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

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Washington, District of Columbia

Potomac Heritage Trail and C&O Canal Towpath - Key Chain Loop is a 8.6 mile heavily 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.

Length 8.6 mi Elevation gain 206 ft Route type Loop
Dog friendly Kid friendly Hiking Nature trips Road biking Walking Running Partially paved River Views Waterfall Bugs Over grown
Description
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Getting There

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.

National Park Service 703-289-2500

395 N to exit 10C. Follow George Washington Parkway pas the Pentagon, and exits for Key Bridge. Parking for Theodore Roosevelt Island is on your left, and only accesible from the northbound side of the highway.

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Reviews (75)
Photos (328)
Recordings (65)
Completed (172)
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Karsten Halusa
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HikingOff trailOver grownScramble

Did the loop clockwise, lot’s of fun on the Potomac Heritage Trail portion, challenging at times, waterfalls, rock scrambles, sometimes the trail was poorly marked. The All Trails route was a bit confusing around Chain Bridge, felt like I was off trail. The C&O Canal portion of the loop was comparatively boring but appreciated an easier stretch.

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David Moreno
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Hiking

Great trail with a lot of variety including, waterfalls paved and unpaved paths and plenty of scrambling up and down rocks. I recommend parking in the lot for Theodore roosevelt island first then starting with the virginal loop first into maryland then back across the key bridge at the end!

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Leon Scott
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Road biking
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Maya Sugarman
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Hiking

noise pollution and trash

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Stephen B. Goldberg, MD
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Hiking
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Dan Alden
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Hiking
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Seth Lachowsky
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Hiking
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Sal Hernandez
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Hiking

The beginning half is pretty easy as first and then it gets tougher half way through. I tried running most of the trial but walked when I hit the rocks and some trails were pretty close to the water. Got lost for a second when I hit the bridge. Found my way and then on the way back was nice since it was a bike path. I tried running some of it but honestly I was pretty beat at this point. Luckily there’s a pit stop after the bridge and a small store that has drinks and snacks! They take Apple Pay so that came in handy as I don’t run with my wallet.

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amin qazi
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HikingGreat!No shadeRockyScramble

We usually do this trail in a clock wise direction. This way we get to do harder part first the Virginia side and then do the easy towpath. The trail gets really hard around the chain-bridge area. They have installed metal handrail which makes it a bit easy but still some scrambling before you get to chain bridge rd. It is not very well marked around George Town to get back on bridge. The staircase is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. All in all it make good 4.5 hrs long hiking!

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David Lapidus
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HikingOver grownRocky
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Dan O'Brien
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HikingRockyScramble

*SEE BELOW REVIEW BY SARAH F* Note: be prepared to struggle along the narrow and steep trail immediately after the chain bridge on the VA side, for the first 1/4 mile or so before you meet with the marked trail.

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Dominic Marshall
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RockyScramble

Good hike... terrible trail run

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Lindsay Killick
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HikingOver grownScramble

I don’t think this trail is really closed as others have stated — I think the partial barricade is to prevent vehicles or whatnot from passing, as it is set rather lopsided next to the trail. No signage stating closure, nothing at all coming other direction... and nothing on the NPS website indicating any closure. That said, it needs work. Would not repeat. Definitely take a friend, though very little is actually moderate intensity, you’ll want the assistance if you fall on a hidden obstacle. I didn’t see another person on the Potomac Heritage side. Most is very well marked, but not the last section right before Chain Bridge.

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Karin Kreutzer
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HikingBugsMuddyOver grownScramble

The trail has some high and low points. It was not easy to follow. We started by crossing the Francis Scott Key Bridge and walking the north part of the loop on the towpath, Not sure if there was a different path we were supposed to be on, but this seemed right. Very flat and paved, lots of bikes. We crossed the Chain Bridge, which was not at all marked on the towpath but we found a small path to get us there. From that point we were on more of a trail with lots of fun rock scrambles. However, again it was not well marked and we lost our way a couple times. This side it is very poorly maintained and overgrown. We even had to walk along the GW Parkway for a little bit, very strange. At the end there was a sign the path was closed, but never saw a sign indicating that from the other direction. Was and adventure, of sorts. I will not be doing this one again.

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Sam Shumate
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HikingBugsOver grown
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Aricka Rivers
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Did this trail the other day and it was fun. Very cool, a stream valley trail type hike. I followed the recommendation of another review to do the trail backwards, I agree with this because the mid to end of the trail you end up in the city and it's nice to get lunch there. Just make sure you are walking on the west side of the 66 (walking with traffic) to get back otherwise you will end up stranded and having to loop back if you walk against the traffic going East. This adds on another 2 miles or so lol. But it was so fun and you get to scramble a bit and see multiple waterfalls. Be careful because you dont see blue marks for a while around the time you end up seriously rock scrambling before hitting the final waterfall (assuming you do the trail in reverse, otherwise this will be your first waterfall. Oh and you might get a little wet, just a little though.

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Nancy Lassiter
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Hiking

9-22-2018 Beautiful day for a hike. The four of us started out in the parking lot on Canal street(the down the ramp) We crossed the little foot bridge by the bathroom and took a left onto the upper gravel trail deciding the lower paved trail is for road bikes. following this trail for about 3.5 miles we wound up in Georgetown Waterfront Park. We continued along the water front (which was our first mistake) we should have stayed up, so when we got to the bridge we were standing Under it, so had to figure out how to get UP to bridge. When we got to top, we walked across only to figure out we were on the wrong side, so had to do U turn back under and across the parkway. Back on the trail we walked another 7.5 miles along the Potomac through the weeds and over some pretty good rock scrambles. Thank goodness the river wasn't any higher or not sure what we would have done. As is was we had to get wet crossing in a few places. All of our devices said total miles were closer to 11.

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