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.
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left Mouse Over the icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Billy Goat Trail hike:
Reviews For The Billy Goat Trail Hike (5 Most Recent)
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.
Date of Hike: Friday, July 03, 2015
This trail is by far my Favorite and I have done them all. All my friends usually hit it with me though I like to take the lead as they all sweat and really stink, and I've blazed these trails myself so I know the way. When it's dry I like to book and really get my heart pumping so move aside or try to keep up. I have never tripped or fallen myself, but I often see others go down. It's funny actually, like they were raised in a barn or something. LOL. Anyway, do be careful and watch your step. Take plenty of water and snacks and leave no trash behind. I personally love to eat trash... cans are my favorite, but I prefer to eat plant material that Mother Nature produced, but you should not. You might just see Mother while trailing, but only if you have your eyes open. She is quite beautiful. I go here often and hope you will find your way out of the big city to join me. I personally never really cared for city life. All the hustle and bustle and people smoking... If you do smoke, you might try joining me to get some fresh air, but for my sake, leave the smokes in the car. If You are simply smokin, then by all means, bring it out here baby.