Best outdoor trail: Georgetown canal loop

Media Credit: Sophia Young | Contributing Photo Editor

The trail runs right next to the Potomac River, providing hikers and bikers with views of breathtaking scenery.

Readers’ pick: National Mall

You probably typically visit Georgetown for its shops and restaurants, but the neighborhood’s outdoor trail is an underrated gem.

The trail, which was the top ranked trail in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Recreational Trails this year, can be found just south of M Street in Georgetown and marks the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The 184-mile-long trail has several different names, depending on which part of the trail you’re running or biking, and covers parts of D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Georgetown’s stretch of the trail is lined with shops and restaurants like Baked and Wired, Chaia Tacos and Blue Bottle Coffee. Here, the path is lined with red brick, which transitions to a gravel and clay towpath after a few hundred feet and heads through Georgetown to Bethesda and Silver Spring, Maryland.

The trail was originally constructed for mules to walk and tow boats through the water alongside the canal in the mid-1800s. Historical markers like locks – which were used to lift and lower the boats depending on elevation changes along the canal – can be found throughout the towpath, making the trail great for anyone who loves American history.

Sadly, there are no mules on the trail today, which is now made from dirt and stone and is strictly for recreation. But visitors can use the trail for a relaxing walk along the canal after a meal at one of the neighborhood’s restaurants.

The trail is largely admired by locals because of its breathtaking scenery. The path runs parallel to the Potomac River, providing hikers and bikers with views of the fall line – the point at which the river plunges from an elevated region onto a coastal plain, forming a waterfall. 

The towpath also intersects with the Billy Goat Trail – one of the most well-known walking and hiking trails in the D.C. area with such picturesque views of the Potomac River and Mather Gorge that it looks like it should belong in the Rocky Mountains instead of a D.C. suburb.

The next time you want to switch up your daily walk, run or bike ride, try out this scenic spot. 

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