The Windy Run hike offers nice river views and the payoff of a rock jumble and a small waterfall, on a segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT) close to Washington DC. The 3.5 mile, out and back hike follows a level, mostly shady segment of the PHT as it passes between the George Washington Parkway and the Potomac River.
Windy Run Hike from Theodore Roosevelt Island
Convenient, free parking at Theodore Roosevelt Island puts hikers right at the trailhead for this segment of the PHT. The lot fills up on weekends, so arrive early if you’re hiking on a Saturday. You’ll find the trail at the northern end of the parking lot, to the right of the paved Mount Vernon Trail.
This portion of the PHT follows the banks of the Potomac River on a mostly shady dirt path with frequent views of the river and Georgetown on the opposite bank.
The trail passes under the Key Bridge then exits the woods for a short exposed stretch right along the side of the George Washington Parkway. Soon, the trail dips back to the wooded river bank and stone walls block the open view of the parkway.
The narrow space between river and parkway wall makes for some interesting stretches of trail, but the path is well-marked and easy to follow.
A short bridge passes over the end of Spout Run, and you can peak under the parkway to the stream beyond.
This section of the Potomac River is popular for boating, and we saw stand-up paddleboards, sculls, kayaks, and johnboats during our hike. Openings in the trees offer nice views of Georgetown University and its boathouse across the river, and we saw lots of birds and one bunny on the trail.
In just under two miles of hiking the trail reaches Windy Run. A large rock jumble creates a nice waterfall and cascade, which varies a lot depending on recent rain and snowmelt. The rocks invite careful exploration and are a good spot for a break before returning to the parking area.
Once you’ve finished exploring and relaxing, return the way you came, or extend your hike with one of the suggestions below.
Because this trail parallels the GW Parkway and the Potomac River, road noise is a constant and low-flying planes and helicopters are frequent. The Windy Run hike won’t give you a complete escape into nature, but it is a surprisingly nice stretch of trail considering it’s proximity to Washington DC, Georgetown, and Arlington, Virginia.
Modifying the Windy Run Hike
An alternate approach to the rock jumble and waterfall is from Windy Run Park on North Kenmore Street in Arlington. From the park, follow the nature trail along Windy Run, descending half a mile to the rocks. You’ll pass under the GW Parkway before reaching a very steep section, fortunately aided by a metal rail.
You can easily extend the hike by crossing Windy Run and continuing on the PHT. One option is to continue another 1.5 miles to Donaldson Run, or expand to a long loop hike by taking the PHT to the Chain Bridge, then crossing over to Maryland and returning on the C&O Canal Towpath. Just be aware that the trail gets rockier and more challenging beyond Donaldson Run.
A final option for a longer outing is to combine the Windy Run hike with a visit to Theodore Roosevelt Island. The boardwalk trail and monument at the top of the island are well worth exploring.
We are slowly working our way through all of the Northern Virginia segments of the Potomac Heritage Trail. If you’ve hiked the Virginia PHT, let us know which segment is your favorite in the comments. Thanks and happy hiking!