Washington D.C. has become a marvelous area for bicycle touring. A weekend ride can take you to magnificent places. It can take you to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, a town that helped spark the Civil War, or to the home of our First President.
So what are my favorite rides? Here are three (from a very long list):
As you may recall, Washington D.C. is the furthest up-river navigable point on the Potomac. This led to the ports of Georgetown on the north side and Alexandria on the south side. It also led to a competition of how to move goods inland from those ports. On the north side, investors built the C&O Canal and railroads, and on the south side, the Washington & Old Dominion railroad. These 19th Century endeavors to move goods created long stretches of continuous land that became marvelous parks.
Three summers ago my son and I packed up the bikes and cycled out the C&O Canal to Harpers Ferry. The towpath along the canal starts in Georgetown and can take you to Cumberland. From Cumberland, you can now pick up the Great Allegheny Passage rail-to-trail and bicycle all the way to Pittsburgh! The park service operates canal houses along the way that can be reserved for primitive lodging. There are lots of campgrounds and hotels along the way.
Our trip took us from Great Falls to Harpers Ferry, a marvelously scenic route. Within about two miles, my teenage son had turned to me with enthusiasm and asked if we could do this every summer. Traveling along the C&O towpath is a bit of a journey through nature and history. At Seneca Creek we saw turkey vultures. We passed Block House Park, home of a Union Civil War encampment whose mission it was to protect the C&O, but whose conditions were so muddy that one Lieutenant commented "We are in the worst camp we have ever had. It is in a hollow, where the dampness collects ..." The first day we crossed the Potomac at Whites Ferry (the only operating ferry on the Potomac) during a cold thunderstorm, and stayed the night in Leesburg. The next day we returned to the towpath, and biked passed an Olympic kayak training center at the Dickerson Generating Plant. The place where the power plant returns its cooling water to the river was converted in 1991 into a kayak course simulating the Olympic course in La Seu d’Urgell, Spain. We passed Point of Rocks and stopped in Brunswick, where an old church has been converted into the Beans in the Belfry coffee house. After coffee, we continued on to Harpers Ferry where we spent the rest of our trip white water rafting on the Shenandoah.
Biking the C&O is an affordable vacation and great exercise. There is a useful online guide to the C&O canal called Bike Washington's C&O Canal Bicycling Guide.