Considering how much we love biking (3/4 of our family, anyway), this post should have been written ages ago. But given the rise in biking popularity during COVID, this is a perfect time to get on it. As more people have been taking to two wheels for outdoor recreation, they are also seeking more routes to rides. The DC area has plenty of them to cruise along; even more, there is something for every age and rider level. Here are some of our favorites, plus a few suggested by fellow biking enthusiasts. Whether easily accessible from home or requiring a drive then ride, all of them are very pedal-worthy. Happy Biking!
Anacostia River Trail
Running along the Anacostia River from the Capitol Riverfront in Southeast DC to College Park, MD, this is a great trail for all levels of riders. Not only is it mellow with just a few gentle hills, it’s a route that can be tackled all in one ride or in shorter stretches, depending on what you’re up for. Ride the length of Anacostia Park, along the wetlands of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, by the river to Bladensburg Waterfront Park, and around Lake Artemesia in College Park — all of them offer scenic sights and/or fun stops on the way. Read more about biking part of this trail to Kenilworth, about biking another great stretch for kids, and about Anacostia Park and Bladensburg Waterfront Park.
In non-COVID times, one of the best things about riding on the Mall is all the great museum stops you can make along the way. That’s currently not as much of an option, as you can only access a few of them with passes and enjoy the sculpture gardens. But that also makes it an a excellent area to ride with kids right now for another reason: Without the usual tourist crowds to visit the museums, little (and big) riders have plenty of space to navigate the gravel paths and roads; no more winding their way through hordes of people. Biking the Mall is also a convenient way to tour the memorials and generally cover more ground in one outing.
Hains Point/East Potomac Park
The road that runs the perimeter of most of the park is popular with both competitive cyclers and recreational riders. It’s a flat, scenic route, making it nice for family bike rides — easy to pedal (when it’s not windy), and there are views of the rivers as well as airplanes taking off and landing at DCA. While cars do drive on it, the speed limit is very slow, and there is plenty of room for both bikers and drivers. Bonus: There are even more activities to enjoy there, including mini golf, FootGolf, regular golf, playground fun, and tennis. Read more about Hains Point in this KFDC post.
Located between the Anacostia River and RFK parking lot, the park technically is part of the Anacostia River Trail. But the way it’s situated makes it a good place to bike on its own, especially with kids who like a bit of mountain biking that isn’t too rough. You can ride there or park in the lot, then cruise on in — biking is permitted around the island and on the boardwalk trail. Stop to take in river views, look out for birds and turtles, and make time after for the playground located on the new RFK Fields close to the park entrance. Read more about Kingman Island in this KFDC post.
Capital Crescent Trail
Part of the rails-to-trails system, this route used to be part of the B&O Railroad. It runs between Georgetown and Silver Spring, some of it along the Potomac River with pretty views of the water occasionally seen between the trees from the trail above. A nice stretch to ride with kids is the couple of miles from the start at Water Street in Georgetown to Fletcher’s Boathouse. You can take a break there, have a snack or a picnic, even rent a vessel for some paddling. Read more about this ride (and paddling from Fletcher’s) in this KFDC post.
Great Falls Park
It’s best known for amazing scenic views and hiking, but Great Falls is a fun place to ride as well. The C&O Canal runs on the Maryland side, and is a nice flat gravel path, though you may have to wind through a lot of people as you go, since the park always gets lots of visitors. On the Virginia side, biking is permitted on the Difficult Run Trail, Ridge Trail, and Old Carriage Road. With kids it’s best to stay on Old Carriage, which is flat and closest to the parking lot; the other two are more strenuous rides. Read more about Great Falls in this KFDC post.
Mount Vernon Trail
If you haven’t yet ridden this trail, you’ve definitely seen it as you’ve been driving on the George Washington Parkway. It’s a paved 18-mile stretch along the Potomac River between Roosevelt Island and Mount Vernon, and with parking lots along the way, it’s easy to pick short parts to ride. Given that it’s all along the water, the whole thing is pretty scenic, and there are some fun places to stop and see even more. Roosevelt Island is great to explore (no biking in the park, though), and the Lady Bird Johnson Memorial is neat to view. Gravelly Point next to DCA is awesome for airplane watching — they take off and come in for landing right overhead. Further down in Alexandria, there are some boardwalk areas to ride over, plus the waterfront, where you can stop for a snack, play time, or to stroll around. Of course, Mount Vernon, George Washington’s former digs are a great attraction, too.
One of the loveliest locales in the city is also a great place to bike. All of the riding is on roads, but there’s barely traffic, and low speed limits keep the cars slow. It’s a nice way to see the many plant collections; since the Arb is so large, it’s tough to cover it all on foot in an outing. Some uphills might be hard for kids, but if you have to walk bikes a bit, at least it’s amid the gorgeous surrounds. Stop and explore plant collections, the Old Capitol Columns, Bonsai exhibit, and Washington Youth Garden (when open). Current hours are 1-5pm Mon-Fri, and 8am – 5pm Sat-Sun. See more about the National Arboretum here and here.
Washington & Old Dominion Trail
The W&OD, as it’s more commonly called, is a rail trail that runs 45 miles in Northern Virginia from Shirlington to Purceville. It’s all paved and fairly flat, plus there are a bunch of trailheads to access, so it’s easy to do short stretches. A trail from Glencarlyn Park connects to it, where along with a playground, there is a learning loop for newbie cyclists. There are signs along the route that tell the stories of people and places along the rail line. Depending on the section you ride, there may be parks and places to stop for a snacks.
Sligo Creek Trail
We haven’t ridden this one, but it gets lots of raves from others. Over 10 miles long, it spans from Prince George’s to Montgomery County, running from Hyattville through Takoma Park and up to Wheaton. It’s often touted as a great trail for kids because there are lots of parks and playgrounds along the way, including Wheaton Regional Park (follow the link to read about the great playground) and the lovely Brookside Gardens.
Rock Creek Park
There is a paved path that runs along the Rock Creek Parkway that I probably wouldn’t recommend for kids, as parts are next to fast moving traffic and could be scary for them. But it’s fun for older (and bolder) riders, surrounded by greenery and the creek flowing nearby. On weekends, Beach Drive is closed to traffic, and cyclers can enjoy the car free roads, though there are some uphill areas that could be tough for some. An area of Rock Creek near Lake Needwood in Maryland is better for young cyclers.
Local Parks to Bike
These spots don’t have biking routes that span for miles through different areas, but they have paths that make for nice shorter rides in contained areas:
Burke Lake Park | Burke, VA
Lubber Run Park | Arlington, VA
Mason Neck State Park | Lorton, VA
Cabin John Regional Park | Bethesda, MD
Wheaton Regional Park | Wheaton, MD
Quiet Waters Park | Annapolis, MD
There are a bunch off-road trails around the area for those seeking rides with more challenges and obstacles. You can bike along rooty paths in the woods, cruise single track that span open fields, navigate twists and turns around trees, and practice tricks in parks made just for that. Levi has been mountain biking a long time, and Owen has gotten into it over the past year (I join on the easier rides), and these are some places they recommend:
Schaeffer Farms | Gaithersburg, MD
Fountainhead Regional Park | Fairfax Station, VA
Patapsco Valley State Park | Ellicott City, MD
Fort Dupont Park | Anacostia, DC
Meadowood Trail | Lorton, VA
Laurel Hill | Lorton, VA
Massanutten Mountain Bike Park | Massanutten, VA
Do you have a favorite biking route you don’t see listed here? Please share, if so!