Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail, VA

This is our home trail. We’ve been riding it together for 36 years and boy, are we sick of it! 

Just kidding. Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park is a 45-mile long rail-to-trail that runs through Northern Virginia from Arlington (across the Potomac River from DC) to Purcellville (in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains).  It could also be called the Dominion Energy Utility Poles Trail since power lines loom overhead for most of it (and can sometimes be heard crackling with electricity if you stop to listen).   

Named after our friend, Mark Cook, this is an unrelenting 2-mile climb (it only looks flat!) east toward DC.


For this blog post, we’re going to pretend that we just rode the entire 45 miles.  So, the W&OD starts in an urban neighborhood but within a few miles, we were on a flat, wooded stretch, following a narrow stream called Four Mile Run. Then we began the hilly climb west, through wooded neighborhoods bordered by high retainer walls that shielded us from Route 66.

On the other side of this wall, thousands of unfortunate Rout 66 commuters are in bumper-to-bumper traffic. #BikingisBetter


Slowing to cross a few intersections in the town of Falls Church, we shed the disparaging title of “Beltway insiders” once we crossed under I-495. There is almost always a fair amount of traffic on this trail and weekend rides can be frustrating slogs around families with strollers, dogwalkers and children testing their training wheels.  There is one other demographic that we’ve seen more frequently on this trail than any other: bikers with glasses and gray goatees.  Kellie once counted 35 of the species within a five-mile stretch (starting with Jim, of course).  

Vienna is the next town we passed through, where the first brewery we ever encountered on a bike trail, Caboose Brewing, is located. What a joyous day that was in 2015! Now, according to one source, there are 21 breweries within a mile of the trail — which must be a world’s record.

Over the years, we’ve seen more and more townhouse communities spring up alongside the trail as civilization has encroached upon the former forests and fields. But still,  we frequently see deer grazing fearlessly alongside the trail, and today, we saw a fat gopher, a rabbit and a black snake. A few years ago, Kellie and a friend came upon what seemed to be a drunken skunk (rabies?) weaving its way along the trail. Kellie chose to exit the trail and cut through some briar to give it lots of space but her friend barreled safely past it.

Next, we pedaled through Reston and along Northern Virginia’s high tech corridor where many “Beltway Bandits” (aka defense and government contractors) are based. During this segment of the trail, we passed the first of three golf courses and two ice skating rinks (one where Kellie played ice hockey for many years and coached and reffed our boys’ teams).

A few placid miles later, we crossed through the town of Herndon where Green Lizard Cycling offers bikes, gear, snacks, coffee and new this year, a beer tent out front. Next, “Whirling Sterling,” where Kellie grew up and is today, the home of several breweries within blocks of the trail. (For this reason, this is a very Kellie-centric blog post.)

Things began to look decidedly rural as the trail approached Ashburn, where it traversed broad open fields and even a large stone quarry. Kellie once joined a group of friends to ride 20 miles along the trail to a beer festival in Ashburn.  It was on the ride home that she learned an important lesson: despite being high in carbohydrates, beer is NOT a good source of energy.  Word to the wise.

Many riders like to stop at Carolina Brothers Pit BBQ, which was once an old country store with warped wooden floorboards and shelves filled with everything from pickled eggs to nuts and bolts to bait worms.  Today, it has shaded outdoor tables and reach-in coolers with energy drinks for its biking clientele – and really good BBQ for the community.

The ride through Ashburn was pleasant and traffic definitely decreased the further west we rode, but the prettiest and most peaceful part of the trail began when we passed Leesburg. Leesburg is a very cute and historic town with, surprise! more breweries – and outside of town, several fun wineries. In fact, Loudoun County, which calls itself “DC’s Wine Country,” now has 40 wineries. (There were two when Kellie was growing up and their wines were an insult to even unsophisticated palates.)  

The remaining 13 miles of the trail were rolling and predominately shaded with occasional barns and  farmhouses visible through the trees. Alongside the trail is a 32-mile crushed gravel equestrian trail, and it is on this end of the W&OD where the rare horseback rider is likely to be seen.

The trail ends (finally!) on the edge of the town of Purcellville, where there are restrooms, a bakery that sells bottles of water, a very good restaurant (Magnolia’s at the Mill – where sweaty bikers can sit on the patio) and within a few blocks, a bike store and a few good breweries.  Our favorite requires a lift, however, up a very steep unpaved drive to Dirt Farm Brewery which has a beautiful flagstone terrace that overlooks the entire valley.  

But our post-ride brewery stop was back at Caboose on this day, where we sat outside watching bikes pull off the trail and roll up to the popular patio. Kellie sampled the Vienna Lager, the Blackberry Gose and the Whitetail Wit (her favorite).  Jim had a sampling of the Wolf Trap Ale from Kellie’s flight and a full pour of The Fog IPA.

Help us out with additional insights and tips on the W&OD and local breweries in the Comments section below.

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