If you are a cyclist, this is truly one of the most beautiful and historic bike trails you will find anywhere in the world. As one who has cycled on every continent except one (you can guess which one), I still consider this trail among the top five. Over the years, whenever I visited Washington, I would rent a bike from the bike shop in Georgetown at the Key Bridge, cycle across the bridge to the start of the trail and then enjoy a full day of riding to and from Mt Vernon.
You can also start half way between DC and Mt Vernon in downtown Alexandria. Capital Bike Share bikes are plentiful and inexpensive, and you can cycle back to DC and drop if off there. Another option is to cycle down to Mt Vernon (9 miles from downtown Alexandria) and either ride back or, if you are staying in DC, take the afternoon ferry for a glorious ride back to the Marina in southwest Washington. You can then cycle back to your hotel if you are staying in DC and drop off your Bike Share bike any one of the many stations.
Bring a camera, and consider stops along the way. If you are starting from Georgetown, you will have a magnificent view of Washington from the Key Bridge. You can then consider a stop at Roosevelt Island, which has been maintained in its natural state despite all the urban growth around it. Next stop is Gravelly Point, where the planes land seemingly just above your head. Washington area parents know this is THE place to bring your kids to see them marvel in this wonder. Next stop is Old Town Alexandria. You cycle right through the waterfront area. Stop for an espresso or at one of the three ice cream shops near the corner of King and Union.
Next stop is Jones Point Park, just under the soaring Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac. Ride to the far point. George Washington himself led a group of our founding fathers marching from Old Town's Gadsby's Tavern carrying a stone marker that marked the far southern edge of the original Washington D.C. The lighthouse where the marker is has recently been restored.
Next stop is Dyke's Marsh, where you ride over a low bridge through the rushes, catty nine tails and water plants. Next stop could be George Washington's River Farm, which is now the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. You will have to divert from the path and ride through one of Washington's most spectacular residential areas, with waterfront homes that will dazzle.
Back on the trail, next stop is Fort Hunt. Not much to see, but it's worth noting that only a few years ago it was revealed that this was site of America's super secret decoding operation during WWII. The bunker where this underground operation took place is preserved, but it is permanently locked.
Just beyond Ft Hunt is one of the prettiest spot in all of the Washington area: a lookout from which you can see Ft Washington across the river in all its preserved glory and then looking further south, Mt Vernon itself.
Be warned that the last mile of the route before Mt Vernon is a beautiful winding trail through the forest, but it's also a steep uphill grade.
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