Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Billy Goat Trail Section B

Sunset on the Potomac River
 2.4 miles loop, 150 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy

Apologies for the lack of recent updates! I've been a little slow writing posts since school ended and I've got quite a few hikes backlogged, it'll probably take me a while to finish writing about them and they'll probably all be out of chronological order.

The Billy Goat Section B is an enjoyable and fairly scenic hike just a few minutes outside of the Beltway near Washington, DC. It explores the rocky banks of the Potomac River downstream from Great Falls and Mather Gorge. Although the hike does not pass through remote wilderness, it does explore a very pretty spot that is very close to an urban center.

Four friends and I headed to the Great Falls area after work halfway through my first week in Maryland. We got to the trailhead from I-495 (the Beltway) by exiting onto the Clara Barton Parkway, west, at the very last (or first, if you're coming from Virginia) exit in Maryland. The Clara Barton Parkway merged into MacArthur Boulevard, which we followed a mile or so to Angler's Inn, the trailhead. Old Angler's Inn is a restaurant to the right of MacArthur Boulevard. We parked across the road, close to the trailhead.

From the parking area, we followed a gravel path down to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. The C&O Canal was a major engineering feat in early American history that provided a shipping route from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, opening up commerce between the watersheds of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. The towpath was constructed along the canal as a path for horses and donkeys that towed the barges up the canal. Upon reaching the towpath, we turned left and followed the towpath east. In less than a hundred meters, we came to the junction with the beginning of the Billy Goat Trail Section B, which headed off into the woods on the right.

We headed onto the trail and followed it toward the shores of the Potomac River. The trail was fairly rocky but was not too difficult to follow. There were few views at first, prompting us to bushwhack a little ways off the trail to a small rock with a viewpoint of the river. However, as we continued on, the views along the trail opened up. We made our way past a few simple rock scrambles, passing small cliffs near the river and a few small beaches with views across to the numerous islands in the river and to Virginia. Wildlife was semi-abundant: we saw a herd of deer on the Virginia side of the river and later, on the towpath, we saw a number of geese in the canal.

The Potomac
The trail wound its way close to the river and then away from it, following a small ravine away from the river before crossing a stream and returning to the river. Numerous side unmarked trails headed off to the left: I assume these trails would connect back with the towpath. We reached a particularly spectacular section of hike where the trail headed onto a set of open rocks with broad views of the river just as the sun was disappearing, casting glorious colors onto the clouds that littered the sky. We hurried to finish the Billy Goat Section B trail and missed the actual sunset, but we managed to return to the C&O Towpath just after sunset and avoided having to hike back in the dark.

The Potomac River
We followed the towpath about a mile back to the parking area, walking along the algae-filled canal. I'm glad that I'm living just 20 minutes from this park this summer- hopefully I'll have chances to thoroughly explore the numerous Potomac River parks both inside and outside the Beltway by August.

Returning on the towpath along the C&O Canal

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