Cabin John Trail
The Cabin John Trail, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County, zigzags for nearly 9 miles along the creek it’s named after from the suburbs of Rockville to the Potomac River. Although the trail is marked by a blue dash throughout (thanks to the help of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club) and official park signage, the 8.8 mile long greenway crosses 6 different roads, some of them major, so it’s important to pay attention and use caution because crosswalks aren’t always available. With that in mind, it’s best to break the trail into five different sections.
McArthur Blvd to River Rd ~ 2.6 miles
Start your adventure by parking at Cabin John Local Park, just off MacArthur Boulevard. A sign marks the start (or end, depending on your perspective) of the trailhead in the rear of the lot. Peering below, you’ll immediately see the steep decline, complete with railroad ties, that awaits you. As you continue, you’ll notice that the first mile of the trail is quite technical and requires a bit of rock-hopping, but know that it only gets better from here.
Approximately two miles into the run, the trail intersects Seven Locks Road. Turn right and run along the sidewalk, underneath the Capital Beltway, for about a quarter of a mile until you reach a small parking lot with a sign that directs you back to the trail. In another half mile, you will once again find yourself facing Seven Locks Road, immediately south of the intersection of River Road. Although it’s hard to see, the trail picks up on the opposite side of the street, just beyond the guardrail.
Alternatively, and especially if the trail is muddy, you can run to the intersection of River Road, turn left, and follow the street until you reach a sign for the trail on the right hand side of the road.
River Rd to Bradley Blvd ~ 1.2 miles
Once you’re safely across River Road, you’ll enter one of the most rewarding sections of the trail. Even in the middle of winter, with the trees absent of leaves, the woods here are eerily quiet. In addition, wildlife abounds; beaver, fox, raccoon and deer frequent this section of the valley. In about a mile, you’ll reach a grove of bamboo trees, which is your cue to look to the right. Positioned atop a hill, you’ll notice a unique-looking house partly hidden amongst the trees, which the world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his son in the 1950s. Rumor has it that Wright’s grandson reportedly still lives here. In another quarter mile you’ll reach Bradley Boulevard. Before crossing the street, take note of the old stone house on your right. Prior to World War I, the building was used as an electrical substation for the Great Falls trolley, which ran from downtown Chevy Chase to Great Falls. Bradley Boulevard was later built on top of the rail line.
Bradley Blvd to Democracy Blvd ~ 1.8 miles
Recent rains have eroded portions of the trail alongside the creek north of Bradley, so it’s advised to follow the new trail, which runs parallel (but further up the hill) to the original trail. There are a few small hills throughout this section, but the surrounding beauty will take your mind off the undulating terrain. The trail will suddenly end at Seven Locks Road, but hop the guardrail, turn left and continue north until you reach the intersection at Democracy Boulevard. The trail picks up caddy-corner from where you’re standing, so cross both roads and precede east up Democracy until you see a sign on the left hand side of the road directing you back to the trail.
Democracy Blvd to Tuckerman La ~ 1.9 miles
If you’re interested in getting in more than 9 miles, you’ll find plenty of runnable trails between here and the next road crossing. In fact, these are arguably the best trails in all of Cabin John Stream Valley Park. Once you’ve run your share, climb a hill, cross a strip of power lines, and descend towards Tuckerman Lane.
Tuckerman La to Goya Dr ~ 1.3 miles
The Robert C. McDonnel Campground, which is frequented by boy scouts and girl scouts alike, sits on the opposite side of the road and hosts a variety of paths.
However, to continue down the the trail you’ve been running on for the past 7 miles, turn left on Tuckerman and cross the street after you pass the group picnic area where another sign directs you towards the trail. You’ve finally entered the home stretch. Climb one last hill, and then descend towards the creek. In about a mile, the trail concludes, uneventfully, at the end of Goya Drive. Hopefully you’ve arranged a pick-up. If you haven’t, you’ve got another 8.8 miles in your immediate future.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of RunWashington.