Billy Goat Trail
Great Falls Park is just the place for a quick escape from city life. Located a mere 10 miles from the center of our nation’s capital, a bustling location on a warm spring day, you’ll have the park practically to yourself during the winter. The park has both Maryland and Virginia sides running on opposing sides of the Mather Gorge, both boasting great running venues.
The clear winner for a more technical route is the Maryland side where lies the incredibly scenic Billy Goat trail,which has sections a,b,andC. There,you can create a fantastic trail run to fit any level of fitness/expertise.
The trail begins in the parking lot across from the Old Angler’s Inn on MacArthur Blvd. To find the starting location, from the Beltway, take the Clara Barton Parkway exit, go north on Clara Barton for several miles until you come to a T intersection, turn left on MacArthur Blvd, and go approximately two miles to the Old Angler’s Inn. There is a parking lot on the left (do not park at the inn).
The Billy Goat Trail sections are not contiguous, but are close together and are linked by the towpath. From the parking lot, cross the footbridge onto the C&O Canal towpath. If you are feeling especially spry and adventuresome (as any good runner should), turn right on the towpath for about a half mile to find section A.
Section a is a blue-blazed trail that follows the edge of Bear Island and includes a climb down a rock facade of the Mather Gorge. Itiswellknownfor its technical rock scrambling sections, in addition to offering many other scenic spots,runningforapproximatelytwomiles. Exiting sectionA,turn left on to the path and run about a mile to the Great Falls over look(near lock17),and after admiring the falls (NOTE: not barrel rolling over) turn around and head back on the path towards the inn,which will put you at six and a half miles. Ifyoustill have some juice left, you can continue past the starting point on the towpath towards sections B & C.
section b is a mile-and-a-half jaunt through the floodplains, while section C offers as many miles through the park with another chance to hit up the splash zone at a small waterfall. The extra two loops add about 5.5 miles, with connecting sections and the trip back on the towpath bringing the grand total to roughly 11 or 12 miles.
The trail is well maintained, but proceed with caution on the rock scrambles, which pretty much require very slow running. Don’t despair though: This trail is one of the most beautiful and inspiring trails in the area, and it’s hard to believe you are so close to the city when watching rock climbers and kayakers in the beautiful Mather gorge. If you still can’t squander away those winter blues, remember, you can take the towpath all the way to way to Harper’s Ferry, Georgetown, or maybe even all the way to the North Pole.
This article originally appeared in the January/February/March 2013 issue of RunWashington.