Good, comfortable, broken-in, hiking shoes that grip well on rocks and hills; The majority of injuries—sprained ankles, tweaked knees, and falls—happen because people did not wear good shoes.
Two liters of water per person
Suncreen and a hat
No dogs on Billy Goat Trail A
No swimming in the Potomac; swimming causes multiple deaths every year.
Enjoy the moment and watch where you step.
Don't become a number. There are over 400 emergency calls and rescues each year on the trail.
Billy Goat Trail is an Epic Trail Trilogy
There are three sections that make up the Billy Goat Trail: A, B, and C. You can access all three of them off the towpath between Great Falls Tavern and Carderock (Anglers is between section A and B). All three combined are approximately 8 miles. Section A is a technical and strenuous hike. Section B is challenging, and Section C is an easier hike. All three have beautiful scenery and views of the Potomac River- and spotty cell service.
Millions of people visit the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park each year, and a large portion of them love to come and hike near the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center provides a place (Wednesday through Sunday) to get more information about hikes and the history of the area. The bathrooms by the Great Falls Tavern parking lot are open every day.
If you’re hiking Section A or B, you might want to try parking at Anglers recreational area downstream. If you’re hiking Section C, Carderock recreational area is the closest parking area.
Billy Goat Trail A is the longest section and by far the most technical, dangerous, and difficult section of the Billy Goat Trail. It is less than two miles, but you will be doing some rock climbing and scrambling over very slippery surfaces. There are blue blazes painted on trees and rocks to keep you going the right way. Follow the blue blazes and stay on the trail. Any area not marked by blazes is closed. There are a lot of cool and rare plants in the area and we must protect them from getting trampled, and preserve the delicate surrounding environment. Exposure to ticks, snakes and poison ivy are also real dangers along all sections.
You May Love the River…
But the river does not love you. Swimming, wading, and going out in the water is not allowed. There are dangerous currents that sweep people underwater and never let them up. Sadly, swimmers ignore this message and many die each year. Wading and standing on rocks at the water’s edge are also dangerous: one false step can mean losing one’s life. Fines of $200 or more may be charged for swimming in the Potomac along the trail. If you’re interested in learning why this part of the river is so deadly, check out this article in the Washington Post.
Dogs on Billy Goat Trail B and C Only, Please.
Because of the dangers of Billy Goat Trail A, no dog or pets are allowed. Dogs on a leash are allowed on Sections B and C, but unleashed dogs are illegal in every part of the park. Section A is dangerous enough to attempt without your favorite canine companion, and strange dogs can be a danger to strange humans (and vice versa).
Put Your Best Foot Forward.
Did we mention that there are steep slopes and slippery rocks? Billy Goat Trail and flip flops mix about as well as a spider wearing roller blades. But seriously, wear sturdy shoes. That means shoes with thick soles, laces, and closed toes! Not sandals, flip-flops, or your favorite dress oxfords. Hiking boots are best. You want shoes that will give you good grip on the rocks and hills. Many of the injuries that happen on the trail are because people did not wear sturdy shoes: sprained ankles, tweaked knees, or falls. Be especially careful of Pothole Alley and the rocky, slippery areas around Purplehorse. It is easy to think you can do anything once you’ve climbed the traverse-- but don’t let down your guard. Test each foothold before trusting your full bodyweight to it. And please, use your hands to scramble and stay balanced.
Bring Water. Then bring EXTRA water. And DRINK your water!
If you’re going hiking in the summer, you should take at least twice as much water as you think you usually drink. That means if you are doing the entire Billy Goat Trail circuit (A, B, and C) you should take two liters of water for each section of trail you are doing. Your body is working hard, and you need to give it the fuel it needs to stay strong. Bring snacks, a sports drink, or some other way of restoring salt levels, calories burned, and electrolytes.
Photo Credit (left): NPS Photo.
Watch for Signs of Dehydration and Heat Exhaustion.
Drink water every few minutes while hiking. Heat illness is all too common on the trail. Don’t wait to head back to your car when you have only a few gulps left! You should have over half your water left for your journey back, even if this means going back early. This doesn’t mean you should “save” your water for the way back- you need to drink frequently during your hike. Just be sure you have enough for the return trek. Dehydration contributes greatly to your chances of having heat exhaustion. Heat cramps, in the form of painful muscle cramps in the legs or abdomen and heavy sweating are the first signs that something isn’t right.
If you have:
Headaches or nausea
Dehydration (dry mouth, sleepy, or thirsty)
Persistent muscle cramps
Decreased urine output
These are all symptoms of heat illness. Get in the shade, rest, and restore fluids slowly.
Photo Credit (right): NPS Photo | C Wittmer
If symptoms worsen into a confused mental state or loss of consciousness, call 911 to get help. Heat illness turns into heat stroke rapidly--this is a life threatening situation.
And so do 10,000 of your closest friends! No but really, Billy Goat Trail, especially section A, gets very crowded. We suggest coming before 8:00 am on weekends if you want to avoid waiting in lines along the trail. Better yet, come explore one of our other trails around Great Falls Tavern!
So Try One of Our Other Trails!
We have more than half a dozen other trails and paths in the surrounding area for you to hike, not to mention the towpath itself! There is the River Trail, Gold Mine Loop and Spurs, the Ford Mine Trail, and more.
We hope Billy Goat Trail makes a lasting impression on you...
But please! Don’t make a lasting impression on the Billy Goat Trail. The C&O Canal National Historical Park is a trash-free park, which means anything you bring with you (food, water bottles, any trash) needs to leave with you. Be respectful of the wildlife and plants. Stay on marked paths to avoid damaging the unique habitat that makes up the Potomac and Mather Gorge area.
Billy Goat Trail Steward Volunteers
See a person in an NPS Volunteer shirt or hat? Ask them questions about the difficulty of the trail or the posted rules. They know the trails like the back of their hands, and are great resources. They are also the ones who often call in the helicopters to air-evac injured hikers, so be nice to them!
Photo (left): Billy Goat Trail Stewards Credit: NPS Volunteers Bob King/Kevin Murphy.