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)
This was my second hike and much more technical. I was with one other person so we can help and support one another in case of any emergencies. I do not prefer to hike on my own and I do not recommend it is possible. I am dealing with some major injuries to my ankle and knee so it was also a good gauge to let me know of my limitations. I left my trekking poles in the car but the smarter move would have been to bring them along. We chose to take the more difficult path. We started with Billy Goat A entrance on the right side which does not take long to get rocky. This was nice and just what I needed. The trail is well marked here (blue blazes). Great scenic views, high cliff that drop almost completely vertical. Nice place to get some eye candy sit and eat a snack. I printed out the directions for trail which were most easy to follow. We did the entire loop back to the parking lot at the top and I think the total was about 10/12 miles. One item that surprised me was the lack of carry on items other hikers had. Many did not even carry water! Everything I have read and even conversations with avid hikers the one constant is WATER. Perhaps we were the very few that were doing the largest loop and others were hiking shorter routes. I did not see anyone other than ourselves breaking a sweat. It seemed that most people were so underdressed and prepared. Anyways... I am working on developing my hiking legs so I can go bigger such as Old Rag and other interesting and technical hikes. This one is fun and has its technical parts and others that allow a good mixture to keeep the trail interesting.
Amanda & Eric
Date of Hike: Thursday, September 08, 2016
Very scenic and beautiful hike. We had planned to do the entire "billy goat trail" but ended up exiting at the "emergency exit" point. The mile of rocky terrain was strenuous but definitely doable if you are in decent shape. We definitely got a great workout in after having to climb rocks for an hour. However, I would suggest not wearing sandals as I saw a couple both wearing sandals having a difficult time crossing the rocks. Dogs aren't allowed on trails we were grateful to have left our pup at home this time, as it was a fairly far drive from Columbia, MD down 495 which is notorious for traffic. The falls are also very beautiful and easy to get to. I would definitely recommend this trail for those who like to hike, bike or even kayak down the Potomac! We plan to go back and complete the entire bill goat trail in the future! Don't forget to bring plenty of water (especially on hot days!), bug spray (the flies bite), and a first aid kit (definitely can easily twist an ankle if you aren't very careful on the slippery and jagged rocks)!
Date of Hike: Wednesday, July 13, 2016
I like to do Billy Goat A every week or two. It is close to town, has great views and and is a good workout if you move fast. I have done B and C and they are nice walks but much easier and flatter than A. If you just want views and an easy walk, this is not it. If you like rock scrambles and a little up and down, this is the hike for you. Occasionally, it gets crowded so if you are visiting on a nice weekend or holiday, try to get there early.
Date of Hike: Friday, March 11, 2016
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.