Trails I Love to Love, Trails I Hate to Hate

My works allows me to enjoy a flex schedule where I get a one day off every two weeks. I love to ride on these days because I seemly have the trails all to myself. Thus, usually try to ride trails I typically loath riding on weekends.

In DC, the trails I hate to hate most are the Mount Vernon Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail. Its not that these trails are bad, quite the contrary, they are great trails. However, their tremendous success makes them crowded on weekends which a variety of runners, walkers, and cyclists of various skill levels. Thus, they aren’t very fun to ride on weekends especially during the warmer months.

One of the things I most enjoy about cycling is the adventure. I love to plan new routes, find new trails, and connect multiple known trails with unknown routes. Sometimes I just scan online maps for new routes or planning out new and interesting routes (I can’t help that I am a geography nerd). I typically map out a route for my GPS prior to leaving with the exact plan I want to try. This does not always work on so well.

Once I had a loop planned on the Northwest Branch Trail I was pretty excited about. Little did I know that Google maps shows the Northwest Branch Trail extending much further than the actual trail goes. In my stubbornness to complete the loop rather just turn around, I searched for a new route which eventually put me on a hiking trail. This Indiana Jone experience eventually lead to crossing a creek in chest deep water with my bike over my head. Needless to say, sometimes my “routes” don’t always work out but I always have a good story.

Last Friday, while everyone was working,  I ventured out into the first truly cold of the fall. The air was crisp but as I rode I warmed thanks to my wool layers. I headed toward the Capital Crescent Trail using Rock Creek Park. After the first few miles, I suspicions were confirmed. The Capital Crescent Trail was almost deserted except for a few walkers. Upon reaching Bethesda, I traversed the downtown to connect to the Bethesda Trolley Trail. This is a little known trail runs from Bethesda to roughly the Twinbrook Metro Station. Its a really fun trail taking you past the National Institutes of Health. Once intersecting Grosvenor Street, I reconnected with Rock Creek Park at Beach Drive.

Bridge along Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park

Beach Drive Railroad Underpass in Rock Creek Park

I road up Rock Creek Park for another 4 miles or so until I reach Veirs Mill Park where I decide a little food was in order. As I pulled out my beef jerky (my go-to cycling food) I noticed all the tree changing color above me and all the fallen leaves around me. Well, I was there a mother and baby stopped to enjoy them as well. The baby greatly enjoyed rolling around in the dead leaves.

My view as I ate some beef jerky

My view as I ate some beef jerky

Winter is definitely coming to DC

Winter is definitely coming to DC

After adding some food in my belly, I utilized the Rock Creek Trail. This time of year the trail had a lot of dead   leaves on it. This hazard combined with twists and turns of the trail can make for treacherous riding. I took my time navigating the trail as I happily pedaled along enjoying the warmer mid-day sun. Eventually, I reached main purposes of this ride: The Matthew Henson Trail. I saw this trail shooting off toward the northeast on a map and decided “maybe I can make a loop of this.”

The start of the Matthew Henson Trail

The start of the Matthew Henson Trail

As rolled up the trail I became very impressed. The Matthew Henson Trail was created by the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. It is well paved, well designed with interactive signs, and painted warning when approaching dangerous intersection. As a matter of fact, the trail’s design and construction were nominated for a Planning & Design Award as part of the 2010 National Trails Awards.

It is a twisty trail but very quick. All this characteristics equaled fun. One of the more unique aspects of this trail is the long sections of rised boardwalk which seemingly go on forever just above the forest floor to protect the park’s most sensitive areas.

Broadwalk along the Matthew Henson Trail

Long section of boardwalk on the Matthew Henson Trail

I completed the Matthew Henson Trail in looped back through a residential neighborhood to back on the HHT briefly before crossing over and heading south to make the connection to the Silgo Creek Trail. My exit of the Matthew Henson State Park required a little cyclocross skills with the stairs. Notice the bike friendly design in the middle for bike tires for those who don’t want to shoulder this bikes.

Bike-friendly stairs as I exit the Matthew Henson Trail

Bike-friendly stairs exiting the Matthew Henson State Park

I had mapped out a network of residential streets running southward through Aspen Hill and into Wheaton. Thanks to the cycling data within GarminConnect, I was able to map all the bike cut-throughs between neighborhood which made connection between the two easier.

After making my way through Wheaton, I entered Silgo Creek. I have ridden large parts of this trail before from the south but never completed it. This time I was in uncharted territory on the north end of Silgo Creek. It was quickly apparent why I enjoy this trail so much. The northern end of Silgo Creek runs slightly down hill and winding through heavily forested areas. I came to a point where the trail looked like it just continued off into oblivion.  I had to stop and take a picture (I love this one).

The trail goes on forever down the Silgo Creek Trail

The trail goes on forever down the Silgo Creek Trail

The Silgo Creek Trail is not one you can fall asleep on. There are numerous twists and turns especially in the middle section to keep you and your bike on it’s toes. The trail crosses Silgo Creek back and forth many times which makes the ride interesting and more than a little challenging with all the dead leaves on the trail.

One of the many bridges over Silgo Creek

One of the many bridges over Silgo Creek

I made to the end of the Silgo Creek Trail and connected to the Northwest Branch. I can check that box on my trails checklist. In my opinion, the Silgo Creek Trail is the hidden gem of Washington, DC cycling. Its scenic, challenging, fun, and sparsely populated. Its only downside: it can be difficult to reach and its not a trail built for speed. Thus, some speed fiends may not enjoy it as much as others.

I exited the Northeast Branch Trail near Mount Rainer, Maryland. Heading west into Woodbridge and then Brookland via The Newton Hill. I was getting a little tired at this point so I didn’t take a shot at the KOM on Newton Street but I WILL RETURN….

The Metropolitan Branch Trail (MET) was my exit stop. I traveled down MET until reaching R Street NE. Riding west on R I reach the reward portion of the ride for a little unofficial coffeeneuring at Big Bear Cafe. Their mocha was delicious and the cherry on top of my Friday ride.

An unofficial coffeeneuring stop at Big Bear. If only it was a Saturday.

An unofficial coffeeneuring stop at Big Bear. If only it was a Saturday it would count

This loop is a terrific north DC loop taking you through northwest and northeast DC as well as Maryland. In addition, it provides the opportunity to ride two of the best trails in the DC area you may not have heard of.


4 thoughts on “Trails I Love to Love, Trails I Hate to Hate

  1. Good article ~ Trails are something that I rediscover when the temps get colder and I am looking for places to ride with less exposure to cold headwinds. Trails usually provide decent tree barriers that block the wind. A couple of weeks ago I discovered the north end of the Rock Creek Trail up at Lake Needwood. I had wondered for years where the trail went north of Viers Mill Road. On Veteran’s Day, I and a friend rode the Northern Central Trail (Now the “Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail”) from Cockeysville, MD up to New Freedom, PA. I realized that I have been riding this unpaved trail for 20 some years usually when weather turns brisk and I want a change from road cycling for a day. Another trail to check out is the Western Maryland Rail Trail out of Hancock, MD. It is a decent pavement alternative to the C&O Canal towpath in Washington County, MD. Keep these coming…

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