Easy Recreational Escapes on a Bike
Arlington’s many trails offer local cyclists a number of easy off-road options for getting out of the city.
Arlington serves as the crossroads for many of the D.C. region’s major multi-user trails. The Mount Vernon, Custis and Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) trails all join together within Arlington County. While that’s a very useful addition to the local transportation network, it also creates fantastic recreational choices.
The Mount Vernon Trail, which starts in Rosslyn, is much more than the riverfront trail that goes to National Airport. In fact, it offers cyclists a scenic 18-mile path all the way down to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. This path is almost entirely off-road (there’s a brief on-road segment through Old Town Alexandria), and spends most of its length following the course of the Potomac River. This brings the added benefit of making the trail generally flat and accessible to cyclists of all fitness levels (it does get hilly in the last few miles). It’s possible to ride to Mount Vernon and back on a weekend morning at a leisurely pace in less than four hours, perhaps stopping in Old Town for lunch on the way back.
The Mount Vernon Trail can be accessed from many points in Arlington, but the most popular place to start is at the very beginning – in the parking lot for Roosevelt Island. There’s no need to drive there – simply take the path down from the Custis Trail’s terminus at Lee Highway and North Lynn Street. A short bridge takes you across the George Washington Parkway and into the parking lot. The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot.
Like the Mount Vernon Trail, most residents are familiar with the W&OD just as a local trail. And like the Mount Vernon trail, the W&OD reaches far beyond Arlington’s borders. An ambitious cyclist can take the W&OD trail from its origin in Shirlington all the way out to rural Purcellville, Va. – 45 miles away. Even better, she can do it without spending more than a few blocks sharing a road with cars. The W&OD isn’t as scenic as the Mount Vernon trail, but it offers a pleasant way to see much of Northern Virginia – it goes through Falls Church, Vienna, Reston and Herndon, among other towns. While the trail is off-road, it’s rarely isolated – so there are plenty of places to stop for water or get something to eat. The trail is built primarily on an old railroad right-of-way, so it’s also quite flat.
The W&OD starts near the intersection of South Four Mile Run Drive and Shirlington Road, and is connected to many South Arlington neighborhoods by local trails. Riders from Arlington’s northern reaches can get to it by simply following the Custis Trail west to the junction in Bluemont.
These are just two of many trails that can easily be reached by bike from Arlington. They’re a great way to start exploring, and among the most rewarding.
The Mount Vernon Trail is managed by the National Park Service.
The W&OD trail is part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, but the best source of info for it is Friends of the W&OD Trail.
Bike Washington is an excellent guide to all of D.C.'s local (and a few further away) trails. It could use a bit of updating, but the fundamentals are solid.