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Hiking the Billy Goat Trail

June 11, 2010

So it’s time to share one of my favorite things to do in DC (or really anywhere)—hiking.  I wish I could get more tourists to get past the notion that they should only spend their time rushing between museums and monuments, because people always forget that DC is cradled by the Potomac River and offers so much beautiful scenery, as well as some pretty amazing things to do outdoors.

I try to get outdoors and do something (anything!) as often as I can, and hiking in DC has become somewhat of a weekend tradition.  Between DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia, there are endless hiking paths and parks, but my absolute favorite is still the Billy Goat Trail.

The Billy Goat Trail is near Great Falls on the Maryland side and is made up of 3 trails along the C&O Canal and Potomac River.  The trails vary in difficulty, which makes for endless hiking opportunities:

  • Trail A

Section A is the most popular trail and takes you along Bear Island and across rocky terrain and steep cliff faces.  It is a 1.7-mile trail, covered in boulders, and is not recommended for inexperienced hikers or small children.  Be sure to wear real hiking shoes or boots with good traction!

  • Trail B

Section B is not as hard as Section A, but has more rocky terrain than Section C.  It is 1.4-miles and takes you along the water’s edge and over boulders.

  • Trail C

Section C is the easiest trail and is perfect for little kids.  It is a 1.6-mile trail and there is no serious climbing–just simple hiking that everyone in your group will feel comfortable doing.

I tend to hike Part B with my family because Part C is a little too easy (perfect for young children though!), and, as you can gather from the above photo, Part A can be a little rough on the parents’ knees.  Call me Goldilocks, but Part B is just right for a good ol’ family hike.  I do love the challenge of the Part A trail though and am determined to master scaling its cliff faces this summer.

There’s also plenty of wildlife–cranes, eagles (including a bald eagle recently!), newts, toads, and the occasional snake.  I leaned in dangerously close to take this photo–I wasn’t afraid of the snake, but of falling into the canal!  Which has happened to a surprising number of people, especially bicyclists who try to whiz by each other too fast.

You get to the trails by starting out at the tow-path of the canal near the Old Angeler’s Inn.  If you’re not much for rock-climbing, you can still have a great time just walking along the canal, which makes for great morning runs with friends and is a haven for bicyclists.  A lot of marathon runners train at the canal because the path is long and straight, and the dirt is so pounded down that it gives you cushioning when you run.

The Billy Goat Trail is also one of the most dog-friendly hiking spots.  I can’t think of a single hike where I’ve not met 5 or so dogs, each of whom is in heaven to bound around the paths and splash in the water.

The trails are marked with light blue trail blazes like the one in the photo below, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.

A great way to end a hike is to stop at the Old Angeler’s Inn and get some yummy food or drinks while relaxing with friends.

The inside of the inn is cozy and fun when it’s colder out, but if you can get a table it’s nice to sit outside in the summer.  They have a pretty diverse menu, including dishes such as the following:

  •  Fried Calamari with Sweet Hot Chili, Cilantro and Sliced Almond Sauce
  • Oysters with Champagne Mignonette, Horseradish and Cocktail Sauce
  • Crab, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad
  • Pan Roasted Scottish Salmon Served with Lentils du Puy
  • Linguini with Shrimp Scampi and Pinot Grigio Sauce
  • Organic Muscovy Duck Breast Served with Potatoes, Apple Galette, Savoy Cabbage, Turnips and Pinot Noir Sauce

Take a look at the 2010 menu and see if the food strikes your fancy and looks like an appealing end to a morning of hiking.  I honestly don’t tend to stop here for food, though, because it’s a little hefty price-wise, and the food is on the fancier side.  After a hike I just want some real grub!

If you’re not planning to stop at the Inn for food or drinks, be sure to pack a water bottle because there aren’t other options for picking up after-hike refreshments.  And if you’re a photographer bring your camera along!  I keep forgetting to bring mine so I haven’t gotten to snap photos in a while, but you see the most beautiful views on this hike.  And if you see that bald eagle I’m sure you’ll want a picture for proof!

Parking is free if you park near the Old Angeler’s Inn, but you can also park at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, although there is a fee.  Click HERE to see a map of the Great Falls hiking trails.

Shoot us an email with your favorite hiking trails, because while I have my favorite hikes, I love trying new ones out!  We’d also love to feature photos from local readers, so send along photos from your own DC hiking trips as well–just email us at youngdcliving AT gmail DOT com.

If the weather holds up this weekend give the Billy Goat Trail a try, and maybe I’ll see you there!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2010 6:36 PM

    It looks really great, although on careful consideration, I’ll think I’ll pass on the snakes thanks!

  2. June 14, 2010 8:24 PM

    You don’t see snakes too often, which is good, because while it was cool to see this one, I would freak if one jumped out onto the trail. Thanks for reading!

  3. Jack Johnson permalink
    July 25, 2010 8:40 AM

    I was assigned to patrol the C & O Canal when I was a U.S. Park Policeman in the 1960’s and received a complaint from the owner of the Old Anglers Inn. She was complaining about several male customers who were not dressed well enough to be in her restaurant. They were in sweat pants and running shoes and not at all up to her required standard. I investigated and found one of them to be Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. He and his companions had just finished their Sunday morning run along the canal and were enjoying some refreshment.
    None of this mattered to the rather high strung lady who owned the place; she wanted them out of there. In the end, she did not get her way.

  4. Cynthia permalink
    May 31, 2013 10:54 PM

    Hi, I would love to go on this trail. Could you please give me the address. I am looking forward to climbing that rock wall.

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