Last weekend we took an urban hike in Arlington County, Virginia, starting from Potomac Overlook Regional Park. The hike was basically a 5.1-mile counter-clockwise loop, boxed in by Donaldson Run, the Potomac River, Gulf Branch, and North Glebe Road. It took a little longer than I expected; about 2.75 hours, but would take less time with a smaller group. We’ve done several variations on the theme both from this park and nearby Ethan Allen Park, and sometimes using Windy Run, another tributary of the Potomac River, rather than Gulf Branch. Last weekend’s combination seemed to be about the best version we’ve done yet!
This stretch of the Potomac Heritage Trail is quite rugged, and the mouths of Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch feature steep inclines with pleasant little waterfalls and large boulders, making it a rough go descending into and climbing out of the Potomac River basin. (This stretch is maybe a bit more difficult than Billy Goat Trail B, across the Potomac in Maryland, but not nearly as tough as Billy Goat Trail A.)
Gulf Branch Nature Center, about halfway through the hike, provided a welcome and scenic break after all the boulder scrambles. We had a pretty big group of hikers, 60+, and the Nature Center naturalist came out to greet us!
The rest of the hike featured a long uphill ascent along back streets to the ridgeline along North Glebe Road, a shortcut through Marymount University campus, and a descent from there along Donaldson Run Trail back to our starting point. As a teaser, there was just one last water crossing over stepping stones. Throughout our hike I was pleased to see early signs of spring: the snowdrops and daffodils have popped up, and Virginia Bluebells won’t be far behind!