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Detour Notice: As of September 2017, the Capital Crescent Trail east of downtown Bethesda was closed due to the construction of the Purple Line light-rail system. It is estimated that the reopening of the CCT from Bethesda to Silver Spring as a paved trail adjacent to the Purple Line will happen in 2025 or 2026. An on-road detour has been designated around the closure; a map of the route is available on the website for the Purple Line project.
Note: The detour involves busy Jones Bridge Road, which doesn’t have a shoulder or a marked bike lane. Trail users can find lower-stress alternatives to the official detour on the Washington Area Bicyclist Association website.
Forming an emerald arc around the northern and western borders of the District of Columbia, the Capital Crescent Trail, also known as the Georgetown Branch Trail, connects Washington to its Maryland suburbs. The pathway is so lushly wooded that, at times, you might forget that the thrum of the nation’s capital lies just over the trees. But a glance over your shoulder while traveling along the Potomac River provides a nice view of the Washington Monument and a reminder of the city’s closeness.
D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood is where 7 miles of paved trail begin, just a few blocks from the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the infamous Watergate complex. It quickly heads into leafy surroundings on its way north to Maryland and the popular dining and shopping area of Bethesda. From there, it will eventually continue as a paved trail adjacent to the Purple Line light-rail system, going another 4 miles into downtown Silver Spring with a future connection to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
The trail offers a near-perfect blend of community connector and recreational asset. Its first few miles are nestled within a national historical park, tucked between the Potomac River and the scenic C&O Canal. The canal’s towpath closely parallels the Capital Crescent Trail for a few miles before eventually continuing northwest on a winding journey of nearly 185 miles to Cumberland, Maryland. Both trails are part of the developing 800-mile Capital Trails Coalition network, a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy TrailNation project that aims to connect the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region by multiuse trail.
A meeting point for the two trails at Fletcher’s Cove—which has been in operation since the 1850s—is a favorite spot of locals. An adjacent stone house overlooking the trail is the oldest structure on the canal, and a rental shop offers canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and even hydro bikes for a water’s-eye view of the landscape. Note that there’s an almost continuous slight uphill grade from Fletcher’s Cove continuing north to downtown Bethesda.
Like anything in Washington, the trail has a rich and colorful history. It traces the route of the former Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which opened in 1910. The line hauled freight for 75 years, including the coal that provided electricity for Georgetown’s streetcars and powered the steam plant that warmed federal buildings like the White House. Limestone for the construction of the Lincoln Memorial was also ferried on the tracks.
Some of the trail’s best features are nods to its railroad past. Near the D.C.–Maryland border, the trail goes through the Dalecarlia Tunnel. The 340-foot-long brick structure is especially welcome as a cool respite on hot summer days. Be sure to look for the unusual person-size cutouts in the tunnel’s sides, used if a pedestrian needed to get out of the way of a passing train.
The trail is also part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Great American Rail-Trail, which spans the United States be-tween Washington, D.C., and Washington State.
Parking in Washington, D.C.: Fletcher’s Cove (4940 Canal Road NW). Parking is accessible only from northbound Canal Road NW or Reservoir Road NW. Note that traffic on Canal Road NW is one-way inbound during morning rush hour and one-way outbound during evening rush hour. The trail properly begins 3 miles east in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., but this is the first opportunity for free trailside parking.
Parking in Bethesda: Little Falls Park (Little Falls Pkwy & Arlington Road) and Bethesda Elm Street Garage (4841 Bethesda Ave), which is paid parking. The trail is one block east of this Montgomery County–managed garage.
To start in Bethesda, take the Capital Beltway to the MD Route 355 (Wisconsin Ave.) exit and head south toward Bethesda. In downtown Bethesda, turn right onto Bethesda Ave. The trail crosses Bethesda Ave. at Woodmont Ave., just one block west of Wisconsin Ave.
To begin in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., go south on Wisconsin Ave. to its end under the Whitehurst Freeway and turn right onto Water Street. The trail begins at the end of Water Street. Street parking is usually available along Water Street on weekends.
To access the on-road bike route that connects downtown Silver Spring to the Georgetown Branch, from the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), take the Georgia Ave. exit south toward Silver Spring. After 1.5 miles, turn right on Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring toward the Metro station. At the first light, turn right onto Second Ave. The Georgetown Branch Trail starts at this intersection.
They allow ebikes as long as one observes the speed limits and rides courteously. Being able to ride to the Mall in DC and back is great exercise too. Path users are courteous and the Pedego Ebike Rental Shop is great when you have guests who want to join you. Bethesda food is a nice reward after the ride too. A favorite trail!
This trail If you start in Silver Spring is a total of 11 miles one way. We started our bike ride in Bethesda. The trailhead in Bethesda is right outside the Capital Crescent Garage (31). It is free on weekends and holidays. There is a separate elevator for folks with bikes. We parked on level G2 right by the elevators, easy to get in and out of the elevator. Once you exit the garage, the trail will be right in front of you. From this point, it is 7 miles to get to the Georgetown Waterfront Park. This trail also runs parallel to the C & O canal towpath. There are breaks in the trail, so you can easily go back and forth between the two trails. A lot of people walking on the trail, so be careful if you’re bicycling. From the park if you go up Wisconsin Ave, you’ll find bike racks where you can lock up your bike. We knew we wanted to walk around Georgetown, so we brought locks with us. We took some time to window shop and eat. If you want a great cupcake, go to Sprinkles. Their cupcakes are delicious and better than Georgetown Cupcakes. The ride to Georgetown was downhill and easy. The ride back was harder because it was uphill. If you’re only doing the trail and you’re riding at a steady pace, it should take you 2 hours to complete. Round trip from Bethesda to Georgetown and back was ~15 miles. I wouldn’t recommend doing the trail from Silver Spring, there’s construction at the moment and they have a detour in place. Overall beautiful ride, great for adults and kids. Plenty to see and do!
Love it. As other review mentioned, pretty crowded on the weekend.
First time on this trail today - entire length from Bethesda to Georgetown waterfront and back. Well maintained and an easy ride, but spent a fair amount of time passing joggers, families with strollers, and slower riders. Still, a satisfying experience, and will ride again soon!
I really enjoy this trail. I am a new bike rider. I found this trail coming from Potomac MD. I was on Mc Author blvd. I found an opening to a trail and I found this trail. What a find!!!! I bike here 2-3x a week. A bit crowded near Bethesda but overall a great path for bikes, walking and running.
This is one great trail to go on. Occasionally there will be a glimpse of the roads and every so often a small hill to climb, but other than that, it’s a trail worth doing over and over! Did I also mention that the scenery is breathtaking?
Everything you can ask for in a Bike trail capturing the best of the city of Bethesda, to the C&O canal, to the heart of Georgetown!
This was my first time running on the capital crescent trail and It was stunning! The views are incredible! You can even see the Washington monument a bit further down Capital Crescent after passing Fletchers Cove. I am looking forward to doing this trail again! The trail is flat which is nice and easy to run on, completely flat and paved .
A well-maintainrd and beautiful bike ride in a large metropolitan area.
An urban trail - I encountered enough issues that only the Georgetown stretch along the Potomac River before climbing away from the river would bring me back. Use the C&O trail. Same trailhead, MUCH BETTER experience. The parking area/situation in Georgetown is bad. There’s a much better parking lot up river (away from Georgetown) at Fletcher’s Cove that is accessed from Canal Road NW. If the the upper lots are full, take the tunnel downhill which will take you to a very casual parking area by the river that moves at a much slower pace with plenty of spots to park and places to relax. The Bethesda to Silver Springs stretch is extremely urban and riders will compete with busy traffic, bad signage, several dismounted crossings, unmarked detours, and bad signage (that’s worth repeating). The end of the trail, like many stretches of the detoured route, isn’t marked at all. There’s no trailhead in Silver Springs and no off-street parking if you wanted to take a one way trip. The stretch running along the Potomac and C&O trail however is very nice and rates a higher score; I’d give it a 4. BUT, I recommend bringing your patience. I encountered quite a few people who had no clue about trail etiquette and I encountered clots of people standing on the trail chatting, bikes parked & blocking the trail surface, etc.
I rode this trail from Oxon Hill Maryland through the Mt. Vernon Trail into Georgetown and it is a beautiful ride this morning. I road 30 miles that included this trail which is so so beautiful. Next week I am planning to ride all the way to Bethesda Maryland. I stopped at the sign that said welcome to Montgomery County and was told if I went 4 more miles I would have been in Bethesda.
Started at the Georgetown trailhead. (Ouch!) But, that’s the city for you; close to home and musical parking spaces. We saw Fletchers Cove parking after we were riding. And, will definitely park there the next time we hit this trail. While it is scenic, it behoves you to keep your eyes on the trail as you might run into that cute little girl, or that jogger. My wife loved the river, and I liked the tunnel. We both liked that it went through downtown Bethesda.
I rode this from the entrance off K Street (under the Whitehurst Bridge) up to Bethesda, where work on the Purple Line interrupts it. It's a charming trail, well-maintained though somewhat narrow and overgrown-feeling in places. It winds along the river, has some bridges and tunnels, and offers some great views of the C&O towpath. The only negatives: the trafficking entrance to the trail, and the dank-smelling river at the beginning.
The section between Bethesda and Silver Spring is closed until 2022 while the add a heavy rail transit.
Takes you away from the city life around and suburbia. What a wonderful escape. Although now threatened to become the Purple line for the metro.
Today I took the Capital Crescent Trail for a planned 8 mile run. I started from the Bike Trail at the Washington Harbour building and ran through the Dalecarlia Tunnel and back (9.2 miles). From the 9.0 mile marker forward, it is a steady uphill, and back to Georgetown it's all downhill. Right now the area just after Jack's Boats/Potomac Boat Club has some construction, but there is enough room where runners and bikers can get onto the main course. I did find at least one established restroom (Fletcher's Boathouse), so it's okay if you have to make a pit stop while you run. There are some deer along the path, but IMHO, just give them a glance and leave them be. The area is wooded with parts of the course by waterways, so make sure you apply your trusted insect repellent and wear headgear when you go out. I started my run around 6:00 am, and the area got substantially populated about 7:30-7:45: remember to use common sense/common courtesy/situational awareness. I didn't run the entire course, but what I did see was well maintained, with clear course markings (w/mile markers) and restroom access and opportunities. There are dirt trails along the path, but make sure you consult the map so if you take them, you don't stray too far. This was a worthwhile course for running on a Sunday morning!
My nephew was playing in a soccer tournament in Potomac so we looked for a trail in the area and found the Capital Crescent. We started in downtown Georgetown along the old C&O locks. Diverted over Key Bridge for breakfast the returned to the trail for a fantastic round-trip ride all the way to the end in Chevy Chase and back. Train trestle, canal, Potomac River, other streams all made for a very scenic trip. Stopped on the way back and checked into our Bethesda hotel. We want to return now and go kayaking along the canal and standup paddle boarding long the Potomac. A must ride trail!!
Rode this trail last week from Bethesda to Georgetown. The trail is paved and where it is not it is smooth riding. A commuter path for the locals; as many riders/runners access the trail to run or bike to work. Heavy traffic at times but was well spaced apart. The trail is well marked and offers great views of the Potomac River. The trail has many access points through the neighborhoods it travels through. Most are a stair climb though. The trail ends at the Keys Bridge. If you keep veering to the right after the Keys Bridge you will reach the Washington Monument, The Capitol and other American historic buildings. We had a great time on this trail as it was part of our journey from the GAP trail.
Well maintained, paved heavily wooded trek through Northwest DC area. You have no idea you are in the middle of a major urban area.
Connects with C&O towpath trail, Rock Creek trail and DC Riverwalk paths and trail.
I started my Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) journey at the synagogue parking area at Rock Creek Park and followed the Capital Crescent Trail to its end in Georgetown and then meandered my way past the Kennedy Center, Tidal Basin, and onto Hain’s Point across the Potomac from National Airport. This added roughly 10 more miles round trip and is definitely worth it. (30 or so miles total round trip from Rock Creek Park/Silver Spring) The CCT is well marked (once you have found it), pretty flat trail with nice scenery. You can get something to eat in Bethesda or Georgetown if you want stop. The CCT has river, canal, Kennedy Center/Watergate, and Arlington views.
The CCT could be improved if it formally continued to the Tidal Basin and onto Hains point. TB and HP are scenic places to bicycle, but would be better if there was a formal well marked trail network that extended from the CCT.
I did this nice trail a week ago Sunday and had a very nice ride on my old Mt Bike with a Town and Country tire. Like the review by tinawink said the signage in Silver Springs is not the best. On the up side of Silver Springs, on Sundays there is lots of free parking but the rest of the week I am not sure. I did the trail from end to end and had a great ride. I would suggest that on a weekend I would make sure I had a mirror as the road bikers haul the mail and just fly by you. Because of my drive down from Delaware I jumped into Rock Creek Park and did another 10 miles. It is hard to believe that you are in the middle of a highly populated area as you ride on theses trails. There are a couple of street crossings that are a little tough if you are in a group or with a family. There is a nice canopy most of the way. If you live in the Baltimore or Washington area you need to put this trail on your bucket list. I would make sure I did the southern end as it ends at Washington Harbour, with a great view of the Potomac River.
great trail lots of people and a lot of streets to cross at the end but still very nice
Very difficult to find the trail in Silver Spring - without asking someone else passing by on a bike, we never would have found it. Also, a lot of the signs say "Future Capital Crescent Trail" - no idea what that means.
The trail starts in Silver Spring with a couple of miles of crushed gravel - not ideal for a road bike, although it worked. I was nervous, so we ended up switching to the Rock Creek Trail Park from here. It was easy to get on it (again, thanks to the help of other riders) but we had a hard time remembering how to get back to Capital Crescent when we were done (again, poor signage).
On the positive notes, pretty scenery for most of what we rode on this trail.
There are a number of free parking spaces at the Bethesda pool. This is at the intersection of Little Falls Parkway and Hillandale Road. During hours when the pool is in use in the summer, it might be hard to get a space.
I commute on the trail from Chevy Chase to Silver Spring. I can't think of a more pleasant way to go to work as the trail is peaceful and wooded. It goes through the Columbia Country Club and Rock Creek Park. The trail is packed gravel from Bethesda to Silver Spring but is still pretty smooth for the most part. This section of the trail sees much less use than the section from Bethesda to Georgetown.
From Bethesda to Georgetown the trail is tarmac and continuous. So following it is easy. The trail from Bethesda to Georgetown is a gradual downhill so it is much easier going that way than coming back. This section gets pretty crowded on weekends in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.
When heading from Bethesda to Silver Spring, the trail will stop at Connecticut Avenue. You'll have to cross the street at the light and then look to the left of the large office building to pick up the trail again. When the trail ends in Silver Spring, it is in a light industrial area and you have to wind your way through a quiet residential neighborhood to get into downtown Silver Spring. So when the trail ends, it can be tricky to find your way to downtown Silver Spring thus you really have to study a map in advance and/or carefully look for small green trail signs. Going from Silver Spring to the start of the trail is fairly difficult your first time as it is easy to miss a turn and the entrance to the trail is tiny and not so clearly marked. The 'busiest" road you'll have to bike on is Second Avenue, and that is a wide slow residential road that doesn't usually have much traffic on it. I've never had a problem with cars on it. Second Avenue in and out of downtown Silver Spring is a bit hilly but not too steep.
An option is to get off the Crescent Trail at Jones Mill Road (just a little past Connecticut Avenue when heading East) and onto the Rock Creek Park trail or take Jones Mill Road south where it becomes Beach Drive through Rock Creek Park. Much of Beach Drive is closed to cars on weekends and this is also a great place to ride.
I think more people could enjoy the Silver Spring to Bethesda route if this was promoted better and if the route from downtown Silver Spring to the start of the trail was a bit easier to figure out. (I got lost the first two times I tried it.)
"This was a nice trail to ride. I was surprised at the tranquility of the trail, given the location within a higly populated metropolitan area. Parking could be an issue, espescially if you plan to ride on a week day. We parked in muli-level parking garage (lot #57) in Bethel Maryland @ $0.50 per hour for long term parking (3 hours or more). The parking is free on weekends and should be more available as you aren't competing with the office workers for spaces."
"You can access the trail near the 3.5 mile mark at a parking area next to a movie theatre and the Barnes Noble book store in downtown Bethesda, MD. I did not know this was the Capital Crescent Trail but I saw the description and only walked a short distance as I was not down from Hagerstown for exercise.
From what I saw, I really liked the signs telling people to stay to their right; however, any dirt and gravel off of the trail is a disaster if people are not listening to the rules, which they often are not.
But the markings one does not see generally on many trails of staying to the right. Many people are returning to Rails to Trails and the like at communities because walking events/races for walkers and runners are diminishing fast because of some lack of interest but mostly because of politics. I am a lifelong exerciser. I used to run but I cannot not do that anymore so I now walk or bike."
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