Great Falls Park | BIKING TRAILS

Great Falls Park loop ride map (click to enlarge)

Great Falls Park loop ride map (click to enlarge)

Since I biked the Difficult Run Trail, a section has washed out and is now less than six inches wide in some places. There is a steep drop off down to the stream itself. According to a park Ranger, bicycles are no longer allowed, but on the National Park Service website it states that bikes must be carried when passing through this section of the trail. During periods of high stream flow, the trail may be impassable to even hikers. Inquire about the conditions at the Visitor Center before attempting to bike (or hike) this trail.
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Biking is allowed within Great Falls Park on the Old Carriage Road, the Ridge Trail, and the Difficult Run Trail. All of these are wide gravel paths, not mountain bike trails. In addition to bikers, hikers and horseback riders can use these trails.

The following is a suggested route that will enable you to bike nearly all of the trails as part of a loop.


Length: 4.75-mile loop
Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous

Any bike ride within Great Falls Park will start on the Old Carriage Road from one of the three parking lots. I began my ride from the central lot near the Great Falls Visitor Center. On a busy day there may be a lot of people near the Visitor Center and picnic areas, so it’s best to push your bike until the crowd thins out.

There are many trails in the area, most leading to and from picnic areas, parking lots, and scenic overlooks. All are wide gravel paths similar to the Old Carriage Road, so things can get a little confusing when it comes time to pinpoint the correct trail. Be on the lookout for trail signs that are posted a most intersections.

Old Carriage Road forks to the right near the Great Falls Visitor Center

Old Carriage Road forks to the right near the Great Falls Visitor Center

Carriage roads are almost always wide, smooth, gravel paths that were built back in the horse-and-buggy days. While this conjures up visions of an easy hike or bike ride, wide and smooth does not mean flat, and such is the case here at Great Falls Park. The Old Carriage Road starts out level and remains so for about a quarter mile, but between the intersections with the Matildaville Trail and the Ridge Trail you have two large hills to climb—a miles’ worth of uphill biking.

Uphill portion of the Old Carriage Road

Uphill portion of the Old Carriage Road

I rode south on the Old Carriage Road all the way until it dead ends into Hwy 193 (Georgetown Pike), a distance of 1.5 miles. To get to the next trail segment, the Difficult Run Trail, you must ride your bike on the road. There is no bike lane, no road shoulder, and cars go by rather quickly, so it is not the safest of rides, and I do not recommend bringing children along with you for this reason. All I can say is to haul ass and hope not to get hit—it’s .2 mile to the Difficult Run trailhead.

Highway 193

Highway 193

Entrance to the Difficult Run Trail

Entrance to the Difficult Run Trail

The Difficult Run Trail is also a wide gravel path. It takes its name from Difficult Run, a very picturesque creek full of boulders and rushing cascades that feeds into the Potomac River. The trail follows the creek for its entire length, and there are many side trails that lead down to the riverbank. To make the ride even more enjoyable, the majority of the trail runs downhill—assuming you ride in the same direction as I did—only climbing a moderate hill towards the very end. It is certainly a pleasure to hike or bike.

Trail follows Difficult Run, a small creek that feeds into the Potomac River

Trail follows Difficult Run, a small creek that feeds into the Potomac River

Cascades along Difficult Run

Cascades along Difficult Run

At the 2.3 mile mark is the intersection with the Ridge Trail. After the pleasurable ride along the Difficult Run Trail, the Ridge Trail brought tears to my eyes—it’s straight uphill. There is also a side trail that leads to the Potomac River that I initially started out on. However, just a short ways from the start the trail about drops off a cliff as it follows an extremely steep and rocky path down to the river. It would be impossible to ride back up, and since I had seen to the Potomac a number of times already, I decided to turn around and tackle the Ridge Trail.

Side trail down to the Potomac River

Side trail down to the Potomac River

I didn’t even bother attempting to ride my bike up the Ridge Trail—there is no shame in it. You must climb two hills, and while the distance only amounts to a tenth of a mile, the hills are steep even by hiking standards. Beyond this the trail remains hilly, but at least I could ride my bike, and after passing the intersection with the River Trail things get even easier.

Strenuous uphill climb starts the trek along the Ridge Trail

Strenuous uphill climb starts the trek along the Ridge Trail

At 3.25 miles into the ride you come back to the Old Carriage Road. Take a right to return to the Visitor Center.

Back to the Old Carriage Road

Back to the Old Carriage Road

This bike ride covers nearly all of the bikeable trails in the park. Omitted is only a short segment of the Ridge Trail that connects to Old Dominion Drive near the entrance to Great Falls Park. You can also ride the Old Carriage Road north out of the park towards Riverbend Park, a Fairfax Country Park about 1.5 miles away.

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Last updated on June 22, 2020
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