cliffs lining Mather Gorge, passes through the 18th century remains of Matildaville and the Patowmack Canal, and provides access to the viewpoints of Great Falls.


last hiked: 2007

Bull Run/Occoquan Trail
Distance: up to 17.7 miles one way with a few moderate hills
Location: Runs along southwestern border of Fairfax County, Access (N to S) at:
Bull Run Regional Park
Hemlock Overlook Regional Park
Bull Run Marina
Fountainhead Regional Park

Map: On-line Map available (but not needed for hiking the trail).

Description: Walk through forests along the banks of Bull Run and the Occoquan River. The south end meanders over hillsides for several miles before actually starting to follow the river. The north end starts off in forested flood plains. In between is an excellent trail running mostly right along the stream. A 0.4 mile trail from Hemlock Overlook Regional Park is a good access point as it takes you through the forest down to a rocky section of stream.


last hiked: 2005

Fairfax Cross-County Trail
Distance: up to 38 miles one way with some hills but little significant elevation change photo
Location: Runs mostly north/south through the center of Fairfax County.
Some of the better access points include (N to S):
Georgetown Pike
Vale Road
Miller Heights Road
Eakin Park
Wakefield Park
Lake Accotink Park
Occoquan Regional Park

Picture: Colvin Run Mill

Map: a map is not needed while hiking, but familiarity with it is highly recommended since not all areas are well marked and some intersections are confusing. High-res maps are available from Fairfax County. This trail is constantly being added to and improved, so be prepared for surprises.

Description: A convenient destination when you need to escape into the forest. Walk along Difficult Run and Accotink Creek, finding occasional solitude (on weekdays) and some pretty good bird watching. Deer are common if you're on the trail early and you might also see an occasional fox.


last hiked: 2007

Washington, DC - Trails
Capital Crescent Trail - up to 13 miles one way
Capital Crescent/Rock Creek loop - 17 miles
Rock Creek Park loop - up to 9 miles
C&O Canal Tow Path - up to 185 miles one way
Soapstone Valley/Melvin Hazen Loop - 2.5 miles

Location: The Capital Crescent Trail starts in Georgetown, passes through Bethesda, and ends up in Silver Spring. The C&O Canal Tow Path starts in the same place and follows the Potomac River west. The Rock Creek Park loop starts just north of the National Zoo and extends north to the Maryland border.

Small trail maps with descriptions,
NPS map of Rock Creek Park
a low-res map of the Capital Crescent Trail
much information about the C&O Canal Tow Path.

Description: Rock Creek Park with its extensive forest and many streams provides an excellent place to escape from the surrounding urban environment. The Capital Crescent Trail follows an old railroad line along the C&O Canal, through an interesting tunnel, by Little Falls Branch, and then into Bethesda and Silver Spring. The C&O Canal Tow Path, situated between the Canal and Potomac river, starts in Georgetown and heads up the Potomac. Various other trails in DC will take you through nicely forested stream valleys.


Washington, DC - Walking Tours
Distance: you decide, flat at the mall but hilly in places photo

Location: Washington, DC

Picture: the Jefferson Memorial. See also my other Washington, DC photographs.

Description: Although it isn't really dayhiking, Washington is an excellent city for walking. I can't begin to list all of the possible monuments, museums, galleries, buildings, gardens, and historical sites you could visit. In addition to the standard sights on and around the Mall, you might consider including in your walking tour the National Zoo, Washington National Cathedral, National Building Museum, Arlington Cemetery, Georgetown, Union Station, Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, East Potomac Park, Embassy Row, Capitol Hill, or any of the city's other interesting neighborhoods.


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