Winter is officially upon us. The leaves have turned, pumpkin spice lattes have taken over our mornings, and we’re feeling prepared for the next few months of hibernation. But the days getting colder is not reason enough for our love of the outdoors to stop! If you’ve lived in the District long enough, you know the city shines in winter. Between the freezing Potomac and snow-laden parks, winter can be an unexpectedly perfect time to break out those cycling shoes. Rather than hole up watching Netflix until spring, take advantage of winter’s beauty and explore the region in the best way we know how – by bike!
Below we’ve outlined some of our favorite winter bike paths to help you get those legs moving, even on winter’s coldest days. Whether you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly commute or just seeking out some surreal winter views, these are the trails for you. Grab your latte, bundle up like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, and get your legs moving!
Distance: 18 miles one way
If you haven’t biked in a while, or you’re just looking for a fun, flat ride when your friends visit, the Mount Vernon Trail is the place to be. Meandering alongside the Potomac, this trail passes through some of the most iconic and scenic sections of Northern Virginia. Beginning at the Rosslyn end of the Key Bridge, the path is easy to get to from Georgetown. You can take the trail all the way to George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon, which is absolutely stunning in the winter (and less crowded)! This is a beautiful ride when the Potomac is beginning to freeze over, but be sure to bundle up – the wind tends to pick up along the river.
#FrayLife Tip: Don’t forget to stop at Baked & Wired in Georgetown after your ride. You deserve some cupcakes after all the calories you burned!
Distance: 7 miles one way
The Capitol Crescent Trail is a quick, straight, commuter’s dream-route between Bethesda and downtown DC. It’s also one of the most heavily used trails in America, but don’t let that deter you from taking a ride – the thickets of baby strollers end after the first mile or so, opening up into a gorgeous, ultra-wide path perfect for biking. When commuting north to south, the trail is almost entirely downhill, making for a quick ride with unexpected glimpses of the C&O canal. You’ll only be reminded that you live in a bustling city when the trees disappear and the trail opens up alongside the Potomac River. From here, it’s a quick ride past the Lincoln Memorial to anywhere in the city!
Distance: 17.35 miles total, depending on where you enter/exit
If you’re on the prowl for a solid cycling workout, you should head straight to the Anacostia River Trail, a wooded path through a rarely-visited part of DC. This workout will have you absolutely stunned at how much green, open space there is in our city. It’s a favorite of group cyclists, who you’ll see absolutely killing it out there on the weekends. Don’t be shy if you’re not the Tour de France type, though; this trail is perfect for beginners too. And, to top it off, it’s extremely easy to find! With entrances spanning from Navy Yard to the RFK stadium, we don’t know how it’s stayed such a well-kept secret.
#FrayLife Tip: The River Trail was recently connected to a network of other trails that lead up into Maryland, making this the perfect trail for a full-day adventure.
Distance: 13.5 miles one way
Rock Creek Park is one of our favorite getaway spots right here in the District. Created by the Central Park designer’s sons, Rock Creek Park was designated a National Park in 1890 and is completely free to the public. Aside from being free, one of our favorite reasons to visit is for the 13-mile paved road leading from Maryland right into the District. The best time to ride is on the weekends, when Beach Drive closes down to all traffic, but it’s also a perfect route for a lunch break ride. The quiet solitude of the forest is a haven for cyclists during any season.
Distance: 184.5 miles in total one way
If you’ve visited Georgetown, explored Great Falls, or been stuck in traffic near Cabin John, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of the C&O Canal. At a glance, it might not look like much, but the C&O canal spans from the District all the way to Cumberland, with a gravel towpath running alongside the entire way. The trail is perfect for touring cyclists, with plenty of campgrounds and water sources, but if you’re not looking to spend 4-7 days on a bike, it’s perfect for a day trip! Spring and summer are the busy seasons for the path, but you can also hop on the Georgetown section in the fall to watch the leaves turn. Or, spend a perfect winter day outside and ride around Great Falls in the winter, when the canal freezes over and you can hear the ice crackling.
Distance: 3.5 miles total
Pressed for time? Try the Hains Point loop in Southwest DC, where the Potomac and Anacostia collide. Like the Mount Vernon Trail, this ride is perfect for your visiting relatives, because it offers unparalleled views of the DC skyline and monuments. And unlike the other trails, Hains Point is a quick ride at only 3.5 miles. This means it’s also a great spot for a quick workout and some glorious sunset views on your way home from work. Ride the loop as many times as you need to get your legs burning!
We’ve told you our favorite winter rides, but we want to hear about yours! Let us know your favorite routes in the comments, and tag us in your next cycling post using #FrayLife or #DCFray. Happy riding!
If you’re feeling hungry after all that cycling, check out these awesome local lunch spots you can hit up afterward, or maybe even make a pit stop along the way.
View More Articles By Laura Giuffrida
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