Stretching nearly 45 miles from just outside of Washington, D.C. to western Loudoun County, Virginia, the W&OD Trail is an endurance athlete's dream. The mostly flat trail, which is built on the old Washington & Old Dominion train line, serves as a crucial link between the nation's capital and its western suburbs. Its actual mileage is 44.8, starting in Shirlington, Va. and ending in Purcellville, Va. There's a gradual increase in elevation going west, with 423 feet of gain.The highest point of 610 feet above sea level is just after mile 38.
What Makes It Great
The paved trail, the first portion of which was built in 1974, was expanded to its current form over the years and was completed in 1988. For cyclists looking for a workout or just to cruise around, it has several benefits.
The further west you go, the less road crossings there are. That means you can stay clipped in and in the saddle for longer stretches. And not having cars means it's a much safer cycling route.
There is no official speed limit, although racing and competitive speed training are not allowed. This means cyclists looking for a workout must be extra careful of their speed — especially on weekends during nice weather, when the trail is packed with runners, walkers, baby strollers, leashed dogs, and other cyclists. If you're looking to go full gas, our advice is to either head out early before it gets crowded or keep it slow until you exit the trail.
There are several bike shops along the trail that offer nutrition, restrooms, and help with mechanical problems should they arise. And there are group rides starting from the shops during the week and on the weekends, so check with them if you're looking for a group.
One of the W&OD's best attributes is that it allows cyclists living in the more populated areas immediately surrounding D.C. to safely ride to the western suburbs and take on rolling country roads and some big climbs. Don't get us wrong; riding the full length of the W&OD is a pleasant experience, no matter which section you're on and no matter how fast you ride. But serving as a connecting route is a great thing.
Who is Going to Love It
Serious cyclists looking for a relatively flat place to train, or a way to get from several connecting routes to the hills in the western suburbs. Less experienced cyclists can also enjoy the trail for a quick workout, as residential areas are close to the route from end to end.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
If you're in D.C., either take one of the other local trails to the W&OD in Shirlington or drive your car — with your bike, of course — and park in the lot off Wilson Boulevard at mile 4 in Arlington (there's only street parking at mile 0).
The two-lane trail is easy to follow, so enjoy the ride as you pedal west. If you live in the suburbs and want to ride east, there's parking at several points along the way. But the starting point in Purcellville has a nice lot and is a great place to begin your ride.