“Dad caught something!” my 7-year-old yells and scrambles over the rocks to see what my husband reeled in from the Potomac River. A small bass thrashes on the hook and after my three kids have a quick look at its glistening scales, my husband lets the fish swim away.
Along the Billy Goat Section B trail, there’s something for everyone in the family.
Here we’ll give you everything you need to know before you go so you have a great time with the family.
Fishing for my husband (he hooked a big ol’ catfish a few minutes after the bass), rock scrambling for my 9 year old daughter, wildlife-spotting for my 7 year old son, flower and leaf admiring for my 4 year old daughter and some (mostly) peaceful exercise for me.
Two minutes into the car ride home, my four year old is asleep and her siblings are quiet. We’ll be back soon.
Hiking & Fishing
To reach the 1.6-mile long trail, you cross a picturesque wooden bridge and walk along the flat gravel of the footpath that adjoins the C&O canal for about a half mile.
Along the way you’re likely to see turtles, dragonflies, Canadian geese and more. Part of the hike is on the flat and wide tow path. The other 2/3 of the hike is rocky at the beginning and smooth at the end.
Patches of blue spray painted on trees tell you you’re going in the right direction, and it’s an easy walk among the path, rocks and fallen trees.
When the trail gets close to the river, be on the lookout for a fork with a smaller path to the right.
The path leads to a huge rock that juts out over the river, the spot where my husband fishes for a few minutes while my kids find some natural seats in the rock to sip some water and have a snack.
You don’t have to get close to the rock’s edge to enjoy the view.
If it weren’t for the kayakers in the distance, you can imagine the scene unchanged from a hundred years ago, with the river bubbling through a wide gap in the jagged rocks, and birds circling overhead, searching for food.
After we’ve rested, fished and admired, we continue our hike along a short beach, where my kids push some driftwood into the river and point to the exposed roots of huge trees.
Soon the trail moves upward again, and we have to make our way across stones embedded in the path. After a short while a huge boulder looks as if it blocks the way.
My older two like to scramble up a natural ledge and wind their way back down (I’ve done this, you can do it too if you are feeling adventuresome). Another option is to walk around the bottom of the rock, picking your way across smaller rocks.
More On What to Expect
The trail is shady and not too crowded. Along the way we saw a few hikers – some with dogs who had enjoyed a swim – and a runner.
We hear a woodpecker in the distance, marvel at some electric green bugs, and see a bee fly into a tree hole we imagine is coated with honey inside.
Every 5 to 10 minutes there is a little something different – a wooden bridge or stream to cross, a view of the Potomac, where we look for and find a blue heron in the distance, a game to play of seeing who can only step on rocks and not the dirt path.
After the trail winds around a huge rock – lots of picking your way across smaller rocks here – it slopes upward toward a camping site, where we grab a picnic table and have our packed lunch with a view of the river.
A few gnats bother us, but it’s not too bad. A short walk back along the canal and across the bridge ends our trip, which took about three hours door to door from our Arlington home.
What Is Fun For Kids?
- Seeing wildlife – snakes, fish, blue heron, and turtles in the canal and skinks (look in dead tree trunks), toads, box turtles, and deer along the trail.
- Climbing a rock slab (at mid-point on the Billy Goat Trail is an angled, rock wall. If your kids don’t want to climb it, they can follow the blue blazes around the wall along the river.)
- Sandy beach along the river to take a snack break, have lunch, or play.
- Great wild flowers in April.
- Watching kayakers on the river.
- Playing in the creek.
We went with a 4-year-old who walked the whole trail, however, younger children might need a backpack carrier.
Good to Know Before You Go
- The entire Billy Goat Trail B hike is about 2 miles.
- Difficulty: The National Park Service says moderate. No steep inclines but some stepping among rocks, little ones will need to watch their footing.
- This hike can be done year-round except in icy conditions
- Bring plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen with you
- Dogs are allowed
- This is the best of the 3 trails for birding in the spring
- This trail is NOT jogging stroller passable
- There is one creek crossing
Fees & Pricing
Billy Goat Trail is inside Great Falls Park which does charge a fee to enter and there are a few options to consider:
Vehicle Permit: $20
This permit allows everyone inside the vehicle to enter the park. You can also use this permit to enter the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Individual Permit: $10
If you arrive at the park on foot, bicycle or horse, it only costs $10 to enter, however you pay per person. Ages 15 and under do not have to pay.
The individual permit also gives you access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Annual Pass: $35
Another option you have is to purchase an annual Great Falls Park pass. This gives you access to Great Falls Park and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park all year long.
This works for regular vehicles entering the park as well as for individuals. The pass holder and 3 additional adults (16+) will be admitted.
America The Beautiful Pass: $80
This pass gives you access to 2,000 federal recreation sites, so if you plan to visit a lot of places, this is a great option.
Billy Goat Trail Section B is located within Great Falls Park in Potomac Maryland.
The address is: 11710 MacArthur Blvd. Potomac, MD 20854
Directions to & Parking for Billy Goat Trail Section B
1-495 to exit 31 (Carderock and Glen Echo). Follow Clara Barton Parkway toward Carderock, passing David Taylor Model Basin and Naval Surface War Center on right. At junction with MacArthur Boulevard turn left and continue West.
We usually park on the left side of the road, but it’s not marked – we just look for the group of cars already parked on the shoulder.
After exiting your car you’ll see a path with a wooden bride straight ahead. Cross the bridge and turn right to walk along the canal.
You can also park at the larger lot across from Anglers Inn (a restaurant), but that leaves the 3/4 mile walk along the canal for the end of the trip. We’ve found it’s better with kids to do that part at the beginning.
You can also park at the Carderock recreation area and pick up the trail there.
Things to Do Near Billy Goat Trail Section B
Keep the fun going with more fun things to do nearby like:
- Play at Clemyjontri Park (5 minutes away)
- Hike the Billy Goat Trail Section A (8 minutes away)
- Stroll through a mid-19th century home and farm with lots of things for little ones to do at Cherry Hill Farmhouse (10 minutes away)
- Ride the train at Cabin Johns Regional Park (11 minutes away)
- See the beautiful flowers at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (13 minutes away)
- Cool off at the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole (19 minutes away)
- Visit the Madame Tussauds Museum (20 minutes away)