Back when I biked from Annapolis to Alexandria, Virginia, along the East Coast Greenway in 2014, the route to Washington, D.C., relied on the Northwest Branch Trail. Today there’s another option, and I think it’s even better.
This is the Anacostia River Trail, which runs along the eastern side of the Anacostia River, which feeds into the Potomac River, and crosses back into D.C. nearish to the Capitol. There’s more on the western side (some still under construction) that goes past the old (soon to be demolished?) RFK Stadium and near the pro baseball and soccer stadiums.
What’s so surprising is how much green space was available in this major metro so that a trail could be built in the last few decades. The trail — about 20 miles total — really is along the water in so many places, not well inland, and snaking through nature, including a tidal marsh, not carved out of some asphalted road space. At times you’re actually over the river on a boardwalk. Yet it’s within sight of busy highways, and it runs below an Amtrak bridge for the busy Northeast Corridor line.
I loved how the trail curved so much in the northern section, so much that it can’t become a race track for road riders. In another part, the eastern trail goes through a neighborhood, and then there are a few feeder routes to other neighborhoods, none of it part of wealthy DC.
On the western side? It goes along the river by the Navy Yards and some other recently redeveloped areas. That’s wealthy DC.
We followed the eastern trail up to the northern end in Bladensburg, site of a War of 1812 battle that we lost and led to the burning of what’s now the White House. The trail connects there with the Northeast and Northwest Branch trails. Look at the East Coast Greenway map, and you can keep riding north on traffic-free trail.
A forgotten bit of history?
Parts of this trail along what was once one of America’s most polluted rivers are in the hands of the National Park Service. Kudos on great signage. And the artwork near where we parked. If I had a quibble, I’d say the trail seems narrow at times, especially when grasses encroach a bit. A couple of extra feet in width would have been awesome, because you know this trail is only going to become more popular.
Here’s more about the trail and how it came to be, including how trail developers hacked their way through with machetes.
Of course we got off the trail at one point; the lure of biking on the National Mall was too great to resist. We were teased by a sign by the trail for the Capitol, but it was the only one. Thank goodness for our phones!
The Mall was crowded, not just with people on foot but also on scooters and bike share. Time to find our way back to the car we’d parked on Anacostia Drive not far from the South Capitol Street bridge. There’s still some construction there, tied to a road project. But wow what a wide path on the bridge for bicyclists and walkers on that bridge!
There’s still more to discover along this trail, so a reason to come back. And I hope neighborhood businesses find a way to draw people off the trail so they, too, benefit.