A famous American writer, Mark Twain, once said, ‘Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.’ Now, this is especially true of mountain biking. The thrill of scaling a difficult climb, the joy of speeding past steep trails, and the anticipation that comes with steeling yourself for what lies just around a tricky bend all add up to make Mountain Biking an irresistible sport.
In the United States especially, and across the globe in general, mountain biking is beginning to get the recognition it deserves amongst fitness trainers and fitness enthusiasts alike. The health benefits are enormous, and it can also serve as an excellent recreational pastime for families willing to spend some quality time together and keep fit while they are at it.
Washington DC, capital of the United States of America, is a beautiful city surrounded by the Potomac River and its outlet, the Anacostia. The city has somehow managed to balance the demands of being an international metropolis and capital city with the small-neighborhood-town feel it gives to visitors and locals alike. While the city is a hub for tourists due to its rich culture and collection of artifacts and monuments, it does not disappoint mountain biking lovers.
With a wide range of mountain biking trails and parks to rival the best in the world, one might be confused about which one to visit while in the city. So, here is a list of the best ten mountain biking trails to visit in Washington DC.
1. Schaeffer Farm Trail
The Schaeffer farm trail is a glorious mountain biking trail system with sixteen trails that run for up to 15 miles. This network of trails is originally a part of the Seneca Creek State Park, and it cuts through woods and plantations of corn and soybean. The trail consists of single-track loops, stream crossings, steep climbs, and unpredictable curvy descents.
Situated a few miles away from the Clapper Lake in Germantown, the trails were specially built with mountain bikers in mind, although hikers and runners alike now use it. Advanced riders will thoroughly enjoy the whoop trail with its up and down bumps, while beginners can stick to the meticulously marked white trail. If you are in for some competition, the trails are home to a couple of fun races, such as the Schaeffer farm scramble and the yearly Cranky Monkey race, where solo and team riders compete to finish as many 9 mile laps as possible in a 12-hour time frame.
Suitable for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders, the trails offer an exciting blend of nature’s insignia, with fields, creeks, and, depending on what time of the year, beautiful blooming trees and flowers.
2. Wakefield Park
With a little over half a dozen miles of an interconnected trail network, Wakefield Park ranks amongst the top places for mountain biking in Washington DC and its environs. The estimated seven miles of trails go right through the heart of a wilderness and beside a power line section that organizes several races all year round. This park has just the right trail for every type of rider and is just the right place for anyone who has a couple of hours to burn.
The trails are mostly single-track or double-track covered in grass or other natural surfaces. Fallen logs and other natural obstacles riddle the trails, and while this may be a nightmare for runners, it is the perfect dream of the mountain biker.
The icing on the cake, however, can be found in the power line section. This hillside features curvy banked switchbacks and jumps, which can be fun when you take off your hands and pedal downhill.
Almost every trail on this park has its collection of natural jumps and rock gardens. Both advanced and newbie riders will appreciate what this park has to offer, from little climbs and jumps sprinkled here and there to the rush of air that can be achieved at the railing berms. The trails at Wakefield park can only be as challenging as you make them.
3. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal pathway (shortened as the C&O canal pathway) easily bags the award for the longest trail in this list. It has an astonishing 185-mile length that stretches from the state capital to Cumberland in Maryland. The trail is extremely flat and is mostly clear of obstacles, making it perfect for beginner mountain bikers and even more advanced riders who need a more comfortable and lengthy ride. The historic relics of the old canal system make a great backdrop to this ancient trail, and there are numerous sightseeing opportunities along this trail.
For beginners looking for a smooth and less-trafficked path, the trail directly on the canal or the parallel Capital Crescent trail is the best bet. The sight of the Potomac River on one side and the canal on the other is truly one to behold.
Bikers looking for a more formidable challenge can take up the 14-mile trail that runs from Georgetown to Great Falls. The beautiful landscape that leads up to the Great Falls should be enough reward for the trouble.
4. Rosaryville State Park
Situated just outside the Capital city, Rosaryville State Park commands nearly a thousand acres, occupying a huge chunk of the Andrews Airforce Base environment. With over ten miles of single-track that climbs about 800 feet under its belt, the trails, which comprise a perimeter loop and a shorter loop that intersect the south end of the Rosaryville State Park, are twisty and hilly.
The perimeter loop, which goes around the park, has numerous tight bank turns, providing excuses for you to rail plenty of berms at top speed. The inner trail runs for about 2 miles, while the outer trail measures a little less than 9 miles. Both trails are appropriately marked and intersect at the south corner of the park. It shouldn’t be difficult to switch into the inner trail from the perimeter trail if you follow the markers properly.
The first five miles follow a unique pattern which begins at the Northern end of the park; there is a quick downhill after which the trail goes upwards for a quarter-mile, followed by another short descent and a quarter-mile climb, and so on. The second lap of the 11-mile trail is filled with evenly spread small hills. These small hills are mostly about 30-50 feet, with the highest point on the trail reaching a peak of 235 feet above sea level.
Advanced, intermediate, and beginners would enjoy this beautiful park’s thrills because of the endless banked corners. If you are trying to sharpen your skill of taking on banked corners at a very high speed, then this is the park for you.
5. Lake Fairfax Park
Located in Washington DC western suburbs, Lake Fairfax Park’s single-track trails have a combined length of a dozen miles, which you can quickly complete in an hour or so. The park has a network of different trails that pass around Lake Fairfax, totaling up to 500 acres of Fairfax county land.
The Lake Fairfax Park trails range from very straight-forward and easy to tricky and more challenging. The trails are generally flat, with a few climbs here and there. However, the major attractions are those fun bends where you can fill your lungs and rail berms.
These fantastic trails pass through a wilderness, wildlife conservatories, and football pitches. Some trails run alongside Lake Fairfax, giving you nature’s perfect soundtrack. There are a few stream crossings along the paths, and with the many different loops that litter the park, you can choose to ride a particular loop a couple of times or explore the various trails one after the other.
Expert riders will love the variety of trails in this scenic park, complete with abrupt corners and a few stream crossings to showcase your mastery on a mountain bike.
6. Fountainhead Regional Park
Fountainhead Regional Park, located in Fairfax Station, has trails ranked amongst the most difficult in the Washington DC area.
The trails are divided into three different sections; beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each of the trails is pure a single-track and is designed to challenge the mountain biker at all levels. The combined length of the trails is 11.5 miles.
They include wooden track sections, a speedy trail, and a black diamond loop famous for its sharp switchbacks, rock gardens, quad-numbing climbs, and breathtaking jumps.
Not for the faint-hearted, the Fountainhead trails are perfect for intermediate mountain bikers looking for a challenge. Words do not do justice to the advanced loop which needs to be experienced on a mountain bike to appreciate the steep inclines, technical step-ups, and a wooden hairpin turn for good measure.
7. Rock Creek Park
The Rock Creek Park is a large park that cuts through the Northwestern part of Washington DC. It is among the most popular and historic trails in the DC area. On weekends and during holidays, a significant portion of Beach Drive, which passes right through the park, is closed to vehicular traffic, attracting several mountain bikers.
The park has several wooded trails, which serve as an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. They include; Rock Creek Trail, Lake Frank and Meadowside Trail, and Lake Needwood Trails. The must-see sceneries around these trails are mostly historic.
The trail runs alongside the beautiful creek where its name is derived. While riding through these loops, you are sure to encounter Civil War fortifications, the mill ruins, and the hidden bridge. The trails here are a lesson in history by themselves.
8. Capital Crescent Trail
The Capital Crescent Trail is an 11-mile trail running from Georgetown to Bethesda, with a lovely view of the Potomac River. The trail is a gentle downwards slope all through, starting from around 350 feet above sea level and gradually dropping to 30 feet.
The trail, which was originally a train line, is generally flat, like most train lines. With a 10-foot wide route, runners, bikers, and skateboarders alike all revel in the relatively easy trail.
Beginners would surely love this one, as it doesn’t serve up any surprises and is relatively straight-forward. It also serves as a getaway for families willing to bond while biking. Be sure to visit this trail during the weekend, as it is usually jam-packed on weekdays.
9. Ten Mile Creek Trail
The Ten Mile Creek Trail is actually a 3-mile trail with three loops of flat terrain suitable for mountain bike riders of all skill sets and abilities.
The trail begins at the east end of the Carmike Wynnsong Theater parking lot. It runs alongside the Ten Mile Creek, which flows from Freemont pass down to Copper resort where it meets with the West Ten Mile Creek and empties into the Dillon Reservoir. Although some portions of the trail are overgrown with grass, like the Turkey Hill part, the trail more than makes up for that with its epic view of nature’s best. The trail system is relatively new compared to the others in this list. The trail is narrow, and you might have to veer off the path to let other bikers or hikers pass.
Although many people see the Ten Mile Creek as an extension of the Black Hills Regional Park, it is an entirely separate trail system. This trail is especially suitable for solo riders who love the sound of their bike tires rolling across dirt paths.
10. Mount Vernon Trail
Last, but definitely not least, is the Mount Vernon Trail. It is an 18-mile multi-use trail that starts from Theodore Roosevelt Island and ends at George Washington’s Estate. The trail offers some of the capital’s best monuments and points of interest. George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon always stands up there with the rest.
Although the trail is fairly flat, rolling hills pop out occasionally. The last mile is possibly the best as it provides a good climb towards Mount Vernon.
Washington DC is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It has just about everything for everybody, and mountain bikers are not left out.
Now that you have seen our list of the best mountain biking trails situated in Washington DC, whenever you happen to visit the city, pick a bike, and all you have to do is decide which trail best suits you. And like they say, ‘A bad day on the mountain bike is better than a good day at the office.’