Camping on the Billy Goat Trail


I’ve been relatively quiet on social media for the past couple of weeks. I even deleted Facebook from my phone because I lacked the self-control to read the racist and bigoted comments below the articles posted by major news outlets. On the flip side, I’ve also had the opportunity to engage in productive conversations that have broadened my perspective and I’ve discovered a lot more voices to hear. We tell our kids often to do what they think is right and not what just happens to be convenient or easy at that moment in time. The oft-quoted words of German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller have been swirling around my head for a handful of years, but even more so as of late. 2020 will be a year to remember and I hope our children are watching us promote change, push against the status quo, and live according to the belief that liberty and justice are truly deserved by all.

But for all of the warranted race and pandemic-related strife occurring in the vast outside world, things are happening within our little sphere that continues to impact our lives. The kids wrapped up the school year last week and we’re less than a month out from our PCS. They’re well-accustomed to moving but we’re currently knee-deep in the uncomfortable feelings and emotions associated with leaving friends and starting over somewhere new, which feel amplified this time around due to pandemic-related restrictions. We all needed a reset so, over the weekend, we took advantage of recently-opened trails and gorgeous weather and camped along the Potomac River on the Billy Goat Trail in Potomac, Maryland.

Known as one of the best hikes in the DC area, Billy Goat Trail comprises three sections of varying difficulty along the Potomac River leading to the famed Great Falls. The National Park Service handles the reservations for campsites along the trail so we staked claim to our desired spot online and set off for an overnight primitive camping adventure. We eventually found a spot to park our car along Macarthur Boulevard and set off to hike to our campsite.

After setting up our tent and storing our belongings, we set out to explore the trail. We absolutely love Great Falls but up until this past weekend, we had only hiked the trails on the Virginia side. Great Falls is popular with hikers and kayakers alike so while we were far from the only people to spend the Saturday exploring the area, we were pleased to discover that we were among very few campers spending the night.

Hiking as a family is one of my favorite ways to spend time with our children – the conversations we have while logging miles are some of our best – and we’re really starting to get into camping as a family too. No electronics, no vehicles, and no bathrooms (ha!) – our time on the Billy Goat Trail provided us the opportunity to unplug and recharge. We talked about what was going on in the world today and what we can do as a family to help. We brainstormed puppy names. We shared what we were most looking forward to and most nervous about in regards to our impending move. We scrambled rocks on the most difficult parts of the trail (Section A) and we were famished by the time we made it back to our campsite.

We collected firewood and did our best to break down the bigger branches. We rolled logs over to the firepit and before long, we were roasting smoked bratwursts and hot dogs and campfire potatoes. We ate smores, the little guy shared some ghost stories, and then we went on a night hike – complete with spooky sounds and the faint roar of the Great Falls rapids.

The next morning was spent cooking breakfast over the fire, drinking coffee under a canopy of trees, and hiking. We veered off the trail and climbed so many rock structures that we lost count. It was an absolute quintessential perfect Sunday morning.

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.

Gary Snyder

By the afternoon, we packed up our belongings and posed for one last picture to document our first little post-quarantine getaway. We were dirty, a little smelly, and a whole lot happier. We learned some lessons on the Billy Goat Trail this past weekend. Some practical. Some informative. And a few that we can only hope will be life-changing. Our children are learning that a deeper connection to nature will help them feel more grounded. Tough hikes build resilience and grit – two attributes that are essential to survival. And perhaps most important, hiking builds connections. Maybe it’s the fresh air or perhaps it’s the comfort in silence, but not only does spending time outdoors bring us closer as a family, it brings us closer to ourselves.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

John Burroughs

5 comments on “Camping on the Billy Goat Trail”

  1. Oh my your words came from your heart!! I love that you were able to do this family get away. Thank you for sharing your family, adventures, and struggles with us to keep life ‘real’ for us all!


  2. What a lovely depiction of your camping adventure. Thank you and your family for sharing this camping trip. It helps to read things like this during the lockdown.


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