The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail, a paved route connecting Arlington, Va. with the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon, offers several benefits for runners. There are two distinct, and different, segments — north of Old Town Alexandria and south of Old Town Alexandria. Both sections, however, provide runners with a relaxing spot to pound out some mileage on a scenic route that yields views of the Potomac River and the Washington, D.C. skyline.
What Makes It Great
The Mount Vernon Trail has several on and off points, and many of those have lots that offer free parking. There really isn't one ideal place to start your run on the trail: every spot is a good one.
At Mount Vernon, for example, there is a large parking lot at the trailhead. On weekends it is packed with people starting their run, bike ride, nature walk, or visit to the Mount Vernon Estate. Another popular place to start on the trail is Old Town Alexandria.
One of the most interesting spots along the trail is Gravelly Point, a park north of Old Town that is adjacent to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Planes take off and land right over your head — an experience we can only describe as loud.
If you're looking to spend the day at Mount Vernon, however, we recommend parking at that lot and working your way north up the trail before turning around, returning to your car, and visiting the home of the nation's first president.
Begin running from Mount Vernon and feel the gentle, rolling profile on your legs. More than two miles of gradual downhill start the trail, and then the profile becomes more rolling for the next three miles. More lumps, albeit smaller, follow that the rest of the way up to the northern tip of the trail at Theodore Roosevelt Island.
The trail is frequented by a lot of cyclists on the weekends, so it's important to keep your head on a swivel — especially when you pretend you're in a race and pass that guy in the blue shirt ahead of you. If you run with music, our advice is to keep the volume low or only use one earbud so you can hear what's happening around you.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone, really. Serious runners who are training for a marathon can run the entire trail, and then hitch a ride back with a friend or family member. Casual runners will enjoy the trail too, and there are several places — particularly through Old Town Alexandria and the area around the airport — that are more flat.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are several on and off points, but if you can get yourself on the George Washington Memorial Parkway then you won't have too much trouble finding the trail. Our advice is to either start at Theodore Roosevelt Island, Mount Vernon, or Old Town Alexandria.