The Potomac Heritage Trail consists of nearly 1,000 miles of completed and planned trails that pass through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The trail network was recognized as a National Scenic Trail in 1983, at which point it contained three trails: The C&O Canal Towpath (184.5 miles), the Mount Vernon Trail (18 miles), and the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (70 miles). Since then, hundreds of miles of trails have been added to the network, with more in the works. There are now 830 miles worth of completed and planned trails. The trails follow the path of Gen. George Washington, the nation's first president, who explored the lands now occupied by the trails either by foot or on horseback.
What Makes It Great
The trail network has some paved routes, like the Mount Vernon Trail, and natural surface routes like the C&O Canal Towpath. Some are wooded, hilly, and remote, while others skirt along the edge of waterways. Others are in the middle of urban areas and take you on sidewalks adjacent to busy roads.
By themselves, each of the 11 trails that make up the current form of the network are historic and have their own personalities. The Fort Circle Parks Trail in Washington, D.C., for example, links a handful of Civil War-era forts that were constructed to protect the city from a Confederate attack. That trail is smack dab in the middle of Washington, with some wooded areas. The Mount Vernon Trail, on the other hand, connects Theodore Roosevelt Island with Mount Vernon, Washington's home.
As a whole, the trails serve up a dish of American history. Because what better way to occupy your free time than by going for a hike on the same paths Washington blazed? Stepping foot on any of the trails, a list of which is on nps.gov/pohe/, is an educational and motivating experience.
If you're an ambitious, experienced hiker and want a challenge, start in Pittsburgh and take the Great Allegheny Passage (150 miles). In Cumberland, Md., hop onto the C&O Canal Towpath and hike into Washington.
From the nation's capital, you'll have access to dozens of miles of other trails in the area. And you can continue south on either the Northern Neck Heritage Trail (the Virginia side of the Potomac) or the Southern Maryland Potomac Heritage Trail (Maryland side). The latter two head down the coastal plain region and pass historic sites along the way.
Who is Going to Love It
Everyone will love this trail network, from experienced hikers looking for multi-day treks to families wanting to spend a Saturday doing something fun.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
With so many trails, it's best to visit nps.gov/pohe/ to select which one you'd like to try and then find a point at which you want to start your hike.