The Billy Goat Trail is one of the most well known hikes in the Metro D.C. area, and for good reason. With nearly a mile of fun rock-hopping, and spectacular views of the Potomac River along the way, this circuit is loads of fun with plenty to see. We have the circuit rated as only a for difficulty, but be prepared to jump from rock to rock.
The Billy Goat Trail is very busy on nice days anytime of the year, however if you get on the trail by 8:00 a.m. you can miss all the crowds. The entire Billy Goat Trail is made up of 3 separate sections A, B, & C, that start and finish on the C&O Canal. The 7.8 mile circuit we have mapped here follows the rock-hopping section A, the more casual hike on section B, with a return back to the Great Falls parking area using the Berma Rd. Trail and Overlook Trail.
Mile 0.0 – From the parking area at Great Falls Park follow the path past the Great Falls Tavern and Visitors Center, cross over to the C&O Canal at Lock 19, then follow the C&O canal down to the entrance for the Billy Goat A Trail 50 yards before the covered Stop Gate.
Mile 0.9 - Turn right onto the Billy Goat A Trail where shortly it starts paralleling the Potomac River. The Potomac River is approximately 50ft below at this point. From here the trail becomes more of a rock-hop then arrives at Trail Marker 1.
Mile 1.4 - Trail Marker 1 is the point where the rock-hopping becomes more intense. There is a National Park sign warning hikers that 'Many hikers are injured every year on this section of the Billy Goat A Trail' so be prepared for a little more scrabbling. Between Markers 1 and 2 you also need to climb the 50ft traverse mentioned on the Trail Marker 1 sign. Although this might look slightly intimidating to some people, once on the traverse it's not that difficult.
Mile 1.9 - From Trail Marker 2 the scrambling diminishes, and the trail descends to the river bank where there is a nice beach area. DO NOT be tempted to wade into the water as the currents are deceptively strong, and you can be quickly washed down stream. Continue along the trail passing a wetland, small pond, then crossing a small log bridge. On the opposite side of the log bridge is Trail Marker 3.
Mile 2.2 - From Trail Marker 3 there is one more spectacular panorama of the Potomac River before the trail becomes more gentle passing by Sherwin Island and arriving back at the C&O Canal.
Mile 2.5 - Turn right on the C&O Canal following it for 0.6 miles to the entrance of the Billy Goat B Trail.
Mile 2.8 - Turn right on the Billy Boat B Trail. The trail is considerably more leisurely than the Billy Goat A Trail, with only a small section of rock-hopping where the trail passes Hermit Island. Where the Potomac River passes Hermit Island is a favorite spot for Paddle Boarders surfing the river wakes. Continue on the trail passing the Marsden Tract Campground, then arrive back at the C&O Canal.
Mile 4.4 - Now turn left on the C&O Canal heading back towards Great Falls. In 1.1 miles reach the Anglers Parking Area bridge over the C&O Canal.
Mile 7.5 - Turn left at the Lock 19 Trail and follow it back down to the main Great Falls Park area. Continue past the Great Falls Tavern and Visitors Center back to the parking area.
Mile 7.8 - Arrive back at the parking area.
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Reviews For The Billy Goat Trail Hike (5 Most Recent)
Like others mentioned, the Billy Goat A trail is not dog-friendly, so I decided to hike the B and C portions with my pooch. I parked at the "Carderock Recreation Center" as it is shown on Google Maps, which is right in the middle of the C-trail. Easy to get to, and plenty of parking on a weekday. From there, I took the tow path east, and then hopped on the actual C-trail, which follows along the river, then continued through to the B trail. I'd stick to the actual trails rather than the tow path if you're looking for serenity and scenery. It's not much to look at, and is just a flat gravel path.
Since I went on a Friday in the middle of the day, it was not very crowded, although I did see 20-30 people throughout the day. I hiked a total of ~7 miles, and took a nice little break to eat lunch and test out my new camping stove, to make a cup of instant coffee.
Along the B and C trails are some fun boulders/rocks you can hop off of the path and climb around on (some great ones near the designated climbing area). My dog is a 75lb mountain goat, so he was able to keep up no problem, but be careful if your dog is skiddish of cliffs/ledges/rocks.
The river itself is beautiful, and there are hills on the other side of the path to block out most of the DC noise pollution. I should also add that I saw a decent amount of wildlife - cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, a turtle, and some blue herrings! All in all, a great day. Not the most demanding of hikes - it's fairly flat... but with the rocky terrain, one must stay focused on where they are placing their feet, otherwise you risk a twisted ankle or two. Get outside!
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 16, 2016
Dogs are not allowed on Billy Goat section A due to The Nature Conservancy's rules imposed on their preserve. Dogs are ok on sections B & C.
After this false start, NPS Ranger recommended taking Overlook Trail (different from the Great Falls Overlook) to the Overlook Spur to Berma Road to Anglers parking area then connect with Billy Goat B there. All are blazed with posts at junctions. Berma Road is a less traveled alternative to the busy C&O.
When Billy Goat B puts you back on the C&O towpath, make a right and the Billy Goat C entrance is less than half a mile further south. The C section puts you back on C&O Canal just below Mile 10. The hike back to Great Falls parking lot is 4 miles.
If you've got a dog, this route is all pooch friendly and totals just under 12 miles. Plenty of good overlooks into the gorge and some fun rock scrambling. But you'll have to leave the 4-legged friend home when you do Billy Goat A.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 13, 2015
My wife and I did the Billy Goat Section B, since we figured A would be PACKED with people because of the recent cooler temps. We were lucky to be able to park at the Old Anglers Inn Parking lot, but it was a bit full even at 9am. Guess we need to get up earlier. The hike was very nice and we were able to get back to the car in about an hour. The C&O towpath was a bit more populated on the trail and we passed maybe 3-4 other hikers on the B trail.
We'll have to come back and check out the C section a bit further down.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 22, 2015
Went early and found only a few cars in the Great Falls Visitor Center parking lot. I reached just before 7am so there was no-one to pay the entry fee to. Can't complain of that!
Loved all parts and the scrambling in part A but enjoyed part B the most since it has tranquil views of the Potomac.
I started at 7 and was finished by 10. Made a couple of detours too, otherwise would have finished by 9.30. Met maybe 10-15 people on the way on the entire trail.
If you are in reasonable shape and if the trails are dry, you can certainly do the entire A+B+C in less than 3 hours.
I did not see any trash on the trails, and the weather was cooler than usual with clear skies. Had a great time!
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 15, 2015
Love this hike. Most people only do Section A. But, sections B&C are also nice. It would make a long day hike, but you could conceivably do A, B, and C in one day with an early start and in good physical shape.
I recommend doing this hike from the Old Anglers Inn parking area. Great Falls is about a 1.5 mile walk up the C&O Canal from there. The Old Anglers Inn parking is off McArthur Blvd. where there is a sharp turn in the road. Parking is free there versus the visitor center, but parking can fill up so get there early. The end of the Billy Goat Trail comes out near this parking area. So, I recommend walking up the C&O Canal to Great Falls from this parking area or taking the Berma Road route as suggested as a good warm-up. If you haven't seen it, then I would suggest taking the short detour to the Great Falls overlook, it is very close to the beginning of the Billy Goat Trail. I also recommend hiking from the Great Falls end of the Billy Goat Trail to the Old Anglers Inn end so you go up the 50' traverse rather than down.
Yes, this trail has some crowds and it takes much longer than 1.8 miles normally takes due to being technical. But, the scenery and uniqueness of the trail is completely worth it plus the workout the trail gives you. But, you are going to be climbing rocks and have to scout the steps you make in many places.