Explore Washington D.C.

On a Roll: Touring Washington, D.C., by Bike

In this cycle-friendly city, riders find hot wheels to rent plus cool routes past iconic sights, through sylvan parks and along historic waterways

For more and more folks here, biking’s become the way to go. Whether heading to the office, working out Tour de France style or taking in the sights, they follow an ever-increasing network of paths. There’s even a bike lane down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. And rows of bright red cycles seem to pop up on every street corner. Just four years old, Capital Bikeshare claims 300-plus stations, many near major sights, where members (24 hours for $7, three days for $15) grab wheels for free, under-30-minute trips. Download the free smartphone app Spotcycle for the location and status of each station. For longer rides, Bike and Roll offers rentals of comfy hybrids and sleek performers (2-24 hours for $10-$85) plus guided tours by day and night. Several scenic trails encourage cyclists to get in gear.

Capital Bikeshare station
A Capital Bikeshare station near the Lincoln Memorial (©Brooke Sabin)

Rock Creek Park

A wooded swath through the heart of the city, this 2,000-acre oasis offers shady paved trails and roads. A well-traveled (five-mile) route follows Rock Creek from the Potomac River through National Zoo property (hello, Bao Bao!) to the restored 1820s Peirce Mill. On weekends and holidays, portions of Beach Drive close to cars, giving cyclists ample room to roll. Keep a look out for the resident deer and, yes, coyotes.

Mount Vernon Trail

For sheer variety of stunning views, it doesn’t get much better than this 18-mile paved path. Starting near Roosevelt Island, it snakes along the Potomac’s Virginia shore with sightlines on Memorial Bridge arching to the Lincoln Memorial. At Gravelly Point, jets taking off or landing at Reagan National Airport roar just overhead. In Alexandria, riders pedal onto streets where founding fathers once strolled, then pass the 1855 lighthouse at Jones Point Park and dismount at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon Trail
Marinas and Reagan National Airport flanking the Mount Vernon Trail (Rusty Kennedy, Courtesy Bike and Roll)

Capital Crescent Trail

A former B&O railroad track forms this 11-mile arc from D.C.’s Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland. From the southern end, riders follow the C&O Canal past Fletchers boathouse, turn into leafy neighborhoods and emerge at the restaurants and shops of Bethesda. A crushed stone path continues to Silver Spring.

C&O Canal Towpath

It takes time, dedication and a cushy seat to ride the entire 184 miles of dirt trail from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. But close-in segments give glimpses of the past along this historic (1831-1924) canal. At Great Falls, history buffs climb aboard a replica passenger boat pulled by mules and tour an original lockhouse.

C&O Canal
A replica passenger boat on the C&O Canal (Courtesy National Park Service)

W&OD Trail

To see the diverse sides of northern Virginia, pedal this rail trail that covers 45 miles from urban Shirlington to pastoral Purcellville. As the surroundings become more rural, a gravel equestrian path joins the paved trail. (This area is, after all, famed horse country!) Train stations-turned-museums give railroad and local history. The Purcellville station even hosts occasional wine tastings, where riders rest their legs and raise a glass.