A Short Ride with Good Connections
Overview and Route Description
The Ridge Trail is a short hiking/biking/horse trail in Great Falls Park, which is administered by the National Park Service. By itself, the trail is not much of an outing because it is only about a mile in length, but it can be ridden in conjunction with the nearby Old Carriage Road and/or Difficult Run Trail to make a route of up to 7-10 miles.
This might come as a surprise, but the Ridge Trail climbs and follows a ridge near the southern boundary of the park. Its western end is on Old Dominion Drive, which is the entrance road for Great Falls Park, and its eastern end is on the Difficult Run Trail where that trail follows a small but spectacular gorge down to the Potomac River.
The trail is dirt with some gravelly spots and is free of rock obstacles. While not as narrow as a true singletrack, it is not as wide as a true fire road, either. There will almost always be muddy sections, and if it has rained recently, there will be a lot of them, and some will span the full width of the trail. Atop the ridge, there are views to the Potomac River, though none of them are unobstructed by trees. Still, it is a nice ride through one of the quieter areas of the park.
Ridden west to east, it is an easy trip with just a few short climbs, and much of it is downhill. From east to west, the hill climbs are longer and steeper, and the ride is moderately strenuous. It is suitable for hybrid bikes in either direction.
About halfway, the trail intersects the Old Carriage Road, an easy and pleasant trail to ride through the heart of the park. On the east side of the intersection, a sign indicates you are on the Old Carriage Road. You are not. You are on the Ridge Trail. If in doubt, refer to the park map you hopefully have with you.
Trail map and other information for Great Falls Park
From the western part of I-495, a piece of the Capital Beltway, take Exit 44 for Route 193, Georgetown Pike; this is the second exit south of the Maryland border. Drive west for a few miles until you see the well-signed road leading to Great Falls Park. Turn right and follow the road about a mile to the entrance station, where there is a $5 entrance fee. There are two large parking lots after the entrance station. Ride back up the entrance road. Almost at the intersection with Georgetown Pike, you will see the Ridge Trail on the left. It is not signed, but it is easy to see. Look for the gate closing it to motor vehicles.
The easiest way to start from the eastern end of the trail is to park at the Difficult Run parking area. This signed parking area is off the south side of Georgetown Pike less than a mile east of the turnoff for Great Falls Park. Ride the Difficult Run Trail for about half a mile easy, passing under Georgetown Pike, to its intersection with the Ridge Trail. It is worth the short ride the rest of the way down Difficult Run to the Potomac River, where there are sweeping views of rapids, islands, and cliffs.
When to Ride
Any season. Spring and fall are best for both weather and scenery.