A Wandering Adventure Along the Glen Echo Trolley Line in Washington, D.C.

| 13 Comments

One of the themes of The Gentle Art of Wandering is that you can even find the natural world in a densely populated urban area by seeking out the many creases and corridors that exist there. My dog Petey and I had a chance to do this when we visited Washington, D.C. in July.

This particular adventure actually started over 48 years ago in 1965 when a friend and I visited Washington when we were in high school. We were traveling on our own, and, after spending several days of doing what you are supposed to do in Washington, we decided to take a walk.

Our walk started by following a set of streetcar tracks to see where they went. Streetcars were no longer running in Washington in 1965, but many of the streets still had tracks. We followed a set of tracks that were near the White House and headed west.

The route took us through the Georgetown neighborhood. At the edge of Georgetown, the tracks left the street and entered a private right-of-way. The tracks were still on the ground even though it had been a few years since the last streetcar had run on them. We followed the tracks as they ran along the top of a bluff overlooking the Potomac River.

The tracks finally ended at an old fashioned amusement park in Glen Echo, Maryland. From there we kept the walk going by following the nearby tow path of the old C & O Canal. We stopped walking when we reached the Great Falls of the Potomac and took a bus back to Washington.

Since that walk I have often wondered if the old right-of-way to Glen Echo was still there. I had been to Washington many times since that first walk but always had other things to do and never took the time to check it out. This time I made the right-of-way the reason for the visit.

Our adventure began by parking our car on P Street in Georgetown. Surprisingly on this section of P Street, there was still a streetcar track. But rather than immediately following the track, we made a brief detour to the main street (M Street) of Georgetown to climb the Georgetown stairs.

These are the tracks on P Street. Rather than getting power from an overhead wire, the streetcars in Washington got their power from an underground wire. The middle rail in the picture was a slot for the streetcars to access the underground wire.

If you have seen the movie The Exorcist, you have seen these stairs. Ironically the stairs are adjacent to an old streetcar barn. You can even see the tracks on the floor of the barn. We climbed the stairs and walked back to P Street to start following the old streetcar track.

These are the famous Exorcist stairs. There was a fashion shoot going on when we climbed the stairs. Although there were only 71 steps, it seemed like more as the stairs were very steep. The building on the right was at one time a car barn for storing streetcars.

You can still see the tracks on the floor of the old car barn.

These are the stairs from the top.

The old streetcar track ended after a couple of blocks at the campus of Georgetown University. From there we walked across the campus and found a footpath that eventually went through a gate in the fence. The footpath connected to a network of trails in a wooded gulch.

One of the many buildings that we passed as we walked across the Georgetown campus.

We eventually found this path on the other side of the campus.

By the time the path reach this gate it was pretty much overgrown.

We followed this path on the other side of the gate.

As we followed one of the trails we passed under an old iron viaduct. It was from the old streetcar right-of-way. We found a way to climb up the embankment to get to the old right-of-way. The tracks were gone, but the right-of-way was clear of brush and had a faint trail through the middle.

This is the old viaduct that we passed under.

Once we found the viaduct, we found a way to get up to the old right-of-way. In some places the right-of-way was a meadow.

In other places it was a groomed lawn. Regardless of the condition, we kept walking.

In some places we could see the Potomac River.

In other places we could see the C & O Canal below us.

Although we were still within the limits of DC, it felt like being in a country meadow. We were able to follow the trail until we reached a deep gulch. At that point we had to find a way to get through the gulch and back to the right-of-way on the other side. We had to go through this process more than once. The gulches too were interesting. It was like being in a forest with a rushing creek running through the middle.

We found this massive tree in one of the gulches. If you’re not too claustrophobic, you could crawl into the hole at the bottom of the trunk.

There was one gulch that still had a useable viaduct. On one side of the viaduct there were pictures of what it was like when there were still streetcars.

On the other side there was a neighborhood art gallery.

Eventually the right-of-way became a street meridian. We finally lost the right-of-way when we reached a large waterworks. Fortunately we found another trail along the waterworks fence line. That trail took us to the Capital Crescent Trail, a popular rail-trail running on a former B & O branch line. We followed the rail-trail until we found a footpath running through the woods.

The right-of-way ran down this street meridian.

We pretty much lost the right-of-way when we reached this waterworks.

Fortunately we found this trail along the fence line.

It took us to the Capital Crescent rail-trail.

We found this footpath while we were on the Capital Crescent rail-trail and used it to connect to other trails.

And without saying too much more, we were able to link that trail with other trails and bike paths. We eventually passed under another old iron viaduct from the abandoned streetcar line and found some stairs to take us down to the C & O Canal towpath.

This stairway and trail was one of several links to get us to the C & O Canal.

It also took us by several fabulous houses including this one.

We passed under this viaduct from the old streetcar line just as we reached the C & O Canal.

A set of stairs from this walkway dropped us down to the C & O Canal towpath.

Because a bus ride is not an option when walking with a dog, we followed the towpath back to Georgetown rather than continue on to the Great Falls of the Potomac. As it was we still walked somewhere between twelve and fifteen miles.

The adventure did not end when we reached the C & O Canal. It too was wonderful. The canal runs along the Potomac for 184 miles. It starts at Georgetown and ends at Cumberland, Maryland. When you get further away from Washington, most of the canal is dry. The Potomac is on the right and the canal is on the left.

We passed several old locks and lock houses.

We saw ducks and many other animals.

And we also saw plenty of duckweed for them to eat.

We even walked under the flight path to Reagan National Airport for part of the time. If you ever fly into Reagan National, try to get a seat on the left side of the airplane. When the weather is good, the views are unbeatable.

We eventually turned a corner and could see the towers of Georgetown University back where we started.

As we got closer, we could see the Key Bridge and some of the many office buildings on the Virginia side of the river.

We went over this small bridge to leave the C & O Canal and to head back to our car. The terminus of the canal is just a few blocks up ahead.

The streets of Georgetown were fun to walk along with all of their sidewalk details.

Including this “dog bar” for a very thirsty Petey.

More importantly, we were able to discover that much of the old right-of-way from 1965 is still intact and that it can be used as a link in an all-day adventure walk in one of busiest and largest metropolitan areas in the country. It was a walk where we spent most of our time with nature rather than cars. If you live in this area, I am sure that you could come up with dozens of variations to keep you walking for months. If you don’t live in this area, I’m sure you can find something similar where you live.

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this.
    In my opinion, the trail you took would make a great bike path connecting the Crescent trail all the way to Georgetown University.
    Great views. Wide path instead of bicycling on MacArthur.
    Would love to hear your thoughts on this idea.

    • Thanks for your comment. It could make a good bike path. The only issue would be the ravines. Many of the viaducts have been removed and the remaining ones would need structural work. For now it is a great place to walk.

  2. Thanks for the memories! Having grown up in the Palisades area, I can relate to the beautiful area surrounding the tow path and Potomac River! We used to spend hours exploring. Happy you brought Petey down memory lane too!

  3. I cannot imagine ruining such a treasure natural walkway to let maniac biker culture take over the right of way path!!!

    Leave it alone as it is so enjoyable now. A little mud won’t kill ya.

    Keep bikers on thier already many optional paths as it is now and let this treasure of an oasis continue to be innocent and UNEXPLOITED

  4. Bike paths are ample enough as is. Leave this trolley path in its natural state for walkers only who go to get away from the WHEEL(s)

  5. Old trolley path is in it’s most advanced developed point now because it’s NOT exposed and retains a reminder of wild life’s gentle wonderment.

  6. The trolley path IMO as it is now is a noble stoic champion of time nor here or there: let it jjjjjjjUST b

  7. The Capitol Crescent Trail provides a great bike path. Leave the trolley right of way to walkers and hikers who can proceed without worrying about being run into or pushed aside by a cyclist.

  8. Thanks for the great photos. Would like to walk and follow the same path along old trolley line from the Crescent trail. Where did you find the footpath shown in the photo after the tunnel photo? Thanks,

    • Thanks for the comment. If you continue past the tunnel, you’ll soon cross a bridge over a small creek. We found the trail near the creek. Keep poking around in the area and you’ll find several trails.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.