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)
The Billy Goat Trail, particularly section A, is a must-see and must-do hike for anyone who lives in or is visiting the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The Great Falls Overlook on Olmsted Island (just north of the trailhead for section A) affords a spectacular view of Great Falls but to see the Potomac River flow through Mather Gorge--quite dramatic scenery--you must take the time to hike section A! The segment of the trail that runs along the Potomac is not easy but it is manageable for people with even minimal levels of athleticism. There are several areas where scrambling up or down boulders is necessary to advance along the trail, and for those folks who are keen to break a sweat by doing PT there are really limitless scrambling, jumping, and climbing opportunities all along the Potomac section of trail hence the billy goat reference!
The eastern side of the trail is a towpath that runs along the C&O Canal and is very easy to traverse because it is entirely flat. This section is not as dramatic geologically but is beautiful nonetheless.
There are a number of trails in the park but section A of the Billy Goat Trail is the most scenic and therefore the most satisfying of them all. You won't be disappointed.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 21, 2013
We went with two 6 year old boys starting at 9:00 AM on a beautiful partly clouded day. We were a little time bound so we stayed on the trail for the most part. Although the water was low, but the views were still very good. There were quite a few people as expected, but were kind and sharing the trail well. My 6 yr olds were able to do the rock hopping with minimal guidance and basic safety protocols. For small kids, it will be nice to have gloves on because the rock surfaces do get rough for their palms. Important to keep close eye on the kids to ensure they do not get distracted and wander close to the edges. We completed the south-bound portion of section A in a reasonable timeframe. There was one rock wall which seemed a bit challenging but it was the most fun to climb, especially for the kids. We started the return via the towpath, a short while after marker 3. The towpath is a straight gravel road with many cyclists, so watch out and also be respectful about sharing. Nothing much interesting in the towpath from a kids point of view. Some good views of the canal for the most part. NOTE: Close proximity to city/urban areas has led to significant littering on the trail but more so on the river side (empty bottles, tissues, plastic bags, candy wrappers etc.). Please be considerate and leave no marks.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
This is a "must-do" hike for all in the DC Metro area! You cannot call yourself a "Washingtonian" until you visit this park...
Wonderful stroll on such a wonderful day...many people out which is clearly understandable...
But...got there early so the Billy Goat Trail was fairly quiet...I must say that its rock scrambling at its finest on the 'A" trail...good stuff...
The rest of the circuit is really easy...plenty to see...always near the river or the canal...
Do not skip the Olmsted Island Overlook boardwalk right at the beginning...adds less than a mile to the hike and its the only view of the Falls...and a great one...the Overlook Trail at the end does not provide a good view...especially with full tree growth...but a good climb none-the-less...
The C&O Canal and Billy Goat Trails combine to make this a certain favorite!
What a special place so close to DC!
Date of Hike: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Took my three boys on first two miles of the Billy Goat Trail and then back on the tow path to the parking area at Great Falls for a 5 mile hike. The boys loved all the rock scrambling. They are 6,7, and 14. This is definitely one their favorites.