This past winter break (2015-2016) I was back home in the DC area to visit family, and the daily temperatures were almost too warm. As in, too warm to have a fire in the fireplace. As in, 70°F outside warm. So, taking advantage of the temperatures, a couple of us decided to go exploring and hike the Billy Goat Trail Section A, along with about 5000 other people.
The Billy Goat Trail is divided into three sections (A, B, and C), totaling just over 7 miles roundtrip. We only hiked section A, which is a bit under a 4-mile loop the way we did it. Most people will park at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center to begin the hike, where a park entrance fee is charged. (It looks to be about $10 per private vehicle.) We parked at the opposite end of the trail by Old Angler’s Inn. There are three large parking lots right across the street, and no entrance fee. From the parking lot you can start walking along the C&O Canal, and a left turn takes you off the canal and onto Section A of the Billy Goat Trail. After the trail reconnects to the C&O Canal, you can continue for about a quarter mile before reaching the path that leads to the Great Falls Overlook. After that, it’s a quick jaunt along the canal to get back to Old Angler’s Inn.
The trail requires lots of rock scrambling, but is overall a moderate hike. The most difficult part is a 40-foot rock wall you have to scale, up or down depending on your direction of travel. (We went down, but I think going up would have been easier.) There is a nice pathway carved into the wall, but it’s only wide enough for one person. We saw people of all ages climbing.
This is the only hike I’ve written about in the DC area, but even without seeing any others I can tell it’s obviously one of the most popular hikes. Especially on an unseasonably warm winter’s day, the trail was wall-to-wall people at times, causing a very big backup along that narrow rock wall path. Overall, it was not the most enjoyable experience. Granted, we were there in the afternoon, so an 8am start may have improved the trip considerably.
This definitely isn’t one of my favorite hikes I’ve done, but I fully admit to being biased by being able to hike in Hawaii and the desert Southwest for months at a time. It was a bleary day when we visited, and the colors were drab, so my memories aren’t the most fond. However, I’d still recommend the hike to anyone in the area, especially during the greener months. It’s low-impact and the rocks are a lot of fun to scramble on. I’ve seen some beautiful pictures online taken at more opportune times of the year, and I think my overall opinion of the hike would be quite a bit different if we had visited when it wasn’t so crowded.