On the Run
With the help of Montgomery County running coaches and enthusiasts, we put together a list of routes that will appeal to everyone from beginners to experienced marathoners.
Mormon Temple Loop
Length: Six miles
The Challenge: Difficult, with some steep hills
Surface: Paved trail, roads
The gold spires of the Mormon Temple in Kensington climb 288 feet above the Beltway, making the building a landmark for area drivers. The six-mile loop around the temple suggested by Montgomery County Road Runners Club coach Mike Broderick is quite a climb, as well. The route starts on the Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail at Meadowbrook Stables in Chevy Chase and winds through about two miles of playgrounds, meadows and dense thickets of mature trees, providing great views of Rock Creek along the way. The trail spits out runners at the intersection of Beach and Stoneybrook drives, where Broderick, a Gaithersburg resident who coaches MCRRC’s experienced marathoners, says runners are in for a “brutal” hill workout. Eve Mills of Bethesda, who trains with Broderick’s group, says the challenging Stoneybrook hill makes the route a group favorite. “We think of it fondly, even though it kicks us in the you-know-what all the time,” Mills says. Jennifer Schwartz of Bethesda, who is also part of Broderick’s group, says the route provides the best training Montgomery County has to offer for the notoriously hilly Boston Marathon. “The hill is the one part of the route where nobody’s really talking much,” Schwartz says. Fortunately, the larger-than-life temple looming overhead makes it hard to focus too much on your own discomfort. After the climb, on the return run, the athletes are treated again to the beauty—and relative flatness—of Rock Creek Trail.
• Start at Meadowbrook Stables, 8200 Meadowbrook Lane, Chevy Chase.
• Cross East West Highway to run north on Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail.
• Follow the trail roughly two miles to the intersection of Beach and Stoneybrook drives.
• Stay on the paved path to run toward the temple on Stoneybrook Drive.
• Turn left onto Kent Street.
• Turn left onto East Bexhill Drive.
• Turn right onto Old Spring Road.
• Turn left onto Beach Drive.
• Turn right onto Jones Mill Road to follow Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail south back to the stables.
Make it harder: Add another hill loop before getting back on Rock Creek Trail.
Bethesda Row Loop
Length: 3.87 miles
The Challenge: Easy
Surface: Paved roads
From the peace of the Capital Crescent Trail to the bustle and glamour of Bethesda Row, this quick loop provides a glimpse of the best that Chevy Chase and Bethesda have to offer. The route starts just off Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase at Georgetown Running Company and passes through neighborhoods and parks before it picks up the Capital Crescent Trail for about a mile. The route catapults runners from the trail onto Bethesda Row, then passes through the Drummond and Somerset neighborhoods in a loop back to the store. Alan Carr of Pacers Running Store in Silver Spring, who designed the route while serving as manager of Georgetown Running Company, says frequent changes in scenery help the nearly four miles fly by, making the route a favorite on group runs. “The thing that’s nice about Bethesda is how interconnected the urban centers, the parklands and the residential centers are,” says Sheena Dahlke of Bethesda. “On this run, you get to see all those environments.” Plus, Dahlke says, “the route’s relative flatness makes it pure fun.”
• Start at Georgetown Running Company, 4461 Willard Ave., Chevy Chase.
• Head west on Willard Avenue.
• Turn right onto River Road.
• Turn right onto Landy Lane and watch for the Capital Crescent Trail on your left, just after two consecutive gas stations on your right.
• Take the Capital Crescent Trail east until you hit Bethesda Avenue.
• Turn right onto Bethesda Avenue and follow the bend until you hit Wisconsin Avenue.
• Turn right onto Wisconsin Avenue and head south until you return to Willard Avenue.
• Make a right onto Willard Avenue and head west back to the store.
Sligo Creek Trail
Length: 10.2 miles
The Challenge: Easy
Surface: Paved trail, unpaved offshoots
Many runners swear by the Sligo Creek Trail, a 10.2-mile paved, creek-side path that offers athletes the chance to customize their run with dozens of miles of paved and unpaved offshoots. The main trail snakes through neighborhoods and parks from Wheaton Regional Park to the Prince George’s County border, following Sligo Creek through thickly forested sections of Silver Spring. “You feel like you’re really getting away from it all, even if you are running right under the Beltway,” says Laura Stewart of Silver Spring, who adds that she and her husband, Ed, use the trail for marathon training. Laura Cloher of Silver Spring, who organizes biweekly “fun runs” from Pacers Running Store in Silver Spring, says the best part of the trail is its versatility, with varied topography and myriad ways to make the run longer. Cloher’s favorite extension: 11 miles of paths through Wheaton Regional Park. One of the nine parks that break up the main trail, it offers gentle hills through the 50-acre Brookside Gardens and scenic paths around 5-acre Pine Lake. “The park is very hilly, so it’s a good workout,” Cloher says. But those on long runs will enjoy the gentle topography of the main trail. “There’s a gradual incline when you’re running up the creek, but compared to all the hills in the area around it, it’s relatively flat,” Stewart says.
The trail starts at the southern edge of Wheaton Regional Park at Nairn Road and Ventura Avenue in Wheaton.
Gold Mine Trail
Length: 3.2 miles, with multiple spurs
The Challenge: Difficult, with rocks, logs and other obstacles
Runners who are seeking solitude will find a quiet respite from the popular 185-mile C&O Canal towpath on the Gold Mine Trail, which climbs 3.2 leafy and rocky miles through the woods above the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center in Potomac. The trail spotlights both a scenic portion of the towpath and an intriguing part of its history, taking its name from a gold mine that was active until the 1930s. Runners should be prepared for a serious climb and a range of terrain, including downed logs and hidden rocks. “Sometimes, you’re doing some decent scrambling,” says Mike Bur of Kensington, president of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club. But Bur says the peace and quiet that the trail offers makes the climb more than worth it. Runners looking to lengthen the 3.2-mile route can do so on the towpath below, or on several spurs off the main trail through the woods. “The trails remind me of a spider, because there are five or six spokes, or legs, off the main loop,” says Ed Schultze of Gaithersburg, director of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K. “It’s a treat, especially if one goes exploring some.”
The trail (click“Great Falls Hiking Trails” for map), marked by blue blazes, starts behind the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center at 11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac.
Lake Needwood Trails
Length: Seven miles
The Challenge: Difficult, with uneven surfaces and hills
Surface: Dirt trail
Seventy-five-acre Lake Needwood serves as the centerpiece for seven miles of dirt and gravel trails through Rock Creek Regional Park. The main trail around the lake offers a workout that’s both scenic and challenging, with some sections hugging the shore, and others climbing through the woods above the lake. In the summer, runners are treated to views of paddleboats, canoes and even a pontoon, the Needwood Queen. But the trails offer more than just a walk in the park. “It’s pretty intense, as you go up and down rugged terrain,” says Laura Cloher, the “fun runs” organizer from Silver Spring. “Sometimes you’re even running on a slanted hill.” Michelle Bahe of Silver Spring says she likes including the Lake Needwood trails in longer runs on the 18.6-mile Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail, which starts at Rock Creek Regional Park and stretches into the District. “It can provide a really nice change of pace if you’re on a long run,” Bahe says. She also says it’s nice that the Lake Needwood trails offer rural scenery without stream crossings or stump jumping. “There’s enough technical terrain to be interesting, but it’s not so extreme that you have to be a serious trail runner to enjoy it,” Bahe says. “It’s a good alternative for someone who’s a road runner but wants to try out the trails.” A boon: Several picnic areas around the lake offer restrooms and water fountains.
Start at any parking lot at the two entrances to the eastern portion of Rock Creek Regional Park at 15700 Needwood Lake Circle, Rockville. Pick up the dirt trail at the lakeshore. Note: The trail does not go all the way around the lake.
Cherry Blossom 10K
Length: Five miles
The Challenge: Moderate, with rolling hills
Brian Kim, an assistant coach in the marathon training program at the Montgomery County Road Runners Club, used to participate in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run every April. The past few years, however, he has ditched the Tidal Basin crowds for a run through Bethesda’s Kenwood neighborhood, which is known for its own majestic cherry blossoms in the spring. “It’s sort of my own personal cherry blossom 10K,” Kim says. Even when it’s not cherry blossom season, the route offers glimpses of some of the area’s most beautiful landscaping and residential architecture, all readily visible from the narrow, hilly streets. “All the homes along the route are so exquisite, and each one is so different,” says Carole Kammel of Rockville, who touts the route’s scenic and hilly nature. “Throw in the canopy of trees in the spring, and it’s just phenomenal.” The primary route is about five miles long, but you can lengthen or shorten it by weaving through more or less of the neighborhood, or by adding miles on the Capital Crescent Trail, where this route begins and ends.
• Pick up the Capital Crescent Trail at Bethesda Avenue near Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda. Follow the trail south for roughly a mile.
• Turn right onto Dorset Avenue. The rest of the run weaves through the Kenwood neighborhood, which “is nearly impossible to get lost in,” Kim says.
• Turn right onto Kennedy Drive.
• Turn left onto Chamberlin Avenue.
• Turn left onto Elmwood Road.
• Right onto Parkway Drive.
• Right onto Brookside Drive.
• Left onto Chamberlin Avenue.
• Left onto Shadow Road.
• Right onto Woodlawn Avenue.
• Right onto Highland Drive.
• Left onto Chamberlin Avenue.
• Left onto Garnett Drive.
• Left onto Highland Drive.
• Right onto Kenwood Avenue.
• Right onto Brookside Drive.
• Left onto Oakland Road.
• Right onto Kennedy Drive.
• Left onto Dorset Avenue, taking the Capital Crescent Trail back to the start. (www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=2441523)
Cabin John Trail
Length: 8.8 miles
The Challenge: Moderate, with some unpaved sections
Surface: Varied, from dirt to paved
The 8.8-mile Cabin John Trail through Cabin John Regional Park in Bethesda offers the peace and quiet of a serious trail run with the convenience of regular visits to civilization in the form of several road crossings. Start at the park’s whimsical Locust Grove Nature Center, which was originally a warming hut for a commercial toboggan operation and now features gardens, wooden bears carved from fallen trees and interpretive nature programs. Follow the trail across several major roads and through a few changes in scenery—the terrain goes from a single-track, dirt trail to a section “in a well-developed park system with multiple offshoots,” says Jaret Seiberg of Bethesda, who runs the route regularly. Directionally challenged runners will like that the road crossings offer milestones to confirm that they’re headed the right way. Mike Bur says those on long runs can take advantage of the multiple road crossings by stocking their car with water and snacks, parking it at a midway point and using it once or twice as a refueling station. Despite the road crossings, Seiberg says “there are long sections where you don’t see or hear any cars. For being in an area that’s so urbanized, you can really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Start in the parking lot of Cabin John Regional Park, 7777 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda. Cross the footbridge to the Locust Grove Nature Center. Pick up the trail just past the building.
Amy Reinink is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer who spends the majority of her free time exploring Montgomery County with her running shoes on. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Media and Kickstand Magazine.