Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park | BILLY GOAT B TRAIL

Billy Goat B Trail map (click to enlarge)

Billy Goat B Trail map (click to enlarge)


NOTE: Sections of the towpath, locks and other historical structures, trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramps, and visitor centers are constantly being closed due to damage and/or repair. When planning an adventure within Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, make sure that areas you plan to visit are open by checking the National Park Service’s official Current Park Conditions web page.


Length: 2.8-mile loop (from Anglers parking lot and return trip on towpath)
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

The Billy Goat B trail is one of three Billy Goat Trails at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. However, there is much less billy goating here than on the Billy Goat A Trail, one of the toughest trails within any east coast National Park. For the most part, Billy Goat B is easy. There is one steep hill at the downstream trailhead and a few rocky areas that you must climb through, but other than that your heart will barely get pumping.

The trail is C-shaped. It works its way from the towpath down to the Potomac River, follows the river for a while, then heads back inland and comes out farther down on the towpath. The length of the actual trail is 1.4 miles. However, this does not take into account that you have another 1.4 miles of walking on the towpath to get back to where you parked, unless you have a ride waiting at the end.

The best place to begin the hike is at the Angler’s parking area, which is the parking lot across the street from the Old Angler’s Inn at 10801 MacArthur Boulevard (I’m not sure who actually owns the parking lot). There is more parking than in the lot next to the restroom building on MacArthur Boulevard, so drive to the back and you’ll find two additional dirt parking lots. However, even with these, parking is still very limited. If you aren’t there by 9 AM at the latest on a summer weekend, you are liable to be parking on the street. I’ve seen the line stretch for close to a half mile in either direction from the parking lot. On two occasions I tried to hike this trail, but left due to the parking situation. I didn’t want to add an extra mile to the hike just walking to and from my car.

Angler's parking area on MacArthur Boulevard in Potomac, Maryland

Angler’s parking area on MacArthur Boulevard in Potomac, Maryland

The Billy Goat B Trail is located on the Potomac River side of the C&O Canal, so you’ll need to cross over the canal on the Angler’s footbridge. Signs point the way from any parking lot, plus you can just follow the crowds. Once on the canal towpath, head downstream for a tenth of a mile to the trailhead, which will be on your right.

Upstream trailhead for the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Upstream trailhead for the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

The trail starts off through the forest on level terrain that alternates between a smooth trail surface and one covered in rocks, so watch your step.

Typical rocky terrain along the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Typical rocky terrain along the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

One of the smooth stretches of the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

One of the smooth stretches of the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

It isn’t until .6 mile into the hike that you finally reach the Potomac River, though you do pass two small ponds along the way. Just upriver, the Potomac is a very wide body of water, but here it has split into a narrow channel that flows around Offutt and Hermit islands (you are looking at the islands on the other side of the river, not the state of Virginia). You can get right down to the water in many spots, but don’t be foolish and attempt to swim over to the other side because the water moves very fast through this channel. In case you are wondering, “Who in the hell would do that,” I’ve seen dumber things in National Parks. Besides, it is illegal to swim or even wade into the Mather Gorge section of the Potomac River from the park property. Violations are punished by fines and / or death by drowning.

First glimpse of the Potomac River from the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

First glimpse of the Potomac River from the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Whitewater rapids on the Potomac River near Offutt Island

Whitewater rapids on the Potomac River near Offutt Island

The Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park runs near the Potomac riverbank

The Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park runs near the Potomac riverbank

The Billy Goat B Trail runs along the river for about a quarter mile before coming to a small creek. However, it does not cross at this point because the creek lies at the bottom of a ravine that is too deep to cross without a bridge. To get around this, the trail turns north and begins following the creek away from the Potomac for a tenth of a mile. As it works its way inland, the ravine becomes shallower and shallower until crossing the creek is only a matter of walking across without getting your feet wet. Of course you then have to hike back south to where you started, but now you are on the other side of the creek.

Inland crossing point on the Billy Goat B Trail of a small creek that empties into the Potomac River, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Inland crossing point on the Billy Goat B Trail of a small creek that empties into the Potomac River, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Just before you get back to the Potomac, the trail splits with no indication as to which way to go. While the correct way to proceed is straight ahead, it ultimately doesn’t matter because the two trails merge back together just twenty-five yards farther down. I don’t know why the fork to the left exists because it doesn’t lead to anything.

Unmarked fork in the Billy Goat B Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Unmarked fork in the Billy Goat B Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Five minutes after the fork you are back at the river. You don’t often get a good view due to the trees between the water and the trail, but on occasion there is a parting.

View of the Potomac River from the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

View of the Potomac River from the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

At the 1.25-mile mark on the hike (from the parking lot) the trail appears to end at a pile of boulders and downed trees. This is where things get a little tricky. What you need to do is climb up the slab of rock on the left side of the trail. The path continues at the top.

What appears to be the end of the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

What appears to be the end of the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Things don’t get much better immediately. There are a few other rock scrambles and the route is somewhat unclear, but look for the blue blazes (paint splotches) on trees and rocks if you get confused (follow these like Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs). I will say that I never had to slide down a rock like I did numerous times on the Billy Goat A Trail, so things could be much worse.

Blue blaze on a boulder marks the Billy Goat B Trail in very rocky terrain, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Blue blaze on a boulder marks the Billy Goat B Trail in very rocky terrain, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

The next point of interest is a sign post for the Marsden Tract. This is not another hiking trail but a path that leads to the Marsden Tract Group Campground. It’s a tenth of a mile to the campground from this point. There is, however, a shorter route directly from the C&O Canal towpath.

The campground detour is about .3 mile from the C&O Canal towpath on the downstream end of the trail. Between here and the towpath is one more rocky area where you can get a last look at the Potomac. The river is narrow here as well; the land on the other side is Herzog Island.

Potomac River near Herzog Island

Potomac River near Herzog Island

Typical terrain on the final stretch of the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Typical terrain on the final stretch of the Billy Goat B Trail in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Believe it or not, the only section of the trail that will get your heart pumping is the short segment that leads up to the towpath. This is quite a steep hill. River stones have been arranged to form steps that are about the equivalent of two residential staircases.

Stone stairs leading up to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath at the downstream end of the Billy Goat B Trail

Stone stairs leading up to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath at the downstream end of the Billy Goat B Trail

When you get to the towpath, take a left to return to Angler’s, which is approximately 1.1 miles away. In most cases, the hike back along the towpath is scenic but uneventful. There is, however, one thing to be aware of on this hike. You will pass the towpath entrance to the Marsden Tract Group Campground that I mentioned earlier, and just past this is the entrance to the Marsden Tract Day Use Area. Day Use Area usually means a picnic area, so I took the detour to see what was available. If there was ever a picnic area here, it’s not here anymore. All this trail does is come out back on the Billy Goat B Trail near the point where it appeared to end at the boulders and downed trees. The trail is often narrow and overgrown—a haven for ticks and poison ivy. Do not waste your time hiking down the trail in hopes of finding a picnic table.

Entrance to the now defunct Marsden Tract Day Use Area in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Entrance to the now defunct Marsden Tract Day Use Area in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

There is also a bridge that crosses the canal. A path leads to a very small roadside parking area on MacArthur Boulevard. I was thinking there might be a large parking area for those camping at Marsden Tract, but this is not the case. MacArthur Boulevard is a major road, and the surrounding area is nothing but residential neighborhoods. Campers can use this as an equipment drop off spot, but they’ll eventually have to park at Angler’s or Carderock just down the road.

Bridge to MacArthur Boulevard from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath near the Angler's parking lot

Bridge to MacArthur Boulevard from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath near the Angler’s parking lot

All of the Billy Goat trails are excellent hikes, but if you only have time for one, Billy Goat A is the one to choose. You get spectacular views of the Potomac River from the top of Mather Gorge, whereas you are hiking at river level for most of the Billy Goat B Trail, and even then the glimpses of the river are few and far between. Also, there is nothing to see along the towpath on the way back to Anglers. You pass six locks, a lockhouse, and a stop gate on the way back to the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center from the downstream end of the Billy Goat A Trail (assuming you start at Great Falls and not Anglers). The only benefit Billy Goat B has over A is that there are far less people hiking it. The Billy Goat A Trail is like hiking in downtown Washington, D. C.

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Last updated on June 1, 2024
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