We Biked the Mount Vernon Trail (Kind of)

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Approaching Old Town Alexandria.

Yesterday my sister and I were feeling ambitious. We decided we were going to bike the entire length of the Mount Vernon Trail: 18 miles and back, so a total of 36 miles. I was excited to try this new trail as I’m an avid biker in my mind. Turns out I’ve done the northern half of this trail at least half a dozen times, I just didn’t know it was called the Mount Vernon Trail. Oh well. Our biking journey got off to a rocky start. We made plans to meet at George Washington Estate at the southern end of the trail but about 20 seconds after getting there my sister called me to tell me she had bad news: Her bike didn’t fit in her car and she wanted to know if I would come and pick her up. I wasn’t pleased, but I drove the 21 miles to her apartment in Eastern Market to pick her up. In case you don’t know, I suffer from serious city-driving anxiety. As soon as I hit streets labeled with letters or numbers, I start panicking and my anxiety level shoots up to an 8/9. But because I’m a kind and generous soul (and didn’t want to bike alone) I went and picked her up. I got lost twice and it took me double what it should have taken me, but I made it.

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Dangerfield Island Marina.

So we put her bike on the rack and start driving and this guy honks at us. At first, we thought he was just being rude, but then we decided to check the rack out and some of the buckles had come undone. I got angry yesterday when my dad questioned my ability to figure out the bike rack, but it seems he had reason for concern…my sister and I never quite figured out if we had the thing on right or not but the good news is that our bikes didn’t come flying off the rack on the highway. When things finally seemed securely fastened we headed on our merry way and decided we’d start at Roosevelt Island instead because it was closer to her place. But there was no parking. Well, everyone who was waiting for a spot got one except for us. My sister said it was all about positioning, but I don’t think we were aggressive enough. So we looked for street parking. Except neither of us knew where there was street parking in Rosslyn and it took us like 20 minutes to figure out. But, long story short, we finally found a spot and made our way to the trail.

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Washington and Lincoln Memorials.

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Mount Vernon Trail.

Because Daylight Savings coincided perfectly with the first day of real spring weather this year, the trail felt like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Everyone was out. Luckily, my sister had the foresight to say she didn’t think we should do the entire trail which was probably a good idea because after a 14 mile roundtrip, I felt dead. I would love to say I burned a million calories and am on my way to a sleeker physique but alas, I couldn’t resist an ice cream craving in Old Town Alexandria and after the equivalent of two cups of ice cream, I probably ended up consuming more calories than I burned. Oh well, maybe next time things will end on a healthier note.

So, in case you’re ever interested in biking/walking/running/rollerblading this trail, below is some (hopefully) useful information.

General Trail Info: The trail is paved with a some (kind of shaky, in my opinion) wooden bridges in low-lying and swampy areas. If you’re an experienced biker, you’ll probably find the trail to be pretty flat. If, like me, you are not in the best of shape, you’ll find that there are some slight hills that force you to pedal a little harder. The trail goes from Arlington in the North to Mount Vernon in the South. North of Old Town Alexandria you get great views of the DC skyline, including the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorials. The southern end of the trail is a little more “nature-y” and wooded. The trail goes along the GW Parkway and the Potomac. I can imagine that when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom the northern section of the trail is quite beautiful. If you prefer lonesome country rides/walks this trail probably isn’t for you. There are tons of bikers, runners, walkers, families and rollerbladers so it’s definitely for those who don’t mind sharing the pavement.

Sites Along the Trail: You can see a pretty good map with information about sites along the trail above. Starting on the Northern end, a bridge will take you to Theodore Island, which itself has about 2.5 miles of trails. A little further down, you’ll come across Gravelly Point, which is popular with (mostly immigrant) families picnicking, playing sports and watching planes land and takeoff. When a plane is landing, it literally passes about 100 feet above your head, but it feels more like 10. After you pass DCA, you’ll come upon Dangerfield Island, which has a small Marina. Old Town Alexandria starts around mile 11, followed by Jones Point Lighthouse, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Dyke Marsh and Mount Vernon Estate. There are several other parks along the trail as well. I’ve only done the Roosevelt Island to Old Town route, but I’m hoping to try out the southern end of the trail when I’m in slightly better biking shape.

Parking: I wish I’d known more about parking before going. If you’re starting from the northern end of the trail and it’s a nice weekend your chances of finding parking at the Roosevelt Island parking lot in Arlington aren’t that great, so I recommend looking for street parking in Rosslyn or driving down to Gravelly Point Park and catching the trail from there. Another option is to park in Old Town Alexandria. From there it’s a 6 or 7 mile bike/walk/run to Theodore Island or an 11 mile bike/walk/run to Mount Vernon. Keep in mind Old Town fills up pretty quickly on nice weekends so you may have to pay for a garage spot if you don’t get in early in the morning. Lastly, there is relatively plentiful parking available on sites along the southern end of the trail, especially in Mount Vernon. Parking is not available at Lady Bird Park or the Navy-Marine Memorial.

Connecting Trails: Potomac Heritage Trail, Custis Trail, Rock Creek Park trails, Four Mile Run, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, W&OD, and C&O Canal Trail.

Daylight Savings is one of the happiest days of the year for me because it means long, warm days and sun. I’m so excited for three seasons of hiking and biking! Let me know if you’d like to join in for some outdoor fun.



Categories: Biking, DC Area Outdoors Activities, Outdoors, Virginia

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