It was a beautiful, autumn day. From my vantage point atop the cliff – alongside the stunning views – I could see  kayakers zipping through rushing rapids, rock climbers rappelling down cliffs and Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) boarders paddling. All of this, as well as warning signs advising the unprepared to turn back.

Billy Goat Trail

Sounds like Colorado, maybe Washington – but the reality is, I was standing just a stone’s throw away from the nation’s capitol of Washington, D.C.

I had taken the day to hike the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, Maryland, to be precise.

This gorgeous – and at times challenging – hiking trail lies within the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and follows a winding path between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River.

It’s hard to overestimate the beauty of this trail. Greeted with gorgeous views of the Potomac River, kayakers can meander peacefully between looming cliffs and beautiful foliage. At the start of the trail, however, the terrain quickly becomes increasingly rocky. Soon thereafter, hikers must traverse boulders of various sizes rather than the original dirt path. I had to carefully navigate my way across these boulders, as one wrong step could cause serious injury. Still, these delicate movements only add to the Billy Goat Trail’s character and appeal.

Billy Goat Trail

Most of the trail runs along the Potomac River, and soon I came to be standing almost directly above it. This part of the river is much more intense than in previous areas. The kayakers here were now battling their way through the rapids. The transition from their former peace was indeed clear. I stood and watched for a while until I noticed one of the kayakers had capsized and another was making his way over to aid him. Fortunately, they were able to steer clear of the rapids and make it to the side of a cliff where they were able to regain their bearings.

Across from my vantage point atop the cliff, something falling down the opposite cliff face caught my eye. Much to my amusement, it was a rope thrown down by a rock climber getting ready to rappel down. As I watched her set up, I began to notice more and more rock climbers preparing to join her.

Billy Goat Trail

I continued on down the rocky path until I came to the first sign along the trail that read, “Difficult Trail Ahead,” warning hikers that, if they were low on water or unprepared for a “very strenuous hike,” they should turn back. The sign-post also warned that “many hikers are injured every year on this section of the Billy Goat Trail.” My curiosity piqued, I naturally found new energy to push onwards.

After more twists, turns and leaps from boulder to boulder, I came to see why the sign-post had advised unprepared hikers to turn back. In front of me was a fifty foot traverse up a steep incline that first time hikers would have more than a difficult time conquering.

Billy Goat Trail

In the end, though, as with most strenuous hikes, the challenge was indeed worth it. The sights a little further along the trail, after summiting the difficult incline, were truly breathtaking.

Ultimately, the only problem the Billy Goat Trail posed for me was its often concealed trail markings. At times, I found myself wandering off of the trail and into the woods. Nevertheless, I always found my way back.

So, for those of you in the Washington, D.C. area longing for the outdoors, go seek out the Billy Goat Trail. Whether you’re looking to kayak down the Potomac, take some SUP lessons, go rock climbing or just experience a challenging hike with incredibly rewarding views, this is the trail for you.

Billy Goat Trail

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