[Note: This is another post written by Owen! His first KFDC contribution about activities with teens in DC got such a great response, we thought it would be fun for him to do more. Also, while I do a little mountain biking, I’m not nearly as good as he is and haven’t ridden as wide a variety of trails in as many places. He has way more insight to offer on MTB in the DMV.]
I started mountain biking about four years ago, shortly before Covid began. While I had done a lot of biking around DC, I didn’t have much experience with all-terrain riding. But when I was about 13, I started joining my dad, who has been mountain biking since he was in college. He was a great teacher, and in a few years, I’ve gone from relatively no mountain biking experience to riding difficult trails with all sorts of challenges (both locally and in other parts of the country) and can now confidently recommend some great places to ride in the DC area. So, whether you already have a genuine interest in mountain biking, are thinking about getting into it (with or without kids), or you’re into the outdoors and looking for more ways to enjoy it, this round-up of places to MTB will help get you going.
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Schaeffer Farms was the first place I ever mountain biked in the DC area. Although I was initially a bit nervous being new to it all, it ended up being an awesome experience because the location is perfect for someone who is a beginner and new to mountain biking. There are easy trails to ride on along with options for something more difficult if you’re up to the challenge. Additionally, the area is beautiful with a ton of diversity in terms of trails to explore. Some are in the woods, and there is great single track through farm fields. It’s just under an hour from DC and worth the drive. I’ve been there plenty of times with my dad and have always enjoyed it, no matter my skill level, from those early days when I was just starting to having several years of mountain biking experience. Out of all locations in the DC area, Schaeffer Farms is the most accessible for all skill levels, which is why it is a must-go MTB spot.
More Insight: There is one parking lot right next to the trailhead. All rides begin on the same trail, but there will be some options for different routes. The shortest one is about seven miles. View the trail map.
Where: 14920 Schaeffer Road | Germantown, MD
When: Open daily, no set hours
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Fountainhead Regional Park
Fountainhead is the top of my list for a fun, challenging ride. I don’t recommend it for beginner skill levels; you should have a reasonable amount of experience before biking here. But once you feel comfortable enough to give Fountainhead a try, you definitely won’t be disappointed. With a ton of jumps, drops, and a variety of technical trails, Fountainhead has it all. There is also a good amount of smooth downhill which is hard to come by on the east coast, so it’s a great spot to go. Out of all the local MTB places I’ve been to, this is probably the best location I’ve biked so far, and I always try to join my dad there when I have the chance.
More Insight: The parking lot is a short drive from the entrance, and the trailhead to start all rides is right off it. We usually do the green and blue trails, sometimes part of the black. I think the green here is harder than most at other places. Parts of the green have a lot of roots, which is fun for experienced riders, but might be intimidating to newer riders. View a trail map.
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Meadowood Mountain Bike Trail
Meadowood is right outside Lorton, VA, about 45 minutes from DC, and it’s a great MTB option in the area. It is much like Fountainhead in that it has a lot of jumps and drops for more experienced riders to try, but Meadowood is still good for many levels of riders, maybe just not complete beginners. One great aspect of Meadowood that I really like is its BOSS Trail, a short, purely downhill ride that has super fun wooden features like a staggering boardwalk, a wall (or “a sideways” section), and a long stretch that dips up and down. It’s a technical trail best for more advanced riders, and it took me a few tries to get it down, but it was definitely worth working at it. Overall, Meadowood is a great MTB option, and if you’re looking for something in the same domain as Fountainhead, but with some extra features, it’s a perfect spot to explore.
More Insight: There are a couple of parking lots, and we always park at Gunston Road, and there is a trailhead right there that will lead to the BOSS Trail. View the trail map.
Where: 10100 Gunston Rd | Lorton, VA
When: Year-round, 6am – 7pm
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Patapsco Valley State Park
Patapsco Valley State Park stands out from the rest of the places included here for the wide range of activities that are in the area. Not only does it offer great mountain biking, Patapsco also has an abundance of beautiful trails for hiking, historic sites, small waterfalls and swimming areas, playgrounds, and more features all across the park. And yet with all of these other features, the mountain biking in Patapsco never fails to disappoint. The park offers the most trails out of all the spots on this list [nearly 150 miles of them!] and the area is so big that it feels like you can bike forever. The scenery is beautiful, and many of the biking trails wind through woods, cross pretty creeks, and even lead to waterfalls, making the experience even better. Patapsco is like Schaeffer Farm in that there’s something for a wide range of skill levels, from beginners to advanced riders. You just need to find a suitable trail. There are a lot of blues [moderate difficulty], but also plenty of greens [easy] to choose from, as well as black [most difficult] if you’re up for the challenge.
More Insight: As mentioned, there are a lot of trail options at Patapsco. We usually start with Morning Chase, then connect to other trails. There is a parking lot on Landing Road to access it. However, Patapsco is huge, so take a look at the trail map to help you figure out where to ride and park.
Patapsco Valley State Park
Where: Howard & Baltimore Counties, Maryland
When: Open daily year-round, 9am – sunset
Admission: April- October: Weekdays: $2/vehicle MD residents, $4/vehicle non-residents
Weekends/holidays: $3/residents, $5/non-residents
November – March: $2/resident vehicle, $4/non-resident vehicle
Read more about Patapsco in this KFDC post
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Cosca Regional Park
Cosca Regional Park is a place I highly recommend for someone who’s more of a beginner, as the trails are pretty mellow and better for a casual ride. Located in Clinton, MD, it’s densely wooded, so the scenery is really nice, especially in the fall. There are about nine miles of trails total, but you can do short sections, and they’re pretty easy to ride (much easier than places like Fountainhead or Meadowood).
More Insight: The trailhead is right across from the Park Office. There is one main loop to ride that is a mix of green and blue, but you can make it longer or shorter depending on what you’re up for. You can probably do all of the short, easy parts even if you’re just starting out. View the trail map here.
Cosco Regional Park
Where: 11000 Thrift Road | Clinton, MD
When: Daily, 10am – 7pm
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Fort Dupont Park
Fort Dupont Park in Anacostia may not be the typical place you’d think of when you’re looking for a spot to mountain bike, but it’s one to be aware of. Since it’s right in DC, it’s much more accessible than the other locations on this list [if you live in the city]. Additionally, the trails in the park are easy to ride if you just want to get some practice riding in the woods. Although you’re right in the city, it still feels as if you could be miles out because the park is so wooded. This is the best place on this list for a quick ride without having to drive outside of DC. The trails are generally welcoming for riders of all skill levels, so there’s no worry if you’re a beginner.
More Insight: We bike to Fort Dupont Park right from our house and start the trail by the amphitheater [3600 F Street, SE — there is a parking lot nearby, too]. It starts as a paved path, then a dirt trail in the woods that will cross a road after a bit and continue into more woods.
Fort Dupont Park
Where: 3600 F Street SE | Anacostia, DC
When: Daily, sunrise to sunset
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More MTB Tips (added by Linda):
* Trailforks and Traillinks are great sites for more details on local mountain biking trails.
* If you want to try mountain biking, but don’t own a mountain bike, rent one from one of these local shops: Conte’s, Big Wheel Bikes, REI, and The Bike Lane.
* REI offers an Introduction to Mountain Biking class for ages 14+. They tend to fill up fast, so reserve spots while you can!
* Some recommended gear: Gloves, helmet, mtb shorts/pants, water bottle or hydration pack.