One of my favorite parts of running and biking is exploring new places, but there’s still something comforting and exhilarating about the familiarity of a regular, well-trodden route. Like being in the company of an old friend, we can let our minds relax and just enjoy being there.
As a follow-up to running a local 5K, I wanted to post some of my favorite local routes. The landscapes, climates, and infrastructures of the areas we call home have a huge influence on how and why we train and our experiences doing it. It’s fun to dream about far off mountains and incredibly scenic races, but we should all have an appreciation of and make the best of wherever we find ourselves at the moment. Need some ideas for routes around your area? Check out the local groups that make up our running and biking communities, and that create a lot of the infrastructure, opportunities, and support that make training and racing possible in the first place.
A large part of what’s below originally appeared in a blog post for Chopt a few months ago, when they were creating local destination salads and focusing on the local farms that make up their supply chain.
Rock Creek Trail (Run)
Almost every run I do starts or ends here. A tributary to Rock Creek actually runs behind my house, and I’m only a quarter of a mile from the trailhead. From there, I can go north to dirt trails around lakes, or head south all the way down to DC via a combination of asphalt bike path and dirt trail, all through a forested park.
Western Ridge Trail (Run)
When I’m training for ultras, I run this trail nearly every weekday to or from work after coming down the Rock Creek Trail to the MD / DC border. Being inside Washington, DC, yet being able to be out in the woods out of sight of any road or development is amazing. I even have my own little “grove of solitude” where I stop for a few minutes each time to relax and clear my mind.
Capital Crescent Trail (Run / Bike)
I have two main routes that I take for my commute: entirely through Rock Creek Park or switching over to the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda. I take this trail for both running and biking, and love the views it gives of the Potomac all the way down to the Washington Monument.
Lake Bernard Frank (Run)
This is my favorite little loop when I need a short run that’s actually not a commute. It gives me actual dirt trail, with a few somewhat technical sections, and some great views of the lake. It’s also home to my main hill for Barkley training.
Needwood Lake (Run)
This is another one of my go-to short runs: up to the northern end of the Rock Creek Trail, and then on actual dirt trails around the lake (or beyond). There are great boating activities here during the summer, and peaceful views across the lake during the winter.
Mar Lu Ridge (Run / Bike)
I have a love / hate relationship with Mar Lu Ridge. I’ve run up and down it hundreds of times, in miserable conditions, but I owe much of my success to this hill. This is where I did most of my Barkley training my first year, and where I’ve hosted the Mar Lu Marathon each of the following years (26 repeats for 26 miles and 13K ft of climbing… we doubled our number of entrants last year to 2!). It does offer some incredible views, and on a clear day I can pick out the Washington Monument 40 miles away. It also makes for a great hill for biking, with equally great views going down the other side.
Damascus Road (Bike)
This portion of highway 650 between Damascus and Sunshine is without a doubt my favorite stretch of road for biking. It’s close enough to where I live that I can get to it quickly, and it’s a perfectly smooth stretch of low-traffic open road through beautiful farmland.
What started as amusement in going to a place called Johnsville has grown to become one of my favorite routes. The ride is a perfect distance for mid-season training, and it takes me on great roads through beautiful countryside. Maryland may not offer me much in the way of mountains, but it does give me great roads with low traffic and beautiful landscapes.
Matthew Henson Trail (Run)
This is the only route on here that’s a complete out and back for me. I prefer one way or loops. This trail (asphalt path) is a great way for me to switch it up occasionally, though, and get off the main Rock Creek Trail for a nice 15+ mile run.
Connecticut Avenue (Run)
I think this is the only place on my list that is running on an actual road. This is actually the shortest route for me to get home by foot, and takes me through some great sections of the city: through Dupont Circle and by my favorite Chopt location, and on up by the Zoo and Van Ness all the way into Maryland and just a couple of miles from my house.
White’s Ferry (Bike)
White’s Ferry itself isn’t all that great, but it does amuse me a bit to go see the only method of transportation across the Potomac for 40 miles north of I-495. The route to White’s Ferry also takes me through some great roads through small towns and farmland, ending with a nice hill down to the ferry.
Beach Drive (Bike)
I bike Beach Drive as my commute half a dozen times per week. I want to love this one more, and it is an incredible route in the context of commuting to work in a metropolitan area for nearly 20 miles, but the DC portion of the road is laden with potholes, bumps, and drivers using the national park as a highway. They’re currently working on fixing the road, so hopefully in a year or two this one will be further up the list.
Sugarloaf Mountain (Run)
I spent much more time biking around this one, or admiring it while I’m doing Mar Lu Ridge repeats, than actually being at it, but it offers some great trails not all that far away from where I live. It’s great for a run, or a family outing.
Shenandoah (Run / Bike)
This one is a bit more of a destination for me. It’s not often that I can make it the couple of hours south to enjoy it, but when I do it offers incredible trails or incredible biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some of my favorite races I’ve done, such as Hellgate 100K and The Wild Oak Trail 100, are also in this general area.
These are places that I love but didn’t quite make the list, or that I just don’t get to do very often because they’re not conveniently located for me. If you have more suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
- Potomac Heritage Trail
- W&OD Trail
- Catoctin Mountain (as long as I’m not getting detained by the police for accidentally stopping at the entrance to Camp David)
- South Mountain (the AT runs along here, including the first part of JFK50)
- C&O Canal (includes the middle section of JFK50)
- Highway 28 from Darnestown to Rocky Point
- Highway 94
You’ll notice there aren’t any swimming locations here, other than the lakes that I can’t swim in. Well, swimming consists of the same thing, nearly every single time. I have done open water swimming a few times at Greenbrier State Park, but it’s about an hour from my house.