There’s no better time to go cycling in Washington, D.C., than fall. The leafy trees that line the trails and serve as the backdrop for America’s grand monuments slowly change their colors and the views they present are truly spectacular scenes especially along the lengthy Mount Vernon Trail. The 18-mile biking and walking pathway, which follows the curvature of the Potomac River from Rosslyn to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, provides cyclists and runners access to some of the District’s best attractions including Theodore Roosevelt Island, Arlington National Cemetery, Ronald Reagan National Airport, and Old Town Alexandria. In order to safely navigate and enjoy all of these sights, it’s important to keep in mind these seven Mount Vernon bike trail tips.
Mount Vernon Bike Trail Tips
Wear protective gear
The first and most important tip involves wearing protective gear. This includes a well-adjusted helmet, arm, and kneepads as necessary. Though the latter two aren’t a must, D.C., bike rules require the use of a helmet for cyclists 16 years and under. Bikers have been known to receive citations from city law enforcements for not wearing helmets while biking on shared lanes and trails. It’s rare, but it does happen, so save yourself a bit of money and grief by wearing one.
Follow road rules and signs
Washington, D.C., is still working its way to being a bicycle friendly city. Unfortunately, not all streets have designated bicycle lanes at the moment so you’ll sometimes share the road with motorists. Please follow the road rules and signs posted along the trail, especially those located at exit points. If there’s a stop sign, do stop and look at both right and left directions before proceeding. Some of the more experienced cyclists that ride on the trail go over 15 mph. Following road rules and signs and wearing a helmet are two of the most important Mount Vernon bike trail tips.
Be mindful of cycling etiquette
The Mount Vernon Trail is one of the most popular cycling and running trails in and around Washington, D.C. On any given day, you’re bound to find cyclists who zoom past like they are training for a triathlon to families with small children who walk leisurely towards Gravelly Point to watch airplanes take off and land. When biking the trail, be mindful of cycling etiquette. If you’re a beginner, stay on the right and give way to faster cyclists. Use hand gestures for turns and ring your bell to signal your approach so that runners can give way for you to pass. Also, avoid the temptation of stopping right in the middle, even just to take a quick shot. Park on the side or proceed forward a few meters where the road widens and then take a photo.
Keep your mouth shut
Keeping your mouth shut while biking the trail doesn’t have anything to do with road rage, but more about keeping you from inadvertently swallowing bugs while cycling. As tempting as it is to get a taste of that fresh autumn air, you may end up getting more than you bargained for. Incidents as such will likely rattle you and cause you to lose balance so do yourself a favor and keep your mouth shut.
Bring your own water and snacks
Did I mention that the Mount Vernon bike trail is 18 miles long? Most people only cycle portions of it and though it is relatively flat, there are some small hills that will require extra effort to get pass. After about half an hour or so, you’ll likely feel winded down and will want to take a water break. Unfortunately, the trail doesn’t have very many spots with water fountains or concession stands so it’s best to bring your own water and snacks.
Have your phone handy
One of the reasons why the Mount Vernon Bike Trail is popular with the locals is because of its scenery. Its riverside location allows for great views of Washington, D.C. from the north, colonial buildings halfway through in Alexandria, and incredible natural beauty south near George Washington’s Mount Vernon. As you cycle along, you’ll definitely want to take some pictures of the sights. Have your phone handy so you don’t miss out on anything. Just keep in mind the cycling etiquette (see above.)
Avoid peak times
Unless you’re a highly experienced cyclist, it’s best to avoid the peak times (12 to 1 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.) Mount Vernon bike trail gets awfully crowded from Alexandria upwards, especially on weekends, which makes it almost impossible to bike leisurely. My suggestion will be to drive a car or take the Metro to Alexandria and cycle southwards to Mount Vernon.