Bikers Can Find Paths Leading to Escapes

Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:20am

Sometimes a walk on the Mall just won’t cut it.

Brimming with parks, sporting events, museums and restaurants, the Washington, D.C., area offers no shortage of weekend diversions. And like other enthusiasts, mountain bikers — or those looking to just try it out — will not be disappointed.

“If you put a pin in the middle of the city and fanned out, there are at least 40 quality places to go within an hour and a half,” said Martin Fernandez, a veteran mountain biker and author of “Mountain Biking the Washington, D.C./Baltimore Area.”

Although offerings inside the Beltway are sparse, Fernandez says District-bound beginners can pedal to their heart’s content on the C&O towpath route, which begins in Georgetown and runs nearly 185 miles into Maryland.

Washington, D.C., Mountain Biking 101

“The towpath is an excellent place to go out to really get to know your bike. If you just purchased a new ride and are eager to get out but you’ve never been off-road cycling, I highly suggest a couple of quick jaunts along the canal,” Fernandez said. “The towpath is a great place to haul a kid trailer or ride with the kids.”

He added: “The main disadvantage to the tow path is traffic — lots of it.”

But if bikers are hankering for more daring — and bumpy — rides, Scott Scudamore, spokesman for the locally based Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts mountain biking club, said there are plenty of challenging and less-crowded routes in the area.

Scudamore’s 600-member group (online at alone maintains more than 25 local trails.

“The mid-Atlantic region has certainly got more than most metropolitan areas,” Scudamore said.

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For beginners, Fernandez recommends two Fairfax County, Va., locations, trails in Burke Lake Park and the combined Wakefield/Lake Accotink routes. Burke Lake can be crowded, but it’s a trail where a “novice mountain biker can really start to get a better feel for how her bike will feel out in the woods,” he said. Trails in Wakefield and Accotink parks “can be extremely challenging and provide a phenomenal workout,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“This is possibly the most popular riding spot in Northern Virginia and it is perfect for the rider who is ready to experience single-track” mountain-bike riding, Fernandez said.

Northern Virginia’s Washington and Old Dominion bike trail, a 45-mile paved stretch that runs from Shirlington, Va.,

to Loudoun County, also offers new mountain bikers an opportunity to hone their chops.

For more advanced riders, he also recommends the Schaffer Farm trails at Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland, which he calls “one of our crown jewels,” and recently developed trails in Rosaryville State Park, which “has a little bit for every rider.”

And for at least the next few months, riders just might share the trails in Rosaryville State Park with a certain famous local mountain biker: President Bush.

“Rumor has it that this is one of ‘W’s’ area destinations,” Fernandez wrote in an e-mail. “If you’re lucky — or unlucky, whichever way you look at it — you may end up sharing the trail with a bunch of Secret Service personnel.”

For advanced riders, he also recommends Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park and Virginia’s Fountainhead Regional Park, which he called “one of the most fun and exhilarating trails in the region.”

And more than an hour away lies Maryland’s remote Gambrill State Park, where venturing too far from the parking lot without a guide is discouraged.

Both Scudamore and Fernandez urge new riders to be prepared and be careful when riding, no matter what their skill level. They recommend packing snacks, water, simple tools, a first-aid kit and, if possible, avoiding riding alone because “chances are — no, wait, you will — crash and will need your buddy’s help at one point,” Fernandez reckoned.

And if the rocks, logs or other obstacles look too treacherous, Scudamore said, they probably are.

“When in doubt, dismount,” he said.