Light streams through the forest illuminating a path

Short hikes & more hikes: Explore the diversity of the PHT corridor on foot

Hiking opportunities are extensive throughout the PHT network and one of the best ways to experience the beauty, history and culture of the PHT corridor. Just as early Americans saw the corridor as a passage between the Chesapeake Bay and lands beyond the Alleghenies, we use some of the same routes today as pathways to discovery.

The hikes below are ways to explore each region of the PHT network in short periods of time, from a couple hours to a day. Most suggestions are suitable for families. The maps page can help to find a trailhead and the links under "More hikes" below suggest more ambitious options.

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (PA):
  • Leave from the Ohiopyle State Park or King Road trailheads and climb Laurel Ridge for 2.5 miles to an overlook of the Youghiogheny River valley.
  • Hire an outfitter to shuttle from Ohiopyle to the Maple Summit Road intersection with the LHHT and return 11 miles to Ohiopyle—drop from 2400 to 1200 feet in elevation; consider an overnight at about mile 6 (reservation required).
  • An easy overnight with children: Park at the trailhead off of Route 653 and hike a half-mile to a shelter area (reservation required).
More information: Laurel Ridge State Park (map & shelter reservations); Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau; LHHT guidebook from Sierra Club Allegheny Group.

Ohiopyle State Park:
  • From the Visitor Center overlooking the Youghiogheny River, walk upstream and cross the River via the viaduct for the Great Allegheny Passage to a loop trail on Ferncliff Peninsula, a National Natural Landmark, about two miles round trip.
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (DC, MD):
 Great Falls Tavern
  • The C & O Canal could have been converted into a parkway for automobiles, but some thought otherwise: A hike lead by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas helped to convince many that the Canal is best used as an outdoor recreational gateway to nature. Today, you can hike a segment of the level towpath out and back beginning at one of many trailheads, including visitor centers in Cumberland, Hancock, Williamsport, Ferry Hill, Brunswick, Great Falls and Georgetown.
  • From the trailhead at Route 51 near Towpath MP 156, walk south and through the 3,118 foot Paw Paw Tunnel.
  • Park at the Ferry Hill Visitor Center and hike one-half mile downhill to the Towpath via the Ferry Hill Trail; look for an exceptional display of wildflowers in spring. Continuing three miles upstream you arrive at Killiansburg caves and a hiker-biker campsite.
  • For a loop hike with children, hike downstream on the Towpath from the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center to the Billy Goat Trail segment B, total mileage approximately 4.5 miles (see map).
  • For a connection to history, join the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Association for an annual Justice William O. Douglas hike, including a through-hike every three years. Consider camping at a hiker-biker site, located every 5-12 miles; staying in an historic lock house; or a bed and breakfast, inn or hotel in one of the Canal towns.
More information: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal NHP; Canal Quarters, a program of the C & O Canal Trust; events list for Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Association.

Northern Virginia:
  • Set up a shuttle or hike out and back on an 11-mile (one-way) natural surface and rocky trail between Great Falls Park and Algonkian Regional Park, traversing scenic park lands along the Potomac River, including alternative trailheads of Riverbend Park and Seneca Falls area; for an overnight, reserve a cabin at Algonkian. Snack shops open seasonally at Great Falls, Riverbend and Algonkian!
  • Great Falls Park: Hike the one and one-half mile Patowmack Canal Trail – River Trail loop, including a stop at Mather Point; Great Falls is the dramatic transition between the Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain, and the Canal was George Washington’s first attempt to improve navigation between the Atlantic and the "Ohio country."
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island - Scott’s Run Nature Preserve: Another shuttle or out-and-back hike: Locals are familiar with the 10-mile Potomac Heritage Trail within George Washington Memorial Parkway, a natural surface, rocky route close by the Potomac beginning at the Island trailhead, but it’s possible to continue along a road after passing under the American Legion Bridge to a Preserve entrance and end the hike at either of two parking areas where you've left a vehicle or, with some luck, your ride is waiting.
  • Walk a 1.5-mile loop within the Woodlawn Historic District, beginning at Woodlawn, George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill (shuttle from Mount Vernon) or one of the hotels along Richmond Highway (Route 1). Adjacent to US Army Garrison Fort Belvoir, the District includes Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House and Woodlawn Quaker Meetinghouse.
  • Prince William Forest Park: A wooded oasis with plenty of options for hikes of varying lengths; cabins available by reservation.
  • Hike the two-mile loop on Government Island, a Stafford County park where Aquia sandstone was quarried and shipped to Washington, DC, for use in building the White House and U.S. Capitol.
More information: Visit Loudoun, Visit Fairfax in NoVA, Visit Arlington VA, Visit Prince William & Manassas, Tour Stafford County.
Washington, DC:
  • Exiting the Tenleytown/AU Metro station, walk three blocks south on Wisconsin Avenue to a right onto Van Ness and an intersection with the Glover Archbold Trail on the left. Reach an underpass to access the C & O Canal Towpath in about 3.5 miles, then into Georgetown, across Rock Creek and to Georgetown and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station or a Metrobus stop. Approximately seven miles.
  • Exiting the Tenleytown/AU Metro station (red line), walk north on 40th Street to the site of the former Fort Reno, the highest point in the District of Columbia. Following a hiking guide, continue to the Nature Center and Fort DeRussy within Rock Creek Park. Return to Tenleytown, continue on the route within Rock Creek Park to 16th Street and a taxi or Metrobus, or continue to Fort Totten Metro station (red line).
More information: A Hiker’s Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington: Fort Reno to Fort Totten, Washington, DC & Metrorail/bus.

Southern Maryland:
  • Piscataway Park: An extensive boardwalk provides access to Mockley Point from trailheads at The Accokeek Foundation Visitor Center and a parking area off Bryan Point Road; excellent birding area with a view of Mount Vernon Estate.
  • Smallwood State Park: Hike the 1 ¾-mile PHT loop, illustrated on the Park map, to explore a variety of habitat types and the riverfront; campsites and mini-cabins available by reservation.
  • National Colonial Farm: Tour the historic working farm, suitable for all ages, and be sure to check out the pier; also paddle from Fort Washington Marina to a small boat landing.
  • Historic Saint Mary’s City: Explore the paths and trails throughout 800 acres of this National Historic Landmark and living history experience.
More information: Destination Southern Maryland; Maryland DNR trail guides; Visit Prince George’s.

Northern Neck of Virginia:
Description: Hourse-Head-Cliffs_WR-1800x500
  • George Washington Birthplace National Monument: Hike from the Visitor Center to the Log House picnic area via the Dancing Marsh boardwalk and return; exceptional birding, less than two miles both ways. Add a couple more miles by exploring a woodlands trail to the north.
  • Westmoreland State Park: From the Discovery Center, walk the ¾ mile trail to fossil beach, and make a loop via Beaver Dam Trail and Turkey Trail, for a total of approximately four miles. See the trail guide, check out the cliffs, rent a kayak and stay overnight at the campground or in a cabin.
  • Stratford Hall: In addition to other activities, explore the site on one of the nature trails.
  • Kinsale Historic District: A walking tour reveals the layers of history in this former colonial port town.
More information: Virginia’s Northern Neck.

More hikes

Unlike the AT, PCT and other trails designed for long-distance travel on foot (or horseback), the PHT is evolving as a braided network for different modes of self-powered travel. Regardless, content adapted here from Potomac Heritage Trail: A Hiker’s Guide, published in 2003 with assistance from American Hiking Society, describes a variety of hikes and places and provides practical information to help plan day and overnight trips, including a continuous route using roadways, multi-modal facilities and natural surface trails. Please contact us if you've completed a through-hike or all sections (e.g., travel between Point Lookout, Maryland, or Smith Point, Virginia, and Seward, Pennsylvania)--others would like to learn from you.

So, from the table below, select a region and then a hike. Find some company or let someone know where you’re headed and when you expect to return. Pack a map and compass, extra clothing, water and some food. Go.

Last updated: April 6, 2023

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Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
c/o Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
142 W. Potomac St.

Williamsport, MD 21795


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