Ed Note: This is an in depth look at the Western Ridge Trail. You can find more of what DC has to offer the trail running community here.
The Western Ridge Trail is one of the often overlooked gems of Rock Creek Park. This mostly dirt trail is about as good as it gets for trail running and hiking in Washington, DC. With right around 5 miles of trail, it is great for a short trail run or a longer 10 mile up and back. You can easily tack on extra miles with some of the smaller trails stemming from the path, or just continue south on the Rock Creek Trail down to Virginia. There are also a few different places to jump onto the Valley Trail if you want to turn it into a loop.
I had, as I suspect many others have as well, run past the trail head for Western Ridge a few times a week for a few years now. It wasn’t until I just happened to run by, bored by a route I had run numerous times that week already, that I decided to veer off and see where it took me. I ended up blown away by the stillness I found on the trail, and the sense of wilderness I found in the heart of such a busy city. You will still be able to see road or building at nearly all points along the trail, but it is quiet, still, and peaceful, unlike many parts of Rock Creek Park.
In contrast to the Rock Creek Trail (RCT), bikes are not allowed and most runners don’t seem to try it out. Instead of seeing upwards to 70 people on a 5 mile Sunday run along RCT, you might see 10. The other day I was on the trail for 4 miles heading north from Tilden St. and didn’t see a single person. It is a great trail for all levels of trail runners in the DC area. Being one of my first regular trail routes, I can attest that while challenging, I was able to learn a lot about the new stride without taking too many falls. So if you are looking for a trail run or even a Saturday morning, metro accessible hike, this is a good place to start.
The southern trailhead starts right around the intersection of Piney Branch Pkw. and the Rock Creek Trail (near Park Road). It leaves the RCT for a short but fun climb up along the ridge, before joining back for a few tenths of a mile. After crossing over Broad Branch road, you leave the RCT for the remainder of the trail, heading into the woods towards Military Road. It is just over 2 miles from the southern trailhead to Military Rd. If you are driving to the trail, the Tilden St. parking area is a great place to launch to the north.
North of Military Rd. the trail turns into a horse trail all the way up to Boundary Bridge where Beach Drive hits the DC/Maryland border. The northern half of the trail stays pretty distant from most roads, offering some of the most solitary parts of the path. For parking in the northern section, I recommend the picnic area at the interception of Bingham Dr. and Oregon Ave. The northern trailhead ends right with the northern trailhead of the Valley Trail, offering a perfect place to continue the loop back down towards the city for a longer trail run.
Details and Conditions:
- Total Distance: ~4.6 miles
- Elevation Gain: 335 ft.
- Elevation Descent: -203 ft.
- Parking: Parking locations can be found on the Map My Run link listed below
- Footing: For the most part the footing along this singletrack trail is smooth. Along certain sections of incline (south of Military Rd.), you will find very uneven rocky terrain, but north of Military Rd. along the horse path the trail is very smooth and wide (enough for a horse).
Check out this short video I shot along the Western Ridge Trail to get a better sense of the path.
Map My Run of Western Ridge Trail: http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/27768566