Commonly referred to as the “skinniest park in Virginia,” the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) is one of the most fascinating trails in Washington. The amazing 45-mile trail runs through the densely populated urban and suburban areas to the sparsely populated rural areas.
It starts in Shirlington, VA, and ends in Purcellville. There is a gradual increase in elevation as you move towards the west with approximately 423 feet of gain. The highest point of the trail (610 feet above sea level) is just after the 38th mile. The trail features asphalt-surfaced and paved rail-trail ideal for runners, cyclists, and skaters. There is also a nice parallel horse trail along the path, which serves as a good diversion for ATBs.
The trail is approximately ten feet wide through much of its length. The only downside of the W&OD trail is that it can sometimes be crowded. Other than that, everything about it is perfect.
What Makes W&OD Trail Great?
The first portion of the trail built in 1974 was expanded to its current form over several years, with the road works completed in 1988. Whether you are a cyclist, athlete, or skater, the trail offers a wide range of exciting benefits.
First, the further west you go, the fewer roads crossing the trail you will encounter. Technically, it means you can remain clipped in your saddle for relatively long stretches. In fact, the absence of cars on the trail means a safer cycling/skating route.
There is no official speed limit that you need to adhere to, but competitive speed training and racing are not allowed. If you head out to the trail for exercise, you must be careful of your speed, especially during the weekend when it is usually packed with baby strollers, walkers, runners, other cyclists, and even leashed dogs. Avoid crazy speeds at all costs.
There are also plenty of bike shops along the W&OD trail that offer restrooms, energy drinks and help fix mechanical problems that may arise. You can also join one of the group rides that start from the shops during weekdays and weekends. Always feel free to check with them if you are looking for company.
Parking And Regulations
If your starting point is in DC, you can either take one of the local trails to the main W&OD trail in Shirlington or drive your car (with your bike, of course) and park in the parking lot off Wilson Boulevard at the fourth mile in Arlington.
Three other parking locations are available in Purcellville at Loudoun Valley High School (weekdays only), Downtown Purcellville and Hatcher Avenue.
The entire trail is marked exceptionally well with clear posts indicating every 0.5 miles. In fact, you will encounter a wide range of different interpretive signs at strategic points of the trail. Each sign tells an intriguing story of the people and places along the trail.
At 5.5 miles, the trail provides you with easy access to Washington’s Metrorail system. If you plan to ride the entire trail, keep in mind that your total round trip will be a whopping 90 miles.
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