Summary: Begin this hike along the towpath of the historic Cheasapeake and Ohio Canal, completed in 1850 after 22 years of work and mishap, and operated for 73 years between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD. The blue-blazed Billy Goat Trial turns toward the Potomac River at Widewater (a natural wide basin where the barges were able to pass) and leads backwards in history 180 million years to the time when the palisades of the Potomac were first forming. The trail skirts the edge of Bear Island, passing giant potholes as it follows along the top of the cliffs of Mather Gorge. This portion of the hike is quite rugged and necessitates a good bit of rock scrambling. The blue blazed painted on the rocks help to locate the route. The return trip is an easy stroll along the towpath. Although this hike is only 4 miles in length, it may be rather slow going on the rocks - and the view will invite you to stay awhile.
Trailhead: I-495 to Exit 41 (Carderock and Glen Echo); follow Clara Barton Pkwy towards Carderock, passing David Taylor Model Basin and Naval Surface War Center on right. At junction with MacArthur Blvd turn left and continue West to Old Anglers Inn on right at sharp turn in road. Continue past Old Angelers Inn, approximately 2 miles, to the C&O Canal National Park at Great Falls. Park near the Taven and proceed East down the towpath. Billy Goat Trail is well marked to your right. You will pass the scenic overlook of Great Falls, MD from Olmstead Island by taking this approach to Billy Goat Trail Part A. (Lat:38.99338 Lon:-77.2456)
Trail Guides for BillyGoat section A:
Circuit Hikes in VA WVA MD and PA
by Potomac Appalachain Trail Club (PATC)
Best Seasons: Year-Round
User Groups: Hikers,
Ranger Contact: National Park Service (301) 299-2026
Localhikes Reporter: This hike was submitted by Joe Cross, who has posted 56 other hikes on this site
Trail Reviews Page 2 of 6 Submit your own review
Reviewed by John in Ashburn on 9/8/2010
It's a crowded hike on weekends, Billy Goat A-trail is packed with families (why would anyone take a 5 year old and the family dog hiking when it says NO DOGS?). Except for the crowded conditions it was a fun hike, my first in the local area. I'll be back, if its a weekend just go very early. Great photo opportunities, I shot 100 pictures.
Reviewed by psk on 8/27/2010
Bring your hiking boots and some water. It's my favorite in the area- a most pleasant workout.
Reviewed by Alex on 7/24/2010
Great quick and fun hike! Nice water areas, but the bridge was down so we crossed over a fallen tree. I would recommend it.
Reviewed by joe on 9/6/2009
i fell and cracked my head open during this hike. the scenery was so good that i didnt stop. the only problem was that people were mad at me because i left a blood trail along the rocks
Reviewed by Oz on 8/28/2009
Great hike for the whole family. Older folks who are unsure of their footing should beware because their is some boulder hopping. The views of the river and bluffs are fabulous. We watched some folks rock climbing on the other side.
Reviewed by JD on 8/25/2009
For younger kids, you can do the southern half by parking at Old Anglers In, hike the south portion of the trail and take the clearly marked "emergency exit" at trail marker #2 back to the canal path. My 7 year old does it no problem.
Reviewed by Jess on 6/30/2009
I really enjoy Billy Goat and for those who find the canal side boring, try and count how many fish and turtles you can spot. Lots of intersting wildlife. Or you can always hike back the way you came for extra effort.
Reviewed by Colin on 4/12/2009
One of the best hikes in the Washington area. Challenging for all ages, but doable for (energetic) 5 year olds and up. Plenty of short scrambles, outstanding views of the river, birds, kayakers, etc. Kids love the trail, but the flat canal path loop back to the start point can be groaningly dull if they're already tired. If you have 2 cars, then one option is to leave one car at the Angler's Inn, and take the other to the Great Falls parking lot. Though judicious shuttling of drivers one can avoid the less exciting part of the loop. (Incidentally, the canal section is beautiful in its own right, but a stretch for our younger hikers.)
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