10 Badass Mountain Biking Trails near Washington, DC

mountain bike

Patapsco | Meadowood | Fountainhead | C&O Trail | Wakefield | Lake Accotink | Burke Lake | Nova Epic | Schaeffer Farms | Glen Carlyn

Part of the Meadowood Grand Tour just a few miles south of Washington, DC, The Boss Mountain Bike Trail looks so tame at the head.
City Boys and Girls Beware! Part of the Meadowood Grand Tour, The Boss Mountain Bike Trail looks tame, but it will Crush. Your. Butt.

Patapsco Valley State Park

About an hour outside of DC, on the outskirts of Baltimore, is Patapsco Valley State Park. With its 200 miles of trails, waterfalls, climbing rocks and fishing spots, there are plenty of opportunities to relax [1]. But if relaxation isn’t your game, you can explore the many intermediate to difficult trails along the four regions of Patapsco Valley State Park: Avalon, Daniels, McKeldin, and Woodstock.

Meadowood

  • Directions: Meadowood
  • Difficulty: Intermediate & Extreme

The Meadowood Grand Tour is a rough and rooty ride through the woods and swamps south of DC. Our favorite is the “Boss Trail” (pictured above), with its boardwalk obstacles. If you’re not quite ready for this, there are plenty of places to sit and watch others bust their ass.

Fountainhead

Memorial rocks to mountain biking legend Scott Scudamore at Fountainhead Regional Park.

My favorite place to ride, Fountainhead Regional Park has three interlocking loops of increasing difficulty the further you get from the park entrance. The nearest loop (green) also offers great views from the memorial bench to Mountain Biking legend Scott “Scud” Scudamore.

C&O Towpath

Part of the Potomac Heritage Trail Network, the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath extends 193 miles along the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland. I’ve picked the access point with the easiest parking that’s still close to the city, but there are dozens of great places to embark. This is an easy, flat gravel path with occasional opportunities to peel off and practice root jumping.

Wakefield

If you're looking to put some air between your mountain bike and Washington, DC, here are a few good jumps at Wakefield.
If you’re looking to put some air between your mountain bike and Washington, DC, here are a few good jumps at Wakefield.

If you look at the Wakefield Trailmap at the MTB Project, you can see what a tight labyrinth of trails Fairfax County was able to pack into a small park. The parking is a bit confusing to get to at first. When you come off of 495, you’ll take a left (not a U turn!) onto the access road, which will take you down to a dirt lot by the ballfields. From there, continue by bike along the access road and take the trail at the first sharp turn (about 500 feet beyond the lot).

Lake Accotink

Lake Accotink has a parking lot at the marina (usually crowded) and can also be accessed from nearby Wakefield Park. The trail is dirt and gravel with a few bumps, but nothing a kid can’t handle. More extreme trails can be found on the north side of the lake, just beyond the bridge. In early summer, there is also a can’t-miss Cardboard Boat Regatta.

Burke Lake

About half an hour outside DC is a patch of cool woods that feels like a world away from the hot city. The approximately 5-mile trail around Burke Lake is swoopy and lots of fun for first-time riders.

 Secret Trailhead: Although Burke Lake has plenty of parking, there is a $10 fee to drive in if you’re not a Fairfax County resident. To avoid the fee and access the park from another angle, you can head down to nearby Mercer Lake, which is only a mile and a half ride from Burke Lake. The trail also wraps around beautiful Lake Mercer. You’ll park at the Recreation Lake Park trailhead at the end of a suburban cul de sac.

Nova Epic

The NoVa Epic or Northern Tour is a 40 mile roundtrip, but you can split it into smaller portions by embarking from one of the two lots above. The segment through Great Falls connects to a scenic trail along the Potomac at Riverbend Park.

Glen Carlyn Park

Glen Carlyn is the best section of the MTB Project’s so-called “Arlington Singletrack Trail” which also heads out to Madison Manor. You can park in the lot at the top and ride down, but there are also lots along the stream if you drive down the winding narrow road that leads out of the lot. It is a single lane road, though, so you may need to pull over on a crowded day.

Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour

Mountain Biking along the White Trail at Schaeffer Farms.

Just across the Potomac from Seneca Park is Schaeffer Farms, a Montgomery County Park mostly set aside for Mountain Biking. The trails are not extreme, but beware: bikers fly through this one. If you’re a slow rider, be prepared to move aside when you hear a tornado coming up behind you.

Black Rock Mill is an historic spot that can be accessed from the Mountain Biking Trails at Schaeffer Farms.

Schaeffer is also interesting for its proximity to Seneca Creek (which offers great swimming in the summer) and the ruins of an historic mill built along its banks.

The rest…

Pimmit Run

James shoulders his bike to cross Pimmit Run.
James shoulders his bike to cross Pimmit Run.

Pimmit Run does not make the top 10 for the simple reason that it is not bad ass. But it is a fun ride through overgrown bamboo stands and brook crossings. Although it is a good place to learn to hop roots, Pimmit Run is not for kids just learning to ride because of a number of dangerous road crossings.

Laurel Hill

The Workhouse Trail at Laurel Hill features a succession of easy jumps which are ideal for learning how to bunny hop or pump.
The Workhouse Trail at Laurel Hill features a succession of easy jumps which are ideal for learning how to bunny hop or pump.

Laurel Hill sounds cooler than the Lorton Dump. Once a prison work farm situated between the dump and an abandoned federal corrections facility — where they put Norman Mailer, the suffragettes and some wayward kids — this land may have some interesting ghosts, but the trails are less than ideal.

Two boys contemplate death at the entrance to the Slaughterhouse Loop at Laurel Hill Regional Park
Two boys contemplate death at the entrance to the Slaughterhouse Loop at Laurel Hill Regional Park

The biggest problem with Laurel Hill is the loose gravel, which creates two problems:

  • Loose gravel is harder to grip than rock
  • When you hit it, loose gravel hurts more than packed clay

The other problem with Laurel Hill is the tight turns, which either force you off your bike (when you’re going uphill) or needlessly slow your momentum (when you’re going down). The trails were also poorly maintained when we visited in mid-2020, with a bridge out and a number of unmarked spurs that made navigation confusing.

The combination of all these factors left everyone in my party bloody at the end of the day, so Laurel Hill goes to the bottom of our list of DC Mountain Bike Trails.

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  1. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Patapsco Valley State Park, 2020.
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