Potomac Heritage Trail and C&O Canal Towpath - Key Chain Loop

MODERATE 18 reviews

Potomac Heritage Trail and C&O Canal Towpath - Key Chain Loop is a 9.7 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Washington, District of Columbia that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

DISTANCE
9.7 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
672 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dog friendly

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

Some begin the loop by hiking North from the parking lot and crossing the Key Bridge. Many head south first, follow the ramp up and across the Roosevelt Bridge, walk behind the Kennedy Center, and past Watergate to Thompson's Boat House. Here's where you'll find Mile 0 for the C&O Canal. Continue from there up and across the Rock Creek bridge to the C&O Canal trail in Georgetown. Follow the trail for 4.2 miles to the Chain Bridge. Cross the Chain bridge, and nest small bridge. Potomac Heritage Trail is immediately on the right. You'll turn and go under the bridge heading south. Follow the blue blazes carefully. During times of flooding the parts of the trail may be under water. It's not too difficult to remain up the bank a bit and meander along until the trail rises back up to meet you. Follow along back to the Theodore Roosevelt parking lot.

hiking
25 days ago

This trail was....interesting with two dogs haha. It’s listed as dog-friendly and for most of the hike it totally is! But once you get to the Potomac Heritage Trail portion it gets a little (and by a little I mean a lot lol) confusing. The blue markers totally disappear for the most confusing part (right when it splits off into this incredibly rocky area). I was very doubtful because I thought it was supposed to be a more standard trail, so I was walking in circles retracing my steps trying to find more of those blue markers! But alas, I just trusted my instincts which told me to stay parallel to the river and I eventually saw some more of those beautiful markers. The “rock climbing” aspect of the hike was very unexpected but soooo fun. And luckily my dogs freaking loved it! I thought I’d have to turn around at first because those boulders were tough to manage with the two of them, but we all did it and I’m so glad we did :) by far one of the most interesting and fun hikes I’ve been on. Just be prepared for the rocky section and the occasional lack of trail markers. Trust yourself that you’re going the right way (as long as you’re following the river) and have fun!!

Edit: oh also! There’s a part where you’re walking directly parallel to this major highway directly in the hot sun. Just be prepared for this if you have dogs!! We had to take a ton of water breaks on this stretch and I had to make sure I was holding their leashes extra tight and watching them like hawks.

2 months ago

Nice hike. Great for a nice morning hike.

hiking
3 months ago

So first off, I would recommend doing this hike in reverse. With an easy, scenic start for the first 2 miles on the Virginia side, the next two miles have some intermittent sections of difficulty with some narrow, rugged terrain and rock scrambling/climbing and stream crossings (and waterfall sightings) if the water level is high enough. (FYI - Along this part of the trail the blazes switch between blue and turquoise). At about mile 3.5, you’ll cross the Gulf Branch waterfall, where you’ll start the uphill climb immediately up the right side (markings were a tad difficult to find). There is a steep, rocky incline with some metal handrails put in (for well-needed and greatly appreciated assistance) along the 30-40 foot climb. Then little switchbacks get you the rest of the way up (~150 ft) to GW parkway. You’ll descend under the parkway overpass towards Glebe road and then under the Chain Bridge. Allow ~3 hours for the Virginia side of the hike. Cross the bridge on left side into D.C. and then down the ramp to the tow path on the C&O canal. This section is wide and flat, and full of joggers and people on bikes, and I wouldn’t really consider it a hike, but an easy stroll/cooldown. In about a mile you’ll happen across restrooms, water and a snackbar at Fletcher’s Cove. Which can provide a well needed leg rest before pushing on to finish the loop or ending there (parking lot is large). Should allow at least 2 hours for the DC side of the walk.

hiking
9 months ago

Beautiful day, and the trail is in great shape, though sometimes hard to follow. TRUST YOUR AllTrails app! I didn't the first time and it cost me. Took about 3 hours of walk time, most of that on the Virginia side. Be aware that parking at Roosevelt Island is limited to 2 hours, so you might want to pick a more time-appropriate spot to start. (I wasn't ticketed , however) Coming back I took the Key Bridge instead of the Roosevelt Bridge, which shaved a few miles off. The VA side is moderately challenging, the DC side is quite easy, and even has a new-looking and very clean restroom. :)

trail running
Saturday, June 10, 2017

Nice trail with a few technical spots. The weeds were starting to grow around the single track portion of the trail but the trail itself was packed and runnable. Few rocks but no hand over foot. Great little scenic trail near the city. Ran it before work.

hiking
Saturday, August 13, 2016

Starts off nice from Roosevelt Island. Getting closer to Chain Bridge, the trail markings disappear and it gets very rocky. Stick near the water line and you'll make it to Chain Bridge. The way back down the C&O canal tow path is flat and easy but very little shade. Nice little boat house with snacks and drinks about half way down towards Georgetown. Definitely will do this again but not on the hottest day of the year.

hiking
Monday, February 29, 2016

This was our first visit to the Turkey Run portion of the Potomac Heritage trail area. While not a longer trek, seeing the area in the late winter time frame was well worth the time. The high water levels--and the obviously powerful current therein, was impressive. So to was the abundance of quartzite formations littering the place. The trails are rugged, well marked and diverse. The proximity to the ranger station and bathrooms (closed due to the season) are pluses. The little picnic area by the parking lot could use some gussying up, but that's just a style point. All in all, my son and I loved it. We'll do it again!

hiking
Friday, May 15, 2015

On May 14, 2015, my son and I hiked on this great 10-mile Metro-accessible trail. Starting from Rosslyn, we hiked west along the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River. This is a very rugged but well marked trail that offers great views of both the River and numerous waterfalls created by the many small streams. Lots of wildlife too! We then crossed the Chain Bridge, hiked east along the C&O Canal Towpath, and stopped for lunch at Fletcher's Boat House. We finished our journey by crossing the Key Bridge back to where we started in Rosslyn less than six hours ago. A fantastic day!

hiking
Sunday, July 24, 2011

We started the trail going south from the parking lot, hiking the C&O tow path toward Virginia, once we crossed the potomac into Virginia there was no sign of a trail, and we couldn't find the blue blazes anywhere. We started working along the water line for about a mile or so until we have reached a dead end and had to turn around and walk back.

The trail is nice, but it's not marked at all on the Virginia side.

hiking
Saturday, March 25, 2017

hiking
Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Monday, February 06, 2017

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sunday, May 18, 2014