Trail Overview (Theodore Roosevelt Island to Chain Bridge Segment)
The Potomac Heritage Trail consists of a large network of interconnected systems spanning large portions of the mid-Atlantic region. This trail system is maintained by the National Park Service, and a detailed overview of the entirety of the Potomac Heritage Trail is available on their website.
The Kiprunning Route Report takes as its focus the section of the Potomac Heritage Trail that extends north- and southwest between the Chain Bridge viaduct and the parking lot at Theodore Roosevelt Island. At just over 4 miles (one way), this segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail offers runners a very rugged trail experience. Proceed with caution, and be prepared for steep rock scrambling. Wear good footwear, and do not push the pace on this trail. It is best reserved for experienced trail runners or recreational cross country jogging—or hiking.
Beginning at the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot, runners can find the Potomac Heritage trailhead right beside the concrete ramp and walkway that guides pedestrians upward to the Key Bridge (at the northernmost end of the parking lot). From there, the Potomac Heritage Trail crosses under the Key Bridge and runs directly beside The George Washington Memorial Parkway. As runners approach the 2-mile mark, the trail will pass by Windy Run. At this point, the terrain will become more consistently rocky and rugged, and the trail will make its way into relatively deep woods.
Runners should continue past Donaldson Run (remain on the trail, and do not take the left fork toward Donaldson Run itself). This last segment of the trail is about 1 mile in distance, and it is extremely rugged, at one point containing a steep guide rail assisted rock scramble up a precipitous rock wall. Slow your pace, and proceed with deliberate caution.
After scaling the rock wall, the Potomac Heritage Trail swoops southward, under the GW Parkway, before descending a somewhat steep hill toward the Chain Bridge viaduct. There is easy pedestrian access to Chain Bridge Road at this point.
The best trail extension option for this segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail is to construct a loop via Chain Bridge into Washington, DC. As runners exit the Potomac Heritage Trail at the Chain Bridge viaduct, they can safely cross the bridge on the north sidewalk. On the DC side, there is a walkway descending to the C&O Towpath, which runners can jog back into Georgetown, ultimately crossing the Key Bridge and going back to the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot.
There are also a handful of side trails branching off of the Potomac Heritage Trail after it passes Spout Run, most notably at Windy Run and Donaldson Run. However, these side trails are rugged and are not suitable for running. Also, some of them are frequently closed due to rock falls, so it is best to avoid them during a workout.
Runners can always continue on the Potomac Heritage Trail toward the American Legion Bridge for a longer jog, and they can likewise piece together a loop of Arlington County, VA by turning south at Chain Bridge to follow Glebe Road to Military Road and ultimately back toward Lee Highway and the Custis Trail. In both cases, runners should proceed with caution. The Potomac Heritage Trail remains uneven and rugged, and Glebe and Military Roads are quite busy and carry large volumes of vehicle traffic.