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View Full Version : Looking for an easy 25 mile ride in DC Metro area



CPTJohnC
09-12-2013, 03:14 PM
Hello to all: I am an experienced bicycle commuter, and I've ridden a number of trails in the area, but I am looking for a ride with some specific characteristics, and so far I've been unsuccessful at finding a great option.

The situation: My son, age 13, and a somewhat experienced, but only occasional cyclist, needs to do a 50 mile ride, in a period of under 8 hours (to finish his Bicycling merit badge for scouts). I know that for most adults, that's no problem, but for a kid who is NOT an avid endurance cyclist, it is not so easy (as I found out the first time we went cycling with the boy scouts -- 8 hours got us (a large group of adults and kids) about 38 miles total distance on the C&O.)

What I'm looking for: a trail (or really underused roads, I guess) at least 25 miles long, has only gentle (or no?) hills, preferably paved, or good condition dirt/gravel, and preferably 'less crowded'. There should be no 'portaging' the bikes (I'm looking at you, C&O).

Road sections acceptable but not preferred, but I'll happily take some calm road sections over excessive crowds and/or portaging.

Bonus points for shade, rest areas, a 'destination' and/or some points of interest.

Location within 1 hour of DC is a plus but not 100% required - camping is an option (that he'd love, even if I wouldn't).

I'm very familiar with the W&OD, Mount Vernon and Custis trails, of course, but I prefer not to ride them on weekends because of the crowds, and frankly, the hilly sections in Arlington would be a turn off for my son.

Has anyone ridden the Anacostia trail system? It is listed as being 29 miles, but it also looks like it isn't a loop or out and back, but rather a loose conglomeration of trails, so making a long ride out of it would require repeating several sections.

I've ridden the section of the Cross County Trail between FX city and Wakefield park, but not other parts. Can anyone give me the scoop? It appears to 'start and stop' periodically -- are these connections simple enough to make?

Likewise, the FX County Pkwy trail also appears not to be a continuous trail -- anyone know if there are reasonable connectors for the 'missing' sections? This is definitely not high on my list, as the scenery is boring and there's little or no shade, but if we wait until the weather is cooler, it is a possibility.

Any suggestions that I've clearly not thought of?

Thanks in advance.

Tim Kelley
09-12-2013, 03:18 PM
Does it have to be on trail? And on just one trail? How is the distance/time measured?

dasgeh
09-12-2013, 03:24 PM
Hey, Maryland people: Would that trail by BWI to Annapolis be helpful here? I've done a brick (run/ride) on the loop part and on part of the out-to-Annapolis part and IIRC it was lovely.

TwoWheelsDC
09-12-2013, 03:27 PM
Would laps around Hains Point work?

jabberwocky
09-12-2013, 03:27 PM
The Cross County Trail varies wildly in surface, and can be somewhat difficult to follow. Northern sections are mostly singletrack; doable a cross bike but more pleasant on a MTB. Through Fairfax you're riding roads (some major ones, like Jermantown Rd). South it varies between gravel, pavement, singletrack and road. Its doable, but if speed is an issue I'd not recommend it.

I'd recommend against the FFX County Parkway trail. I live right off it in Reston; its not of the same quality of the W&OD, and a lot of the road crossings are terribly designed and quite dangerous. And its simply not that pleasant, since it parallels a multi-lane highway for its whole length.

Honestly, given your requirements, I'd recommend the W&OD, just out to the west. Once you get away from Reston, its very pleasant. The section west of Leesburg is rural and lovely and rarely what I would call crowded. For training, drive out to the lot off 28 and head west. From Reston to Purcellville and back would easily satisfy your 50 mile requirement.

dbb
09-12-2013, 03:30 PM
I'd vote for the Arlington Loop that you could add a run to the Wilson Bridge or Hains Point (or both). Safe, pleasant, and convenient.

Tim Kelley
09-12-2013, 03:37 PM
How about Purceville to Arlington. That's a net downhill, right?

Or Capital Crescent downhill, to Hains Point, to Mount Vernon to Fort Hunt, which has some variety. http://ridewithgps.com/routes/3339362

CaseyKane50
09-12-2013, 03:44 PM
Hey, Maryland people: Would that trail by BWI to Annapolis be helpful here? I've done a brick (run/ride) on the loop part and on part of the out-to-Annapolis part and IIRC it was lovely.

I think you might be referring to the Baltimore and Anapolis Trail. My wife and I did the ride earlier this summer. It is nicely shaded, the riders on the trail were very polite, calling out passes and slowing down when passing. It is relatively flat with just a few short climbs. Park headquarters has restrooms and there are places to eat along the way. There is an easy connection to the BWI trail. The trail is 13.3 miles in length.

Kolohe
09-12-2013, 03:48 PM
There's a loop that starts on the Georgetown waterfront (under the Whitehurst freeway) goes up the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda (a good destination to stop), then over the Georgetown Branch Trail to Rock Creek park, then back down Beach Drive (closed to motor traffic on weekends until military road) then through the lower park of Rock Creek park back to Georgetown - it's about 20 miles

http://goo.gl/maps/dmzoi

Things that are at somewhat variance with your specs

1) It's uphill for about 2 and half miles strait all the way from Georgetown to the Mont county line. (then a more or less flat grade to Bethesda - then slightly downhill to Jones Bridge Road crossing, then a steeper downhill into the Rock Creek basin, but can be mitigating depending on which path you take)

2) The last part of the Rock Creek Trail between Military Road through the zoo and onward to the Penn Ave / M Street is fairly atrocious. Narrow with a few short but steep inclines and curves, and roots in somewhat abundance. (I myself normally just climb up to the old Walter Reed and take 14th street bike lanes all the way back - but that's more hills and traffic)

3) It's obviously short of 25 miles. One could add a counter loop though, going along the Potomac down past the Lincoln & Jefferson memorial's to Haines point http://goo.gl/maps/R1mX4 or along the SW waterfront to the Anacostia trails (the South Capital Street bridge is a bit of a pain, but not a really big obstacle - just stay on the narrow sidepath on the east side of the bridge) and then back through the bike lanes (very ok for beginners) that run through Capitol Hill and Penn Ave. http://goo.gl/maps/QszfV. Or you can add a bit of out and back when you get to Rock Creek http://goo.gl/maps/kIEMb but I'm not personally familiar with anything north of the Mormon temple on this last route.

eminva
09-12-2013, 04:03 PM
I just shepherded 15 scouts to completion of the Cycling Merit badge this summer. Here are my recommendations:

-Indian Head Rail Trail -- flat and quiet, lovely scenery. It is only 13 miles so you'd have to do a couple of loops.

-The Torrey C. Brown & Heritage Trails (http://bikearlingtonforum.com/showthread.php?4659-Post-your-ride-pics/page71) -- these trails together are about 40 miles, so you could go 25 out and back. We found them much quieter than the W&OD, Mount Vernon and other local trails.

-W&OD from Purcellville to Four Mile Run Trail to Mount Vernon Trail (whatever distance you need to get to 50 miles) -- yes, there are some uphill sections, but net downhill (this requires someone to do drop off and pick up).

-I wouldn't rule out the C&O; we had 14 scouts and eight adults ride 54.2 miles on the C&O from Brunswick to DC in 7 hours, 37 minutes elapsed time (5 hours, 22 minutes moving time per Strava) on the fourth day of our C&O Trip. That was the leg we used for the 50-miler for the badge.

-The Cross County Trail was good for the shorter rides (we used that a lot for our training for the C&O trip) but not so great for the 50 miler. There is a section between Thaiss Park and Rolling Road (in Springfield) that is passable for an occasional cyclist, but it is only 11 miles, so you'd have to go back and forth a lot. There are water crossings, deep gravel, and other things to slow you down; I'd not recommend this.

-Fairfax County Parkway Trail: NO.

Is this just for you and your son, or a whole group of scouts? If the former, where are those other boys?!

Let me know if you need blue cards signed. ;)

Good luck!

YIS,

Liz

KayakCyndi
09-12-2013, 04:09 PM
Ok. This ride is NOT 1 hour from DC but well worth the drive in my opinion.

Go camp at Chickahominy River Front Park (http://www.jamescitycountyva.gov/recreation/parks/chickahominy-park.html) in Williamsburg VA. From there bike the Greensprings trail to Jamestown Island, loop the Island. Then ride along the Colonial Parkway (http://www.nps.gov/colo/parkway.htm) to Colonial Williamsburg. Have Lunch. Keep riding out the Colonial Parkway until you hit the mileage you need (it goes on to Yorktown). Then turn around and ride back to Chickahomiy.

Very few hills on the Colonial Parkway although few small ones near Williamsburg. While it is a road it is a "colonial" and touristy road with very few cars and most travel slowly. Ride hybrids or road bikes with big tires the Parkway is bumpy pavement. Lots of stuff to look at along the way.

PM me if you are interested and need details/routes etc.

3677367836793680

mstone
09-12-2013, 04:28 PM
Remember that there's a bonus point each time you say chickahominy because, wow what a fun word.

mstone
09-12-2013, 04:38 PM
Where/why on the C&O did you have to portage? Knowing that would help calibrate the advice; there aren't many unrideable spots, but there might have been a transient problem.

Also take a look at the Western Maryland Rail Trail. I think it's a bit shy of 20 miles, but you could tack on a bit of towpath. That trail has some climbing (more than the towpath but less than W&OD) but almost no vehicle conflicts.

KLizotte
09-12-2013, 04:41 PM
I second the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It's actually longer than the stated length because the trail continues for another 1.5-2 miles beyond the official end of the trail. It's very shaded and almost flat. There are a few restaurants right on the trail in Hancock. The best thing about the trail is how few people use it even on the weekends. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. There are some road crossings but they were all easy. The tow path parallels the paved trail and there are connecting trails. It will be very pretty when the trees change color.

KS1G
09-12-2013, 08:35 PM
I'd consider C&O, too. For a 25 mile out & return, I think it would work well. Just give the towpath a day or two to dry out after today's rain! Need to check a map to see how far upstream that takes you, but Great Falls should definitely be included. Further west, WMRT is very nice and I'd recommend stopping at Ft Frederick (hopefully they will have ice cream). Also out west, there is a Antietam battlefield loop on the bikewashingtondc web site. Uses the autoroad on the north side of the the battlefield, there are ways to get to some of the other attractions (Burnside's Bridge). The full loop starts at the Antietam Creek campsite, so there will be hills climbing up from C&O to the battlefield area, and to get up from the Burnside Bridge area. You can include an ice cream stop at Nutter's in Sharpsburg. We took 7-8 scouts on this loop over Illumination weekend in early December a few years ago, so it's do-able with that age group.

A more ambitious loop (overkill for the 50 miler) would be W&OD to Leesburg, Rt 15 (briefly) and White's Ferry Rd, take ferry across, ice cream & snacks at general store, than back via C&O. Adjust start and end points for mileage if someone can provide transportation.

Good luck!

DismalScientist
09-12-2013, 09:45 PM
A more ambitious loop (overkill for the 50 miler) would be W&OD to Leesburg, Rt 15 (briefly) and White's Ferry Rd, take ferry across, ice cream & snacks at general store, than back via C&O. Adjust start and end points for mileage if someone can provide transportation.

Good luck!

I would go the other way around. You will want the faster riding at the end.

mstone
09-12-2013, 10:14 PM
I would go the other way around. You will want the faster riding at the end.

For someone not used to distance riding, the W&OD overpasses, those two weird dips toward Reston, and the long false flat into Vienna would probably not be the best way to wind down a 50 mile ride. Let alone Arlington if you're heading all the way back to the city. The W&OD is generally downhill from purcellville, but it's not a particularly smooth grade for a railroad (largely because of places where the trail doesn't follow the original ROW).

CPTJohnC
09-14-2013, 11:04 PM
Does it have to be on trail? And on just one trail? How is the distance/time measured?

Time is total time, not 'moving' time - so within 8 hours, need to pedal 50 miles, including all stops (at least, that's my understanding.) Not necessarily on one trail, but one continuous ride (so no hopping in the car to get from one place to another. Reasonable road sections connecting two trails would be fine).


Would laps around Hains Point work?

Only if I want him to hate cycling forever more. 50 miles of tiny laps is, well, dull.


I think you might be referring to the Baltimore and Anapolis Trail. My wife and I did the ride earlier this summer. It is nicely shaded, the riders on the trail were very polite, calling out passes and slowing down when passing. It is relatively flat with just a few short climbs. Park headquarters has restrooms and there are places to eat along the way. There is an easy connection to the BWI trail. The trail is 13.3 miles in length.

The B and A trail was recommended to me for other reasons, and if there's an easy connection to BWI, that might make it ideal. Another plus is that my oldest goes to college in Annapolis, so we could probably make time for a visit with her, too.

CPTJohnC
09-14-2013, 11:12 PM
I just shepherded 15 scouts to completion of the Cycling Merit badge this summer. Here are my recommendations:

-Indian Head Rail Trail -- flat and quiet, lovely scenery. It is only 13 miles so you'd have to do a couple of loops.

-The Torrey C. Brown & Heritage Trails (http://bikearlingtonforum.com/showthread.php?4659-Post-your-ride-pics/page71) -- these trails together are about 40 miles, so you could go 25 out and back. We found them much quieter than the W&OD, Mount Vernon and other local trails.

-W&OD from Purcellville to Four Mile Run Trail to Mount Vernon Trail (whatever distance you need to get to 50 miles) -- yes, there are some uphill sections, but net downhill (this requires someone to do drop off and pick up).

-I wouldn't rule out the C&O; we had 14 scouts and eight adults ride 54.2 miles on the C&O from Brunswick to DC in 7 hours, 37 minutes elapsed time (5 hours, 22 minutes moving time per Strava) on the fourth day of our C&O Trip. That was the leg we used for the 50-miler for the badge.


Is this just for you and your son, or a whole group of scouts? If the former, where are those other boys?!

Let me know if you need blue cards signed.

Liz: You are a font of knowledge! I am unclear on what happened with the other boys who were working on the badge - the gentleman who was coordinating for our troop essentially told me that at this point, it would be easiest if Max and I just found a way to complete this (his final requirement) on our own, and he would 'trust me' -- he knows my penchant for cycling and technology, so I think he figures I won't cheat. My plan was to offer the ride to any other scouts who might want to participate, contingent on getting at least one other adult.

I'm not ruling out C&O, but I would need to figure out how to start in a place that bypasses all the screwed up crossings, or determine that they're all fixed. We wound up walking the bikes up and over several bridges -- it might not really be a big deal if it was a smaller group of us, but the first trip we had 25+ scouts and adults, with a trailer, and it just took FOREVER! to get through those areas. Thanks for confirming that Cross County and FX County Pkwy are out. I was half thinking about just riding down 123 to Occoquan and back (or from Occoquan up to FX and back to put the hills on the right side of the ride) early some Saturday morning despite the relative hilliness, but I don't think he'd enjoy it.

CPTJohnC
09-14-2013, 11:19 PM
Ok. This ride is NOT 1 hour from DC but well worth the drive in my opinion.

Go camp at Chickahominy River Front Park (http://www.jamescitycountyva.gov/recreation/parks/chickahominy-park.html) in Williamsburg VA. From there bike the Greensprings trail to Jamestown Island, loop the Island. Then ride along the Colonial Parkway (http://www.nps.gov/colo/parkway.htm) to Colonial Williamsburg. Have Lunch. Keep riding out the Colonial Parkway until you hit the mileage you need (it goes on to Yorktown). Then turn around and ride back to Chickahomiy.

Very few hills on the Colonial Parkway although few small ones near Williamsburg. While it is a road it is a "colonial" and touristy road with very few cars and most travel slowly. Ride hybrids or road bikes with big tires the Parkway is bumpy pavement. Lots of stuff to look at along the way.

PM me if you are interested and need details/routes etc.



Good thought! I've ridden colonial parkway a couple of times so I know what you mean about the surface, but other than that it is a perfect ride for this! My other daughter goes to college in Newport News, so that might be a justification for the trip to tidewater.


For someone not used to distance riding, the W&OD overpasses, those two weird dips toward Reston, and the long false flat into Vienna would probably not be the best way to wind down a 50 mile ride. Let alone Arlington if you're heading all the way back to the city. The W&OD is generally downhill from purcellville, but it's not a particularly smooth grade for a railroad (largely because of places where the trail doesn't follow the original ROW).

Those are actually things he's done, but they are also the reasons I'm trying to avoid too much in the way of climbing. He does not love the 'big' (for him) hills heading out of Vienna into Reston. The false flat doesn't bother him so much, though. I think it is the look of hilliness that bugs him, not the actual climbing.

Thanks again to all that responded. I will be looking at all the advice and seeing what works. I may use some of the shorter suggestions for some additional prep rides.

Mikey
09-15-2013, 06:55 AM
Another nice ride is the North Central Railtrail/York Heritage trail between York PA and just North of Baltimore. It's flat, with nice scenery and has enough trailside towns with icecream and food along the way. You could easily get 50 miles in an out and back.

CPTJohnC
09-17-2013, 10:19 AM
Another nice ride is the North Central Railtrail/York Heritage trail between York PA and just North of Baltimore. It's flat, with nice scenery and has enough trailside towns with icecream and food along the way. You could easily get 50 miles in an out and back.

thanks! That also sounds like a good option!

mello yello
09-23-2013, 12:50 PM
Not your 25 mile ride, but...
A nice half-day ride that is close, flat, (mostly) newly paved, and relatively less crowded than comparable trails in N.Va is the Anacostia Riverwalk trail system loop from S. Capitol St. Bridge to Benning Road Bridge. I like adding Kingman Island for some gravel, and it adds a mile for a 10-mile loop.

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=6092821

Once they complete the trail through the Aquatic Gardens you can connect up with the rest of the Anacostia Tributary trail system / NW Branch trail, which would be a great all trail loop with very few roads / crossings.

Greenbelt
09-24-2013, 10:19 AM
This is my favorite loop for 20-25 miles. There are lots of alternative start/end points (Greenbelt Metro, Ivy Lane parking lots, Old Greenbelt Center).
http://ridewithgps.com/routes/896301