The Mount Vernon Trail is one of my favorite places to run: a long, multi-use paved trail along the Potomac that delivers top-notch levels of “run-joy” in any season.
From Old Town Alexandria (my home base), there are two ways to go: north up to Rosslyn and beyond and south all the way down to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia home. Both directions are scenic and fun. The entire route is about 18-miles and connects with a number of other trails in the area if you need more distance.
The northbound route is a curvy pathway that hugs along the Potomac, runs thought Reagan Airport, and continues all the way up to Rosevelt Island. Just north of the airport is Gravelly Point, a cool little spot at the end of the active runways, where you can stop, look up, and feel the power and noise of jet aircraft taking off and landing right above your head. If you decide you want to cross over to DC from VA there are a few different ways to do it – my favorite is Memorial Bridge, with its inspiring views of both Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial.
Near the end of the paved trail is Roosevelt Island, an interesting, little nature sanctuary with an elevated footbridge an intersecting trail network through woods and swamps, free from cars and cyclists. If you decide to keep going north beyond the island, however, you’d better make sure you have enough daylight and dry socks, as the paved path quickly turns into a narrow, single-track, which turns into a faint deer path, which turns into a no trail at all and eventually forces you to scramble over some steep, rocky terrain and jump through a few streams before climbing a cliff up to Chain Bridge Road. Fine if you’re looking for a Lewis & Clark experience, a little much if you’re just out on a Sunday fun run.
Southbound goes right through the middle of historic Old Town, which in certain areas doesn’t have a dedicated running path. But once you’re beyond the city neighborhoods and under the new Wilson Bridge, it’s turns into a long, meandering pathway through the woods. The southern route is usually a little less busy than the other direction and definitely has a more outdoorsy feel, with tons of wooded areas and gorgeous water views.
The whole MVT can get really busy with cyclists, strollers, skaters, walkers, and throngs of tourists gazing at the various memorials and monuments – especially on the weekends. The path is only a few feet wide, so you may occasionally get brushed back from some doofus, ringing his bell, shouting “on your left” and zipping by doing 20mph on a TT bike. No matter – most people are willing to share and work together – just like the folks across the river in our government 😉
Unfortunately, the water stations are little infrequent, so best to BYOW, especially if it’s summer.
I had the opportunity to be out on the trail this last weekend, getting in a few recovery miles after the DC Half and Half. It turned out to a beautiful fall morning, nice and crisp, with awesome, sunny views of the river and the nation’s capital beyond. During runs like that in a place like that, it’s difficult not be appreciative of America’s past and to be hopeful for our future.