A Runner’s Guide to the Mount Vernon Trail

I recall reading this post by Beth, known as “RunTraveler” on Twitter, about her walking around Mount Vernon, and how expensive it was to park.  You might also notice her reply to me appears to be missing my tweet.  That’s because I delete most of my replies.  Because, well — (1) long (2) story.  

Anyway, when I saw her tweet, it hit me that I should do a short guide for runners to the Mount Vernon Trail.  Because it’s a long trail, and I’ve run literally every mile of it.  No, not all at once.  Pfft.

Over the summer, during my Twitter hiatus, I wrote a lot, and this post was one of them.  Then, as I prepped to release it this Fall, we had the Government Shutdown, which effectively shut down the Mount Vernon Trail to most people, because the parking lots were closed.  With the reopening of the government, I thought I’d finally publish this short guide to the Mount Vernon Trail.


The Mount Vernon Trail is a lovely bike/running trail that goes from Teddy Roosevelt Island all the way to (surprise) Mount Vernon.  This link here, to About.com gives an exhaustive list of all the various parking lots that are along the MV Trail.  If you’ve got a bike with you, or even want to run/walk, you’ll find plenty to see and do along the trail.

For me, however, I break up the Mount Vernon Trail into roughly three distinct sections, and I think most folks will understand it better, and have an easier time planning runs if they do too:

1.  The “North” part, made up of the Iwo Jima Memorial (which is really called the Marine Corps War Memorial), and also includes Teddy Roosevelt Island, a wonderful tribute to our 26th President.  Parking in the North section CAN be tough.  However, you’ve got two choices here.  First, parking can be done at Iwo Jima, particularly in non-summer periods.  You can go from Iwo, and, basically, run South, and hit Gravelly Point, which will work out to about a 5-6 mile roundrip run for you.  Next, you can approach Teddy’s Island by driving on the GW Parkway NORTHBOUND and there will be some sizeable parking.  From TR Island, just run South, since you’re at the start of the trail.

Assuming you’ve parked at Iwo, however, what you’ll want to do is run down a hill past the Netherlands Carillon, and along the outside of Arlington Cemetery.  AVOID the Memorial Bridge leading to the Lincoln Memorial, and BEAR RIGHT on the trail.  You’ll cross the GW Parkway (short crossing), and you’re now on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  With Arlington Cemetery BEHIND you, if you turn left, it’s a short run/ride to Teddy Roosevelt Island, if you’re so inclined.  Otherwise, if you turn RIGHT, you’re clear all the way to Mount Vernon.

It’s nice here, but a little tricky to find your way to the trail if you’re a visitor.  But if you brave it, you’ll get amazing views of the Lincoln Memorial (from behind), Arlington Cemetery, and of course the famous Iwo Jima Monument.

2.  The “Middle” part is best thought of as Daingerfield Island, which I covered briefly in my discussion of Gravelly Point in a different blog post.  Lots of parking here.  This is a favorite site for bikers to base their rides from.  Here, as you FACE the trail, and the GW Parkway is also in front of you, you have two choices:  (a) Left turn, and you’re in Old Town Alexandria, which, if you follow this map linked here, will keep you going all the way to Mount Vernon, or (b) Right turn, and you’re headed North towards Iwo Jima.

The nice thing about this section is that if you run North from here, you’ll go right through Gravelly Point.  The bad thing is that this Middle section has, per capita, the highest percentage of bikers/runners.  So if you’re riding, remember to give an audible warning.  If you’re running/walking, stay to your right!

3.  The “South” part, which has MANY little parking lots (and some big ones).  Basically, get past Old Town Alexandria, and check the About.com link for various lots:  Belle Haven, Fort Hunt, and Riverside Park all have free public lots.  From here, if you continue South, depending on your means of transportation, i.e., bike, run, depending on how pregnant you are (Beth was about midway at the time she tweeted walking the MV Trail), you can make your way up to the Mount Vernon Estate for free.  You’ll likely have to pay to get ONTO it, but regardless, you can get there for much cheaper.

The nice thing about the South part, for someone like me who does his weekend long runs starting (really) at 2-3pm, is that there are many sections of the trail shaded by a canopy of trees. Unfortunately, those trees are also along a serious of significant hills/dips.  You don’t see as many Tri-bikers out along this part.  It’s far too woodsy, and also the trail has lots of twists/turns for this section.

So each of the three sections has their pros and cons, but it’s a great place for training.  I often wear Washington Nationals gear on the trail, and will flash a Hawaiian “hang loose” shaka sign for my wave, so if you see me waving — wave back!

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