I love running, but I despise running on pavement or jogging in place while I wait for traffic lights in downtown DC. I don't have time to drive out to Shenandoah National Park during the week either. So how is one supposed to feel that beautiful immersion of trail running while living in DC? We've got you covered with the top 5 trail runs within 20 miles of downtown Washington, DC with maps from All Trails. Plus, we've included a bonus section at the end on upcoming trail running races near Washington, DC.
Potomac Heritage Trail
The Potomac Heritage Trail is a 19-mile out-and-back trail. It's dirt with a few rock scrambles along the way. The trail runs parallel to the Potomac river, and we rarely see people on it. You can also park at various sections of the trail you like the most and run segments if you don't want to run the full 19 miles. For example, if you want more elevation, try parking at Fort Marcy because the first 3 miles of the trail starting at Theodore Roosevelt Island are flat.
We've run this trail at night with headlamps, but there are some rocks on the path and ankle twisters, so be careful, especially in the Fall when the leaves cover them up. The trail can be moderately muddy after it rains. The trail definitely feels wild for being so close to DC, but the sound of cars is never far away, and there is a stretch of 100 yards where you will be running directly adjacent to the street, but after about 3 miles the trail begins to veer off from the main road and you get more seclusion.
Free parking is at Theodore Roosevelt Island Park, Washington, DC 20001 for the trail head. This trail takes 15 minutes to get to from NW DC without traffic.
Historic Angler's Inn is one of my favorite places in the DC. The restaurant has been there since 1860, and the parking lot is full of people with their mountain bikes, kayaks, and trail running gear. The trail is a 5.8-mile loop trail through a wooded area with one side having elevation gain and the other being flat. There's also many smaller trails along the loop, so you can adjust your run to fit your needs. Some of the trail is gravel, while the other is dirt.
You won't be alone on this trail, it's a busy place, but not overwhelming. Free parking is at the lot by Angler's Inn, there is a lower, middle, and upper parking lot. If the parking lots are full, go up the street a bit, there is street parking in the neighborhoods on your right if you're heading toward Great Falls. Additionally, this area has access to the Billy Goat Trail, which is also an excellent trail run.
Anacostia River Walk Trail
We wanted to add this one despite it being paved, because it's a beautiful loop trail and accessible to folks in Southwest DC. There are a few parking places along the trail, if you are coming from DC we recommend parking at Festival Grounds at RFK Campus / Lot 8, 2500 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003. I dislike running in the wind, and occasionally running along the river can get windy, so I check Windfinder when I plan my run on trails that are directly parallel to the river.
Potomac Heritage to C&O Canal Path.
I love this 8-mile loop for trail running. It's a variation of the Potomac Heritage trail we mentioned earlier, but it's a looped version and gets you back to the initial parking lot at the trail head. There are quiet parts in the woods along the Potomac river before you get to the slightly busier but equally beautiful C&O Canal. We start at the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot and head north first, finishing along the C&O Canal. Free parking for the trailhead is at Theodore Roosevelt Island Park, Washington, DC 20001.
C & O Canal from Georgetown
The C & O Canal Trail is a 48-mile gravel trail that runs between the C & O canal and the Potomac River. The trail begins in Georgetown, but there are many access points along the way where you can park. It has crowds, but the trail is wide so it never feels overwhelming. We park in the neighborhoods of Georgetown freely and walk down to the trailhead by Blue Bottle Coffee. You can run this trail up to Great Falls where there are many smaller trails such as the Billy Goat trail to add some flavor to this run.