Hiking the Billy Goat Trail – Take Two. And Action!

Last Saturday, I made my way over to the C&O Canal National Historical Park near Great Falls, Maryland.  Some of you may recall (or if you need a little refresher) that the last time I attempted a visit, police had completely blocked the highway exit leading to the park due to flooding.  This time around I encountered no problems and arrived at 9am.  By the time my friend Rach arrived fifteen minutes later, there was a line of cars snaking from the entrance waiting to pay the $5 entry fee.

Uh oh. One of the canal’s locks seems to have sprung a leak.

Yeah, this is a popular park.

And why not? It was a beautiful Fall day with plenty to do. The towpath is so named because historically pack animals like elephants and hyenas (or, ya know, mules) lined it to tow cargo up/down the canal.  (Anybody know this song?  “Where would I be if I lost my pal? Fifteen miles on the [C&O] Canal.” – artistic license there. If you do, you win a free HIGH FIVE from yours truly.)  Now it’s been converted into a biking/running/walking path and acts as the main pedestrian artery for the park.

Rach and I mainly came for the good company.  We live about 45 minutes apart and hadn’t seen each other in probably a year and a half.  Life gets busy, doesn’t it? Well, better late than never.  And the C&O acted as a great backdrop for the following reasons:

  1. There were tons of people chit chatting around us, so I didn’t feel like our conversation was ruining the solitude or serenity.
  2. The hiking and scrambling was relatively easy, so we could talk nonstop for hours on end (and in case I need to remind you how much I like to talk with friends…) catching up.

As an aside, there’s a game I like to play in the D.C. area called, “How many passersby can I get to acknowledge my presence?” Growing up in Virginia Beach, everybody always greeted me as I passed, whether walking, biking, or (with a wave while) driving.  Moving up to D.C. was a shock, especially when I’d go running or hiking.  I understand on a busy street that people get “in the zone,” but fellow runners or hikers are mostly passing one-on-one.  It’s a little jarring when they don’t say hello.  And you know what I’ve found?  Sometimes people are equally startled when I do say hello.  Half the time people breathe a surprised “oh!” before they return the greeting, as in “Oh! A friendly person! Here! In DC! I want to know this person. Yes, I do.” And inevitably they’re friendly in return.

View of the Potomac River from Billy Goat Loop A+

So anyway, Rach and I met at the Great Falls visitor center and ambled about a half mile along the canal to reach Loop A of the Billy Goat Trail. The loop is less than 2 miles long, the majority of which requires rock scrambling and offers beautiful views of the Potomac River.  Needless to say, we took our time and spent two hours traversing this path.  We then headed in the direction of the trail’s Loop B but were thwarted (blast!) by ominous looking orange cones and yellow Caution signs.  If that weren’t enough, there was a guard that demanded, “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”  And since I got a 1 (out of 5) on the AP Physics test in high school (true story), I wasn’t feeling very confident about the answer.

Instead, we headed back in the direction of the visitor center and crossed to the other side of the river midway.  This afforded us some peaceful hiking of our own as the wooded areas over yonder (I like saying “yonder” and also “y’all come back now, ya hear?”  Try it.) were less populated.  It seems most people came for the river views.

Atreyu! NO!

In typical Jor fashion, we missed a turn and went farther than we had intended, which gave us the opportunity to enjoy more of the fresh air and exercise.  I’d say overall we probably ended up hiking about five miles.  We ultimately headed in the direction of Great Falls Overlook because, despite the crowds, a visit to the park is incomplete without staring into the abyss for a few minutes.  While we were standing there, I kinda got lost in a Neverending Story moment (remember the waterfall scene?) and started yelling “Atreyu! Atreyu!”  with a far off look in my eyes.  When I came to, I noticed that people were giving us distance and telling their children to look away.  On the bright side, we had space front and center to enjoy the view.

At that point, the weather was beginning to turn cloudy (which was clearly foreshadowing the 22 degree drop in temperature we experienced in one day), so Rach and I said our goodbyes…or at least our “see ya later”s.  Overall, the convenient location and expansive river views outweigh the hoards of people at Great Falls.  I definitely left feeling glad for the hike and glad for the company.

Best seats in the house










Meandering on,



15 thoughts on “Hiking the Billy Goat Trail – Take Two. And Action!

  1. It depends on whether you are talking about an African or European swallow.

    The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles per hour*, beating its wings 7-9 times per second (rather than 43). But please note that a 5 ounce bird cannot carry a one pound coconut.

  2. If you ever get the chance, check out the Red River Gorge Geological Area of the Danial Boone National Forest. Lots of good hiking and nature. Another one of my favorite spots is the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I know they are both quite a ways from you but should you ever get the opportunity, go.

    • Yay! I wasn’t sure how obscure of a movie that was. I know I was mixing scenes, but it still works. And I’ve referenced The Princess Bride heavily regarding quicksand, so ya know…

  3. I saw the first picture and knew it was taken on the tow-path near Great Falls! It made me excited to read the story! Sounds like an awesome Autumn jaunt through the woods. Although I haven’t been there in over 15 years, I have several fond memories of Great Falls, and many more memories of adventures on the tow-path further upstream near Harper’s Ferry. Keep on trekking!

    • That is never a problem for me. I’m forever stopping at an intersection and scratching my head at a map. (At least I’m willing to ask for directions…)

  4. Oh Sal. He’s a good old worker and a good old pal.

    New Jersey’s the same way, in terms of friendliness on trails.

    Also: Your writing is far, far too entertaining. I was supposed to be in bed an hour ago.

    • Ah, yes, I know NJ personalities well. I have a lot of family there; definitely different attitudes than Virginia Beach (or even DC, for that matter). And I’m glad to know I’m entertaining others. This writing thing is becoming a problem. I’ve been staying up too late entertaining myself as well.

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