Continuing with the bike path meme, our next stop is the Arlington Loop, a contiguous 16.5-mile loop that runs along four trails: Four Mile Run, W&OD, Custis and Mt. Vernon. This loop, depending on where you pick it up and which direction you go will either be about a 5 on the difficulty scale or it’ll be an 8. Clockwise, starting from the 14th Street Bridge, and you have a good ride with light to moderate ascents and some quality downhill. Counter-clockwise starting from Theodore Roosevelt Island, you have a brutal ascent up the Custis Trail, followed by relatively flat descent to National and back around.
Personally, because I hate hills except to go down them, I chose to pickup the Mt. Vernon Trail at the 14th Street Bridge on my way through town. This approach is one of three I’d recommend: Starting in DC, head to the Mall, then down & around 15th street past the Jefferson Memorial and then up the bike path over the Potomac there. At the foot of the bridge is the Mt. Vernon Trail, and you can head North if you love a good steep climb up the Custis Trail, or you can head South past National Airport.
I opted for the latter not because I’m afraid of hills, but because my knees just aren’t all the way down with the standing climbs necessary for a few of those Custis beasts.. If you want that extra cardio workout, though, go North by all means. The Mt. Vernon Trail along the Potomac is serene, with some incredible vistas.
My favorite part of this whole ride, though, is right at Gravelly Point near the Airport. Depending on the wind and the aircraft direction, planes will be taking off and landing right over your head, and the photographic possibilities from here are absolutely endless. Don’t miss this one if you can avoid it. It’s worth your time & attention. There are also a couple portapotties here, making it one of the few likely restroom breaks on this particular route. Your other options are pretty limited in this regard.
There are several entry/egress points for this ride, with clear access at the 14th Street and Memorial Bridges, as well as the Teddy Roosevelt Island path entrance from Rosslyn at Lee Highway & North Lynn Street. The Custis Path has a number of Arlington access points and listing all of those would take quite some time. The W&OD Trail also has a number of access points, but the clearest are along Four Mile Run Drive in South Arlington. From there, the Four Mile Run trail also has a number of entry points, including Shirlington, South Glebe Rd, and near the sewage treatment plant.
Don’t forget to hydrate and fill your bottles before you get on the trail, your opportunities for refreshment are pretty few & far between on this ride.