Across the Potomac

Winter is a great time of year to do urban hikes. Not only is it easier to find spots for warm-up breaks during the hike, but there’s a better chance the roads and sidewalks will be cleared in an urban area, so there is less worry about slips and falls on icy surfaces or getting your car stuck out in the boonies somewhere. The Washington DC area has a lot of neighborhoods with historic sights, so a little advance research can yield a hike that is both physically and intellectually stimulating.

Last Saturday’s hike was in Georgetown, and to make parking and assembling our group easy, we started at Dawson Terrace Community Center in Arlington, Virginia. (A Google map search for community centers can reveal some real gems for starting points, since almost all of them have free parking, restrooms and drinking fountains, and they provide a sheltered spot to stay warm before the hike.) The view while crossing Key Bridge was startling – the Potomac River was just short of being frozen solid! The C&O Canal was completely frozen, and some (fool?)hardy folks were out on the ice sliding around, apparently trying to get an impromptu hockey game going.

Ascending the Exorcist Steps is something you just have to do in Georgetown! It has the double benefit of putting you up on the heights at one go and getting your heart rate up. Our walk was a 5-mile loop around town, so the first stop after the steps was Healy Hall, the neo-medieval building whose presence on the skyline marks the location of Georgetown University for several miles around. Healy Hall has two Spanish nine-pounder cannons sitting to one side of the main entrance, and I had to do some snooping after the hike at the Georgetown University Library website to learn their origin. Interestingly enough, they came to America on the two ships, the Ark and the Dove, which brought English settlers to Maryland in 1634. The website notes they may have been salvaged from the Spanish Armada after its defeat in 1588, but doesn’t give any details about when and where they were salvaged in modern times.

We walked by several other interesting sights along our route before arriving at the halfway point, the Old Stone House on M Street. Built in 1795, it is the oldest building in Washington DC that hasn’t been restored or rebuilt. Most of the group immediately disappeared inside to warm up and tour the house, but since I had stopped by the day before while reconnoitering the hike, I took advantage of the break to walk half a block down the street to Sprinkles and buy some cupcakes. Might as well line up your reward for hiking in advance, right?

Leaving the Old Stone House, we walked east a few blocks to Rock Creek; south a couple hundred yards to the C&O Canal, and then headed back west to Key Bridge along the C&O and M Street. After crossing the Potomac, it was a long uphill trudge up the Custis Trail back to Dawson Terrace Center to finish the hike. A Google map of the route is here, and there is a print map (pdf) with notes about the locations here.

Now I have to get back to the drawing board to finish planning this weekend’s hike!

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6 Responses to Across the Potomac

  1. seeker says:

    What a name for steps, it’s more like one will get a heart attack for the steep incline. I like the colourful buildings where you bought the cupcakes.

    • John M says:

      It’s from the movie of the same name, of course. Since the temperature was only one degree above freezing that day, I think everyone welcomed the opportunity to warm up a bit. The buildings that line M Street are all very colorful, but I agree with you about the cupcake bakery — it looks as though it is made of chocolate! Yum!!

  2. gpcox says:

    A hike and history lesson – great way to stay in shape – physically and mentally.

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