Where to Log Winter Miles in Washington DC

Quiet, tree-lined gravel roads and paths await you at Morven Park.
Quiet, tree-lined gravel roads and paths await you at Morven Park. Jason Devaney
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Running in the cold winter air can be an uplifting experience on several fronts—you aren’t instantly drenched in sweat, it’s a great way to get some Vitamin D, and you’re in the select company of running diehards as you hammer out the miles when the mercury drops.

In and around the nation’s capital, running/biking trails, monuments, and historic routes offer some fantastic running. So don’t let a blanket of snow stop you–read on for a few of our favorite spots to run this winter.

1. Trails, trails, trails

Picture yourself running on this bridge along the Custis Trail. Kevin Bowman

The Washington, DC area is peppered with hundreds of miles of car-free trails for runners and cyclists. Most are paved. Some paths also have gravel paths running alongside paved sections. And occasionally you’ll encounter a dreamy crushed cinder trail.

The W&OD, Mount Vernon, Capital Crescent, Custis, and the Fairfax County Parkway Trails are a few of our favorites because they are well-maintained, well-lit, and usually cleared of snow. The latter may take a few days when a massive storm hits. But any delay gives you the opportunity to cross train and head out on snowshoes or Nordic skis.

2. The National Mall

A trip down the National Mall includes a run past the Washington Monument. WikiCommons

This 2-mile stretch of land that connects the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building is perfect for runners. There’s both a sidewalk and a gravel surface. And the views of DC’s monuments and the government buildings don’t get much better.

Standing atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, you can see all the way down the National Mall. Once you reach the Washington Monument, look left and catch a glimpse of the White House Christmas tree. Christmas wreaths hang from the streetlamps as you head toward the Christmas tree on the grounds of the Capitol Building. What’s more, you’ll only have a handful of street crossings to deal with.

3. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge

This is one of several ways to access the Woodrow Wilson Bridge trail. Parking is a plus Virginia Department of Transportation

This landmark spans the Potomac River and links Alexandria, VA, with National Harbor, MD. The full distance between Route 1 in Alexandria and the harbor measures 3.3 miles, making for an ideal (okay, slightly long) 10K run.

The starting point in Alexandria is right off the popular Mount Vernon Trail. The bridge contains a running and biking lane on the westbound side that is separated from cars by barriers. The view once you reach the peak of the bridge is spectacular. Once you descend into National Harbor, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in case you need a quick bite before finishing your out-and-back jaunt.

4. Morven Park

Quiet, tree-lined gravel roads and paths await you at Morven Park. Jason Devaney

This historic, 1,000-acre plot of land in equally historic Leesburg, VA, boasts several miles of trails and roads perfect for a relaxing winter run. There are virtually no cars, although there is an equestrian center on the property, so you may see a horse trailer or two.

We recommend parking in nearby Ida Lee Park, which contains a fitness center as well as natural-surface running trails. Head west out of the park and hop onto Old Waterford Road, and then take a right into the entrance of Morven Park. Once you reach the mansion, trails branch off the paved road and stretch back as far as Route 15, located along the northeast edge of the park.

5. The C&O Canal Towpath

The C&O Canal links Washington, D.C. with Cumberland, MD Jason Devaney

This 184.5-mile path between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD, a former towpath for the canal, is now a popular, year-round recreation zone for runners and cyclists. With no cars and a relatively flat elevation profile it’s easy to see why. It’s also a great starting point for a longer journey. Maybe not in one attempt, of course, but over a period of months or even years, an end-to-end trip on the C&O Towpath is a badge of honor and gives you something to brag about to your running buddies.

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