Running in Washington, DC

We recently took a trip to Washington, DC! I'm very motivated to explore new places by running. Here's how I figured out the routes I wanted to take!

Run criteria

I'm generally looking for runs that:

  • have few stoplights!
  • let me see interesting things
  • don't overlap much
  • are up to 10 miles in length
  • are roads or "solid green line" trails, vs. dotted green line trails
  • are not overly muddy
  • look OK on Strava and/or Garmin Connect heatmaps

I typically am using trail running shoes, but I do try to notice what might be paved.

Initial research

I've found to have a good list of runs, e.g. their DC page lists several runs.

I also Google the city, e.g. running washington dc, best runs washington dc, or running washington dc to look for runs.

Building the run

I want to put the trail into my Garmin watch. To do this, I start with and enter in a trail.

If I can't make a path connect, that could indicate that there are bridges or other issues. I use Google street maps to look at key parts of a potential trail, especially if there are complicated-looking turns.

I try to build in some wiggle room in the distance, especially if I don't totally understand the route.

I'll use the elevation display to see what I'm signing up for. For example, in my Rock Creek trail run, there was one big climb to get from the valley to DC's streets.

Sometimes I'll plan to take a taxi/Lyft to the start point. If so, I look for places that are easier for a drop-off. I might pull up Lyft to confirm I can select the start point OK.

After I have the route, I export the map "as GPX" from and import that into Garmin connect (either on my phone or via a computer).

Quick double-checks when building the run:

  • Ensure that the route is the correct orientation! Both and Garmin Connect have "reverse route" options.
  • Ensure turn-by-turn directions are on, which is my default
  • I look at Strava's global heatmaps and sometimes Garmin connect's heatmaps to get a sense of whether the trail I've built is weird. If few people are taking the trail, there's probably a reason (e.g. it's very hilly or not well marked).

Using the route

I check the Google weather and precipitation hour-by-hour report, looking for:

  • What's the temperature?
  • Am I going to be in the sun?
  • How much precipitation will there be?

If it's more than 0.01" precipitation per hour, then I'll wear a rain jacket.

When I'm starting the run, I pull the map up on my Garmin watch using the "navigate" option. During the run I'll be checking:

  • When is the next turn?
  • What is the remaining distance?

My DC runs

The Mall + Hains Point

The big surprise for this run was the DC Cherry Blossom 10 mile race! I accidentally ran on the same path for much of my run, just in the opposite direction. This meant I ran on the grass a lot.

The C&O canal trail

The drop-off for this was pretty sketch, in that it was a small parking lot on a very busy road. I also realized that if the bridge from the drop-off point to the path was not there, I'd be hosed. Fortunately, everything worked out!

I had originally planned to go north when the trail ended, but I couldn't figure out the turn very well and Google Maps didn't have a street view for the trail ahead of time. I also had messed up my watch navigation so it wasn't giving me turn-by-turn directions!

Rock Creek trail

This was a nice path. I realized the night before that some parts might be pretty muddy. I also ended up running on a (closed) road for several miles. That said, it was a very pleasant run. My biggest concern was wearing a cotton short sleeve shirt while it was running; that said, it didn't rain enough that I became soaked.