If you’ve driven between North Arlington and DC across the Chain Bridge and wondered about the small parking lot on the Virginia side, wonder no more! It’s the Potomac Heritage Trail.
This 10-car lot at North Glebe and 41st Street in Arlington, and the smaller one between Old Dominion and the Chain Bridge itself, provides a place to leave your car while you explore Pimmet Run and the Potomac Heritage Trail.
My 9-year-old sons and I have hiked this trail several times and find it to be a lot of fun.
What to Do Along the Potomac Heritage Trail
There is something for everyone in Potomac Heritage Trail so the likelihood of your family and kids especially of getting bored is far from reality.
Although the main thing that you would like to try is to hike the network of trails they have, there are more family and kid friendly trails available.
You can check the map below to see which areas you can explore and enjoy.
Another fun thing to do with the kids is to explore the trails by riding a bike.
Potomac Heritage Trail has designated trails for bikes so if this is something your family enjoys doing, you can freely zoom around the park and enjoy the exceptional experience of the park’s beauty.
Not only do they have trails you, but they also have network of water trails you can enjoy by small boats and recreational kayaks.
From family friendly flatwaters, to falls to discover, and rapids to try for an adventure, they have it all.
If you want a little bit more unique experience, you can also explore the trails by horse-back riding.
Just make sure to contact the park ahead of time to check availability and prices for this activity.
A seasonal activity of the Potomac Heritage Trail that is definitely worth trying is cross-country skiing.
Check the Family Adventure Guide of the park to find out which is the best spot for your family.
What to Expect on the Potomac Heritage Trail
After parking, we walked down to the trail, passing the signs detailing the historic nature of Pimmet Run.
Turn left at the fork, where the signs indicate that there’s just 6 miles to Cabin John.
We hiked about a mile in to a green space adjacent to Fort Marcy Park, at a big bend in the stream. There is lots of space to run around there and it’s a nice place to play catch if you bring a ball.
We like this trail because it’s relatively flat with dips and bumps but no major hills to conquer.
The path follows the river, but only crosses two small streams in the first mile, so there are few chances to slip or fall into the river and get wet.
Being above the water, there are lots of opportunities to throw rocks and sticks into the river, watching the splash below. Another option: you can get to the stream and climb around on the rocks in several different places.
The trail is packed dirt crisscrossed by roots of adjacent trees and a few trunks of fallen trees, some of which are quite large.
The kids have lots of fun climbing over them but little ones will need a boost!
There are sometimes runners and dog walkers on the trail, but rarely many. Some days, there’s no one but us!
There are a few. The trail is only one person wide at points, and can be right above the river. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to stay safe, these sections could be nail-biters.
This trail has a lot of shade, and takes days to dry after rain. If it has rained, then you will get muddy – there is no way around it.
The peace and quiet of the trail is spoiled when the path leads under the George Washington Parkway.
There are no facilities, no services, no trash cans along this hike, so bring what you need and take it all with you when you go.
That being said, this trail is a beautiful break from the crowds at Great Falls or the bike and foot traffic on the WO&D Trail. It’s pretty, and provided there’s been no rain, easy to keep your feet dry.
The Network of Trails
Here is a brief of the network of trails within the Potomac Heritage Trail:
Mount Vernon Trail to Theodore Roosevelt Island
- This is an 18-mile paved trail that extends from George Washington’s Mount Vernon to Theodore Roosevelt Island in Arlington. This happens to be most popular as a bike trail.
Theodore Roosevelt Island to Windy Run
- This part of the trail lies just 3.5 miles outside of Washington DC and it gives a nice view of the Potomac river.
Potomac Overlook Regional Park to Windy Run
- This is a 4-mile out-and-back route. It goes from Potomac Overlook Regional Park to the river on Donaldson Run Trail then rock jumble at Windy Run on the east, then head back on the same route.
Turkey Run Park Hike Along the Potomac
- This 2.5-mile Turkey Run loop hike follows the Potomac River east with a narrow but scenic view of the river throughout the trail, then returns through the park.
Scotts Run Loop Hike on the Potomac Heritage Trail
- A 3-mile loop from the eastern parking area down to the river in McLean Virginia which showcases a scenic waterfall and cliffside views.
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Great Falls Park River Trail Hike
- This is the most popular trail from the Visitor Center to the Mather Gorge.
Potomac Hike: Riverbend to Great Falls Park
- A 4-mile out-and-back trail from Riverbend Park Visitor Center to Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park that gives a view of the transition of the Potomac River from calm to the turbulent waterfalls.
River Trail Hike Through Riverbend Park
- This 3-mile easy trail has a level path along the edge of the river.
Seneca Park to Algonkian Regional Park
- This section of the trail serves as a connector trail through the woods
Red Rock Wilderness Overlook
- Just a 1.2 mile circuit of dirt trail through the woods to the Potomac with river views.
Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park
- Offering shaded and wooded trails with well marked historic sites that leads down to the Potomac River
More Kid & Family Fun
Beyond the trails, here are a couple fun things for families to do:
Family Adventure Guide
The park has organized an adventure guide for families to help them figure what activities the park offers and which ones are best fit per season and based on the ages of the kids.
It also highlights regional and necessary information the family might need on the trails.
In addition, it also shows historic sites and nature centers they will encounter per region, as well as educational guides and activities the family can do.
READ NEXT: 19 Nature Centers in the DC Area
Collect Passport Stamps
Since this is a network of trails that connect 4 different states and different national parks, kids can also get their National Parks Passport and collect stamps as they visit different national parks, and at some sites, kids can also win prizes.
Potomac Heritage Trail Map
Potomac Heritage Trail has a large area covered stretching to 4 different states. You can see the trail network below so you can plan your hike ahead.
Good to Know Before You Go
- Access the trail by walking down the paved hill marked ‘bike trail’…. be aware that this adds ¼ mile to your hike, and the trip back to the car is all uphill!
- There’s an access road to the trail at the intersection of North Richmond and North Randolph Streets, which provides another place to park and do the hike in reverse. In this case, come down the access road and turn right at the grassy path to access the trail, keeping the utility building behind you.
- Bathrooms are not available on many parts of the trail
- Mostly the trail is not stroller friendly
Getting There & Parking
If there are no spaces in the two lots, you can park in the neighborhood above the trail by driving up Glebe Road into Arlington, taking the exit for Military, then turning right onto Randolph.
Things to Do Near the Potomac Heritage Trail
- Go see the falls at Great Falls Park (Section A, Section B or Section C)
- Hike down to the waterfall at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
- Enjoy the beautiful Winkler Botanical Preserve
- Discover the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center, a hidden gem
- Walk the boardwalk over the marsh at Huntley Meadows Park
- You can never go wrong visiting The National Zoo
- Explore the United States Botanic Garden