Billy Goat Trail Running (or strolling)
By Nicholas Christopher, last updated 5/16/14 05:25pm
If you didn't know about it already, this spring and summer will be the perfect time to get your first experience of the Billy Goat Trail at the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The trail, named for its rocky character, is an ideal place for a hike, a trail run, or an early morning stroll. This section of the C&O is also a starting point for Potomac river kayakers.
I've been going for years. I love jogging, climbing, and occasionally sprinting over the varied terrain in the trees' shade, feeling the breeze coming off the river, spotting animals along the way. Last time as I entered the trail, the first thing I was greeted by the powerful sound of a woodchuck cracking into dead wood as I started on the trail. The beautiful red-crested bird flew away as I jogged by it.
To get to the section of the trail I like most, I take Exit 5A on 270 toward Potomac, following Falls Rd. all the way up to where it dead-ends on McArthur Blvd. On the way you can stop at the Safeway at the corner of River Rd. and Falls if you forgot snacks and refreshments; and on the way back Chipotle and Vie de France in the same shopping center can help refuel you.
Taking a left on McArthur Blvd. and driving about two miles, you come to the Old Angler's Inn, a restaurant with great ambiance and a menu of savory American classics, and a good place to dine and drink after a long day in the woods (if the prices don't scare you off - and it's a good idea to check the daily hours and make reservations ahead).
Across from the Old Angler's, there is a free parking lot that leads right down onto the C&O and the Billy Goat Trail. It can be hard to find parking there on Saturdays and Sundays, but any other day it's a great starting point.
A good route
Crossing the bridge at the bottom of the path and taking a left (you can also go right for another walking trail, but you have to go down the canal path quite a way), you'll come to Billy Goat Trail B, a 1.6 mile path that runs along the Potomac River. This takes you in a semi-circle back to the canal, and if you walk a little further, you'll come to another, 1.7-mile segment of the trail. So you can go 3.3 miles on the trail, and either retrace your steps back, or walk/jog back along the pebbly but scenic canal path. It's a great loop for a trail run if you're in shape -- you just have to watch out for the rocks, which jut up from the ground in places, and which in other parts you have to scrabble up to continue your run.
On a busier day you're likely to see dog walkers, parents with kids, and a couple of other runners. If you go early on a weekday, you may find yourself alone with the lizards, turtles, deer, and other wildlife that is likely to pop up as you run. A snake sighting is not uncommon, but you're not likely to see anything more serious than a diminutive green snake or a ratsnake, neither of which poses any threat to us.
The only things to watch out for on the trail are the rocks; wasps and hornets, which sometimes build their nests near the trail (though the park management is usually pretty vigilant about that); and poison ivy, only a concern if you go off the trail into the thicker growth. You'll want to check for ticks when you're done, as well. Water and sunscreen are, of course, an excellent idea.
I wear New Balance MT110s, a light, breathable shoe designed for off-pavement running. You can find a durable, comfortable pair of shoes for trail running or hiking at REI on Rockville pike, among other local places.
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