A Singletrack Siege on Fort Dupont
Any urban mountain biker bred in the nation's capital knows that the true Dreamland of Singletrack lies in a swath of land on the city's northwest border, between D.C. and Maryland in Rock Creek National Park. All drooling fat-tire aficionados also likely know that this is a no-cycling zonebikes aren't allowed on the miles of hiking and horseback-riding trails, and if you choose to ignore the signs at each and every trailhead, your bike will be confiscated if a park ranger catches you. To help resist temptation, we suggest you point your front tire toward the southeastern part of D.C. and discover one of the city's best-kept secret landscapes: Fort Dupont Park (www.nps.gov/fodu/; 202.426.7745) on the southern banks of the Anacostia River.
Back in the spring of 1865, Dupont and 84 other forts were constructed to defend the capital during the Civil War. The defense proved unnecessary and the fortifications were soon dismantledexcept for a handful preserved by the National Park Service. Today, 376 rolling acres of pristine, seldom-trammeled parkland of oak, beech, maple, and pine remains, a refuge of calm within the D.C. city limits, and all trails are open to mountain bikes. Local cyclists have taken advantage, transforming huge swaths of the park into singletrack with creek crossings, white-kunckled descents, and punishing climbs. The expected urban detritusempty beer bottles, trash, the occasional rusting car partdoes exist in the underbrush, but that's the only visual reminder that you're in a city. In all other ways, Fort Dupont is wonderfully removed from the usual urban mayhem.
Enter the park by the Minnesota Avenue entrance, turn onto Fort Dupont Road, and follow the blacktop to a parking lot on your left. Locate the narrow path that snakes along the woods, on the right side by the park's Summer Theater Stage. Follow this trail as it carves into the underbrush. Soon the blacktop will give way to a grass-and-gravel path that dips and swings into the trees. A few of the tributaries loop into other sections of the park, but stay on the main path until it climbs a short hill and spills out onto Fort Davis Road, near its intersection with Riggs Road. Cross Fort Davis and go left, keeping your eyes peeled for a gravel-and-dirt singletrack path gaping out of the woods. This path rides the western spine of Fort Dupont Park, dipping down before a grueling uphill spills you out into a wide-open field with picnic grounds to your right and, to the left, an informative placard on Fort Dupont and the area's other Civil War fortifications.
After you've brushed up on the local history, turn around and find the path adjacent to the one you just left and plunge into a white-knuckled descent into the denser stretch of the forest. Ride your brakes and keep your eyes peeled for a sharp left-hand turn onto some slightly obscured singletrack. This will take you to the hidden heart of the parkover logs, across stretches of sand, down 130-degree pitches, through streamsbefore punishing you with a climb that leads back up to where you first plunged into the woods at the intersection of Fort Davis and Riggs.
But that's merely one route. This place definitely benefits from a pioneer's approach. Spend an hour and you'll have your personal favorite route.
One piece of advice: This park is best during the fall, winter, and early spring. Hit Dupont in search of its hidden singletrack during the summer months, especially after a few days of rain, and the trails will likely be swallowed by brush and spider websunpleasant obstacles even on the best trail system. It's also a good idea to keep an eye on the daylight. Though this park is safeespecially by urban standardsit does reside in one of D.C.'s most notorious neighborhoods and could become sketchy once the sun goes down. Better yet, check with Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (www.more-mtb.org/), and join the next organized ride through the park. That way the only pitfalls you have to avoid are those inspired by your own ego.
From the Capitol, follow Pennsylvania Avenue southeast towards Maryland. After crossing over the Anacostia River, take a left onto Minnesota Avenue. The park will be on your right just after crossing Massachusetts Avenuebut you'll have to go right into the Mass. Ave. Circle and loop around to take a right onto Fort Dupont Road and enter the park.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Best Hotels in Washington, DC