On any given Saturday, Martin Fernandez of northern Virginia and his 13-year-old daughter, Ariana, can be found biking along the banks of the Potomac River, with the national monuments as their backdrop. “Biking gives us the chance to bond and have fun together, and we love a destination trip,” he says.
The two ride frequently on weekends and count the C&O Canal Towpath in Georgetown and the Mt. Vernon trail in Northern Virginia as favorites, because of the attractions along the way.
Fernandez, an avid biker who is also the author of “Best Bike Rides D.C.,” says families should consider a trail where the payoff goes beyond great exercise.
“Some of the best trails for families are in an urban environment because you don’t have to commit to the entire trail,” he says. “It’s easy to ride portions of it and end up at different destinations — it’s a great way to keep kids engaged.”
Todd Bauer, a ride leader with Mid-Atlantic Riding Enthusiasts (MORE), a D.C.-area biking organization that hosts rides for kids, agrees that these trails are a great choice for exploring as a family.
“You may have a final destination in mind, but on a bike, you’ll see things that you wouldn’t notice from a car,” he says. “When you’re riding at a slower pace, it’s easier to take it all in. It’s those hidden gems you weren’t expecting that enhance the experience.”
Whether biking in the heart of Washington, D.C., or following a trail straight to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, here are some routes that promise families a little something extra. These bike trails include unexpected fun along the way.
Looking for more nature and wildlife? Check out our 7 Maryland Bike Trails fit for families, where we rate great local trails from easy to difficult so you can find the best fit for you crew.
5 bike paths that lead to parks, cities and historic sites
1. Gwynns Falls Trail, Baltimore
This urban trail is a feast for the eyes as it meanders more than 15 miles from the end of I-70 through 30 Baltimore neighborhoods, all the way to the Inner Harbor.
Ride through woodland and meadows outside of the city before passing historic mansions and museums downtown. For a nature lover’s route, park at the Security Boulevard Park and Ride and start at the top of the trail. Bike through the Franklintown Historic District and enter Leakin Park to see the Crimea Estate and its historic waterwheel (1.6 miles).
Just a mile further south, check out the trail’s headquarters at the Carrie Murray Nature Center and bike through the Dead Run valley as it leads into Gwynns Falls.
For a more urban route, park at the Carroll Park Golf Course at Washington Boulevard and ride over the Carrollton Viaduct, built in 1829 as the first bridge of the B&O Railroad. Head through Carroll Park and the old Montgomery Ward complex to end up at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Or detour along the way to the B&O Railroad Museum, situated just adjacent to the trail (2.8 miles).
Length: 15 miles; various routes as short as 1 mile.
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate; mostly urban landscape.
Parking: Available at eight different routes along the trail, or throughout the city.
2. Mount Vernon Trail, Northern Va.
This 18-mile paved and mostly flat trail snakes along the Potomac River and offers uninterrupted views of the Washington, D.C., skyline.
The trail begins at Theodore Roosevelt Island near Rosslyn in Northern Virginia and ends at Mount Vernon, former home of George Washington. Cycle past Arlington National Cemetery, ride through Old Town Alexandria and take a break at Gravelly Point at Reagan National Airport.
Parking is available at various points along the Potomac or take the Metro to the Rosslyn or National Airport stations. For a closer look at the memorials, take the bike path across the Memorial Bridge, past the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, all the way to Hains Point — a perfect spot for a picnic.
Length: 18 miles, but easy starting and stopping points of any length.
Level of difficulty: Easy to difficult (final mile near Mount Vernon is a steep uphill climb).
Parking: At every lot along the trail except Lady Bird Johnson Park and Navy Memorial. Metro accessible via Rosslyn and National Airport metro stations.
3. Patuxent Branch Trail, Savage
This 4.6-mile trail is part of a larger 20-mile trail system that winds through Howard County. Start in historic Savage Mill in Savage to bike through a landscape that includes 10 different bridges such as the 1902 Guilford Pratt Truss Bridge, an old railroad bridge that crosses the Little Patuxent River.
Signs along the trail explain the historical bridges and landmarks, including the 1928 granite quarry. The reward at the end of the ride: beautiful Lake Elkhorn in Columbia that has picnic facilities, boating, a playground and more biking paths. Or use the lake as a starting point to explore historic Savage Mill at the other end of the trail.
Length: 4.6 miles, with connecting trails for a longer ride.
Level of difficulty: Moderate with some hills and sharp turns.
Parking: Savage Park in Savage. Trail entrance is past the ball fields. Also available at Lake Elkhorn.
howardcountymd.gov or traillink.com
4. C&O Canal Towpath, Georgetown
The 184-mile long C&O Canal Towpath is loaded with cool things to see every mile of the way. Start at mile 0 in Georgetown by parking near the waterfront at K Street.
Take the trail directly on the canal or choose the parallel Capital Crescent Trail for a smoother and less-crowded path. Enjoy scenic views of the Potomac River on one side and the canal on the other, as you coast along this mostly-flat terrain.
At mile 3.1, the towpath meets up with the Capital Crescent Trail at Fletcher’s Boathouse, a historic boathouse run by the National Park Service. Rent a kayak, a rowboat or fishing gear at this scenic cove of the Potomac.
More ambitious bikers can tackle the 14-mile route from Georgetown to Great Falls. The moderately vigorous trek rewards bikers with spectacular scenery and access to the falls from the Boardwalk trail.
Length: 185 miles, with easy routes just a few miles long.
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate in the first 15 miles.
Parking: Parking the Georgetown waterfront and at Great Falls National Park (in Maryland.)
canaltrust.org or traillink.com
5. Rock Creek Trail, Washington, D.C.
Rock Creek Trail is a 14-mile trail that runs through Rock Creek Park and the Rock Creek Valley in Washington, D.C. The paved, hilly trail offers scenic views of woodlands, creeks and wildlife — all hidden in the heart of the city.
The trail is narrow and crosses some busy intersections, which is why it’s best tackled on weekends when Beach Drive is closed to car traffic. Park at the Pierce Barn at the corner of Park Road and Beach Drive and head south on the trail. At mile 2, take the trail towards Calvert Street and park your bike to explore the National Zoo. Two more miles on the trail lead riders through Dupont Circle and straight to the Georgetown waterfront, where riders can grab lunch.
Length: 4 miles.
Level of Difficulty: Moderate with some hills and urban crossings.
Parking: Lots along Rock Creek Park or in the city.
By Katie Riley
Click here for more bike trails throughout Maryland courtesy of Bike Maryland.
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