As a fan of cycling, that is forced to live in the congested Northern Virginia area, there aren’t many places I want to be out on my bike. The amount of cyclists either injured or killed by the lunatic drivers in this region is shocking, and the few times I’ve had to take side roads for a trip, have made my blood pressure shoot up. Thankfully, there are plenty of trails to choose from. Of course, there are the local neighborhood jaunts, but my favorite trail of all for biking is the W+OD Trail. This trail runs where the Washington + Old Dominion Railroad used to exist, and it is owned and operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Its forty five miles in length, for the most part flat, and motorized vehicles are not allowed on it. However, it is immensely popular, and you will be sharing the trail with hikers, rollerbladers, and in some areas horseback riders.
I’ve biked the majority of its forty five miles, and this summer my goal is to complete it all in one day. The western part, in Loudoun County, is absolutely beautiful. This area hasn’t been as heavily developed as the Eastern parts of the trail, but that might only last for a few more years due to development expanding. There are lots of trees to see, a lot of wildlife around such as the world’s biggest groundhogs, and this part of the trail isn’t as busy. The reason I like this part, is that it is also the flattest part of the trail, and there aren’t many road intersections that you have to contend with. As you bike East from Purcellville, where the trail starts, you’ll eventually get to see a lot of planes flying out of nearby Dulles International Airport.
The Loudoun to Vienna circuit is pleasant enough. There are a few hills here, especially as you get near the town of Oakton, but you will see a lot of wetlands by the trail. Its great being able to take a break at one of the bridges, and see turtles, fish, and an occasional watersnake in these watersheds. If you get tired in this region, there are plenty of shaded shelters, and some of them have water and free air. Of course, you can just go off the trail at most places here, and find a convenience store or restaurant for a quick lunch. Here you’ll find a couple of the old stations, and a few of the cabooses from the railroad. Children and adults love these, and some weekends they are opened for the general public to get a peek at the past.
The path from Vienna to Arlington is difficult. It is also a bit confusing. I do admire the large amount of parks adjacent to the trail, but the hills can be a killer. This is especially true in Arlington County, when you enter the City of Falls Church. There’s a hill near Virginia Street that makes my knees buckle everytime, but thankfully its fun to bike on a bridge that crosses over the Beltway. There you can laugh at commuters stuck in traffic, who aren’t even moving at speed, while you rocket away at 15 mph. Eventually you finish up in the Shirlington part of Arlington, which is a bit industrial, but it has improved over the years. My recommendation is don’t park your car here after dark, but its fine for day time riding and to leave your vehicle at to go riding.
You cannot beat the W+ODTrail for its exercise opportunities, and its access to other trails that lead into Washington D.C., or West Virginia if out in Purcellville. There’s a lot of history in the region, and more than enough markers to read on your journey. While most areas are urban, this trail does allow you to relax a bit, and get away from the suburban jungle that the region is known for being. Its one of the safest areas in Northern Virginia, as its heavily patrolled by local law enforcement, and people are always willing to give you a hand with a busted chain, flat tire, etc. It is open from dawn to dusk, and its a fine way to explore Northern Virginia. Just remember to yell “Passing on the left,” if moving quickly.