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)
Overall a really nice hike with a lot of beautiful scenery. Part "A" of the Billy Goat Trail is the most beautiful and challenging section of this hike. Part "B" was significantly less challenging.
The only negative thing that I can say is that this location, is that it gets infested with people. We showed up at 7:50 and immediately proceeded to do the hike, and there were already a good amount of people. We left at 11am after completing trail A and B and it was beyond crowded I probably won't come back to this place until the fall or early winter when there's not a lot of people outside.
Date of Hike: Friday, January 02, 2015
I live nearby, so I hike various sections of this trail quite often. Best to get out on weekdays if possible to avoid the crowds. And when the people aren't there, the wildlife tends to come out. If you're interested, you can see a variety of shots from the trail over all four seasons at this link: http://pixels.com/profiles/1-francis-sullivan.html?tab=artworkgalleries&artworkgalleryid=355881
Date of Hike: Thursday, January 01, 2015
Just moved to DC and saw this hike had some scrambling (which I love!) and was hoping to get away from the city. I was dead wrong. While the trail itself is amazing, the amount of people and their lack of courtesy kind of ruined it for me. (I thought everyone would be lazing around on New Years Day) I would have rated it higher if there were less people.
Super sunny day, started around noon (I forgot to set an alarm), and it was around 40 degrees. The views and scrambles are amazing considering how close this is to DC. Most of it was pretty easy for me as I've done some good scrambling in the Rockies, but it was a great work out and I had tons of fun. The traverse was the only part I really slowed down on as it was a little wet and muddy, but it's easy if you just take the time to get good footing.
The people are just terrible though. Many are not wearing suitable shoes despite the warnings and I saw lots of trash on the trail (will bring a trash bag and gloves to take care of that next time). The traverse is like waiting for a ride at Disney World. People are stacked 2 feet away from each other going up while another group is trying to come down. After 20 minutes of waiting, a nice father trying to come down told his family to wait for me to climb up. He was the only courteous person I met and I greeted him with a smile and a thank you. I kept trying to space out on the trail, but it was just too crowded.
Despite all of this, I highly recommend this trail. It's a good place to get your legs before you try harder hikes that are a bit further out of the city and the views are awesome. Don't make my mistake, get out there early, and hopefully you'll beat most of the traffic.
Date of Hike: Sunday, November 30, 2014
Well first off I have alot to say!!! the hike itself is nice but I absolutely hated the experience, with the rude people to the crowded-unpatient car drivers in the tight parking lot (across old anglers inn) . Let me start off this area is the most upscale affluent snobish people you can ever meet! I was given the middle finger from an older man, seriously? Grow up. we came out here to nature to unwind to have a good time, not to start b.s. Plus on the trail you have the most top notch athletes who think they're sooooooooooooooo much better than you, that aren't considerate of you whatsoever. I was given a pass to this one group( since the space was tight) NONE of them said thank you, at all! so rude and self centered. Plus they were soo much young kids running around who think climbing on rocks is a race, with no parents around for supervision that itself equals trouble. This whole experience was just a mediocre one honestly and just reminds me why i like to avoid going here.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 28, 2014
10am start at Section A was very crowded - bumper-to-bumper with a backup at the rock face scale. But the great thing about the BGT is you can forge your own path. Once off the beaten path, we literally felt as though we had the place to ourselves.