From car windows in the Northern Neck, you see a few towns, lots of timber land, and hundreds of miles of shoreline incorporating coves and tidal creeks. At a slower pace, however, you can discover nature preserves and parks, historical sites, crab shacks and barbecues, fishing and all manner of outdoor pursuits.
Surrounded by the waters of the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, the Northern Neck is the eastern region of a peninsula stretching from the area east of Fredericksburg to Reedville and Smith Point. While the Potomac often is most popular among the region’s waterways, the heritage of the Northern Neck is also tied to the Rappahannock and all the land and drainages between the two rivers.
Although it is common to think of the Potomac as the dividing line between North and South, the river enabled strong bonds between the Northern Neck and Southern Maryland in the earliest days of the Virginia and Maryland colonies. The river was alive with sails; familial and commercial ties extended across the water. In The Potomac, Frederick Gutheim described what could nearly be called traffic jams of boats and ships and skiffs. Today, one is more likely to encounter tour boats and pleasure craft, but a few reminders of the past still exist.
For now, rather than describing a roadside walking route for the PHT in the region, we offer a guide to hiking trails on the Northern Neck and Fredericksburg area and describe parks and natural areas that have hiking trails and walking opportunities.
Two online resources will be very helpful in planning sojourns in the region. The Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation describes parks and “natural area preserves” and often provides stories on how the land was preserved—stories that are themselves part of the Potomac’s heritage.
A second resource is the Northern Neck Tourism Commission, which provides information about visiting the five-county region and acts as a portal to local chambers of commerce, history and events. For those who wish to travel this part of the trail corridor under their own power, the best options are by bicycle, using a brochure and map available from Commission and Tidewater Potomac Heritage Bicycling Route map set published by Adventure Cycling Association, and by boat using charts and guides that follow the shoreline, part of the evolving Potomac River Water Trail.