The route that is colloquially called The Big Loop is a DC running favorite. Stretching 21 continuous miles around the bulk of the Northwest DC quadrant, The Big Loop is a perfectly designed circuit for a late-stage marathon training run. The backbone of the Loop is a long vertical stretch of the Rock Creek Trail that ultimately merges with on-street running on Beach Drive. The western portion of the Loop is comprised of the entirety of the Capital Crescent Trail and a segment of the Georgetown Branch Trail to the northeast of Bethesda, MD. Runners can connect the southern tip of the Rock Creek Trail with the Capital Crescent by safely following the sidewalks beneath Georgetown’s Whitehurst Freeway.
The Big Loop is well maintained throughout, though runners should always research current trail conditions to check for possible construction and road repair interruptions. The terrain is generally even, with only a slight, gradual incline on the Capital Crescent Trail heading north to Bethesda from Georgetown (Beach Drive and the Rock Creek Trail offer the opposite: a gradual decline as they head south through the city). For the most part, the trail segments avoid vehicular traffic, except for some at-grade intersections on the Georgetown Branch Trail as it runs through Chevy Chase, MD. Also, Beach Drive is open to car traffic during the week (most of it is closed to vehicles on the weekends), so runners should exercise great caution when attempting The Big Loop on weekdays.
[Big Loop Map courtesy of Run Washington]
Access and Extension Points
The Big Loop is best completed as a whole and as a self-contained circuit. The most convenient points to begin and end The Loop are in Georgetown, DC and Bethesda, MD, because both locations offer parking and bike storage options. (Fletcher’s Cove is also a good possibility.) These locations also offer a variety of pre- and post-workout food and drink options.
Since the bulk of The Loop runs on comparatively isolated segments of the Capital Crescent and Rock Creek Trails, Loop extensions are not particularly convenient. Runners can always add in slight detours on the C&O Canal or on some of the rugged off-road trails in Rock Creek Park. However, given The Loop’s already long distance, any route extensions should be carefully planned and should only executed by experienced and in-shape long distance runners.