Ultramarathoner Michael Wardian turns just about anything into a running trail: the Beltway, the Arlington Forest block where he lives, a 60-mile route connecting all 12 District Taco locations in the DMV. But when he’s looking for a more traditional path, Northern Virginia has plenty to offer: 720 miles of trail, according to the Trail Run Project, a crowdsourced website.
The right environment can really inspire runners to go the distance, says Wardian, who runs at least 6 miles almost every day. “The chance to see something different, I think, is amazing, and that really inspires me to get out there and run,” he says. “Northern Virginia gets underlooked as a running destination and a place for trails.”
If running is on your New Year’s resolutions list, here are five running trails to consider when you lace up.
One of Wardian’s top picks, this 10-mile stretch of the 825-mile Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail follows George Washington Parkway between Theodore Roosevelt Island and Live Oak Drive in McLean. Another 17-mile section connects Roosevelt Island and Mount Vernon, offering views of the Washington Monument across the Potomac River. “It’s really technical for the area … but you can definitely run on it,” Wardian says.
Go Hike Virginia calls this loop, which meets the Potomac Heritage Trail, “the most incredible loop hike in Northern Virginia.” Only a little more than 3 miles long, it’s dog-friendly, and if you’re crowd-averse, DMV Outdoors says it’s one of the “best kept secrets for outdoor activities in the DMV area.” Part of Turkey Run Park, the unpaved trail is one of several that meander through the Potomac Gorge ecosystem.
Known as the W&OD, the paved, mostly flat trail runs about 45 miles between Shirlington and Purcellville along the former roadbed of a railroad. This is a good one for folks who like to avoid mud and embrace history; the route has borne witness to Civil War skirmishes and Northern Virginia’s urban development. Plus, there are plenty of places for pit stops.
This 16-mile, largely flat, paved trail is made up of four others: Mount Vernon, Custis, W&OD, and Four Mile Run. Plus, it’s got access points in several Arlington neighborhoods, including Rosslyn and Crystal City. Despite that prime location, BikeArlington says it’s been little known since it was completed in the late 1990s.
This 800-acre park punctuated with jagged rocks and breathtaking waterfalls has 15 miles of trails and something for every ability level. There’s a section of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath, a gravelly but flat and wide expanse with stopping points that look over the Potomac into Maryland. Or for a particularly challenging run, Wardian recommends all three sections of the Billy Goat Trail, a total of 4.75 miles. “You get the fun of going up the rockface,” he says, referring to a 50-foot-steep area of Section A.