Hiking Roosevelt Island and the Key-Chain Trail

Looking up this stretch of the Potomac from Roosevelt Island you can see the National Cathedral and Georgetown University in the background with the Whitehurst Freeway stretching out below.

In late June I will be hiking my 2nd Annual Appalachian Trail Section Hike.  I have 6 weeks to get in shape and break in a new pair of boots.  Saturday was a gorgeous spring day so I hiked a local trail in right near my house.  I was once again reminded how easy it is to access nature right in the heart of  the NOVA-DC urban environment.  The route is called the Key-Chain because it crosses the Potomac at Key Bridge and then again at Chain Bridge.  One can still hear air traffic approaching National Airport, and car traffic on the George Washington Parkway, but even those fade as signs of nature take over.

The route as shown on the website WalkJogRun.com comes in at 10 miles (and 1450 calories!)
The route as shown on the website WalkJogRun.com comes in at 10 miles (and 1450 calories!)

I began my hike at Roosevelt Island.  This impressive park, dedicated to Teddy Roosevelt, is in the Potomac River and partly under the Roosevelt Bridge.

I spend plenty of time navigating traffic on top of the bridge and it never occurred to me there could be a guy peacefully fishing beneath it!

There is a plaza and monument in the center of the island but there is also a nearly 2 mile trail around the perimeter that is a tribute to TR’s love of nature and the outdoors.  The trail proceeds on a wooden walkway through marshy swamps and undeveloped woods.  At times you get a glimpse of the river and across.  Georgetown University, the Watergate Hotel, the Kennedy Center are all right across the river but this quiet little enclave is a world away.

Raised Walkway through marsh at Roosevelt Island
Raised Walkway through marsh at Roosevelt Island
The vast watery marsh at Roosevelt Island

From Roosevelt Island my next steps were onto the Potomac Heritage Trail which runs up the Potomac River on the Virginia Side.  It gets hilly, often reaching points 50 feet above the river and then back to the water’s edge.  It’s a great trail to break in new boots because there is some minor rock scrambling, and often requires careful footing.  Most importantly, it offers quick easy access to relatively untouched nature right in the heart of DC.

This gorgeous green hillside sits right between the GW Parkway and the Potomac River!
A rocky waterfall that looks like it could be in a rain forest!
There was a lot of activity on the water. Across the river is Fletcher’s Boat House.
England? New Hampshire? Nope…Arlington, VA!
If you look at this picture closely you can see that the camera was trying to filter out the sunlight but this little water chute in the rocks was dappled by rays of sunlight as if an angel might come down any minute with a message! This did not happen but if it ever did I think it would look like this!
Honeysuckle perfumed the trail from start to finish!

Though the trail was not crowded, I did see a lot of people fishing along the banks of the river, as well as kayaks, paddle surfers, and crew teams.

The sky looked like a child’s drawing with a sky blue crayon and wispy white clouds. Across the river Georgetown University sat sprawled on the hilltop.

At the 5 mile mark I reached Chain Bridge and crossed into the northern tip of DC.  To return, I followed the historic C&O Canal all the way back to Key Bridge, back across that and back to Roosevelt Island.  The C&O is not quite as interesting visually but it is flat.  The hike took 4 hours.and though my new boots left my feet blister-free, it was a little ambitious and my whole body appreciated the easier walking.

The walk back is along the towpath of the historic C&O Canal.

In the coming weeks I will have to move to more mountainous training hikes, and begin carrying weight on my back; but, this was a great way to kick off the training and enjoy some great DC weather.



  1. Thanks Tony. I’ve visited Roosevelt Island a number of times but did not know about the Potomac Heritage Trail. Looking forward to checking it out.

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