The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail is one of the Washington, D.C. Metro area's most popular trails. Just across the Potomac River from D.C. in Virginia, the trail links Theodore Roosevelt Island Park with George Washington's Estate in Mount Vernon. The trail follows the course of the Potomac, passing through parks, yacht clubs, wetlands, neighborhoods, towns and wooded acres.
The trail is mostly paved but some sections are boardwalk. In many places the winding trail is narrow, and because it is heavily used (especially on weekends), all recreationists—whether on foot, skates or bike—must use caution when passing others and when entering the trail from any of its many access points. Cyclists must dismount at some bridge crossings.
At the midpoint of the Mount Vernon Trail, navigating Old Town Alexandria can be tricky. You have two routes to choose from, both of which are on-street. From north to south, one route follows E. Abingdon Drive to Bashford Lane to Royal Street. Or you can simply ride along George Washington Memorial Parkway and pick up the trail again south of Interstate 95/495 (on the river side of the road). The other route, more preferred by some, veers to the left (coming from the north) and picks up Union Street. From here you have easy access to Alexandria's waterfront parks, restaurants and shops. The marina boardwalk area is lively, with all kinds of entertainment year-round but mainly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You can return to the trail at the end of Union Street near the nice townhomes along the river.
Approaching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-95/495), you can detour east across the Potomac River on the wide, paved Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail flanking the northern side of the bridge to reach National Harbor in Maryland. Here you'll find dozens of shops and restaurants, not to mention the occasional waterside entertainment (water-ski shows and boating events). Otherwise, continue under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to take the trail through more parks, marshlands and tidy neighborhoods.
As you near the Mount Vernon Estate, the trail begins a steep climb through the forest where it ends in the parking lot for the estate grounds. On a hot summer day you can slake your thirst at the visitors center and rest in the shade of the trees. At the northern end of the trail, at the parking lot for Roosevelt Island, you can explore the island park's ring trail via a footbridge over the river. Also, from here, you can take a pedestrian bridge over the road and pick up the Custis Trail, which leads to the W&OD Trail.
You can access the Mount Vernon Trail from numerous places along its route. The three main access points are:
Theodore Roosevelt Island: Access via the northbound lane only of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Parking can be limited on weekends.
Old Town Alexandria: Access from I-495; take the Patrick Street/US 1 Exit north and follow the signs to downtown. Or take I-395 to the King Street/State Route 7 Exit and head east (south), following the signs into town.
Mount Vernon Estate: Access at the southern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. For information on more access points, visit the National Park Service website.
The Mountain Vernon Trail is also accessible from Washington, D.C. Metro stations on the Blue and Orange Lines. The Park Service website has more information, or you can visit the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.