Northern Neck Heritage

This scenic bicycle trip through Virginia’s Lower Potomac reveals the region’s 400-year maritime history. The trip includes an afternoon hike in a nature preserve to see the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal reaches as they were discovered by settlers. Along the way you can watch the sailboats come and go and stretch your legs with a stroll through charming villages.

What you will see: Scenic views of sailboats on wide tidal creeks, artifacts of the earliest days of Colonial America.

The trip begins in Montross, VA, about 50 minutes southeast of Fredericksburg on Route 3 (coming from Southern Maryland, it’s about a half hour from the junction of U.S. 301 and Route 3). Begin at Westmoreland County Museum. Not many small heritage museums can lay claim to a portrait by Charles Willson Peale. This life-sized portrait by the colonial master painter depicts William Pitt, member of the British House of Commons who was a champion for the rights of colonists, in classical Roman attire holding a scroll that reads “Magna Carta.” The museum’s special exhibits often include artifacts and objects from other
collections, like one on pottery of the Northern Neck that includes pieces from nearby Wakefield, George Washington’s birthplace on Pope’s Creek. The museum also houses the county visitor center.

Continue south on Route 3 for about 19 miles, keeping with Va. 203 as it merges then leaves Va. 202, all the way to Kinsale.

Kinsale Museum and Walking Tour. Ceann saile, Celtic for “head of salt water,” was settled in 1706. For its first hundred years, legend says, the deepwater port was known as a smuggling base for untaxed tobacco. Today the main attraction is the village ambiance and the Yeocomico Creek scenery, which can be soaked in by taking a self-guided walking tour beginning at the museum. The little village has seen a lot of action. During the War of 1812 there was a sea battle just offshore, and most of the town was burned during the Civil War. It was a thriving place during the steamboat era. Today the village green is invited place for a short snooze.

Retrace your path on Route 203 about 1.5 miles, then go left onto Route 202. In five miles Route 202 becomes U.S. Route 360, which leads to Heathville, and Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern. The historic tavern dates to at least 1795, and operated as a hotel well into the 20th century. It’s now owned by the Northumberland County Historical Society and is home to a blacksmith shop and quilters guild. Throughout the summer there are events and activities to interpret the area’s history. Any time of year you can stop in for lunch or dinner at the tavern or pub, Wednesday through Sunday.

To follow lunch, take a short walk on a nature trail through one of Virginia’s largest blue heron rookeries to a scenic overlook. From Heathsville go south on Route 201 and go 3.3 miles to Route 642. A brick church is on the left. Turn left on Route 642 and go about 0.3 mile to the preserve entrance on the left. Bush Mill Stream Natural Area is a brackish tidal creek that serves as a nursery for blue crab, yellow perch and other estuarine species. Within 105 acres, the preserve includes varied habitat, from hillside hardwood/pine forest to swamp to wetland that interact directly with the stream. Leading to the creek are a series of steep ravines, some containing springs that are home to a rare amphipod—a tiny shrimp-like creature that dwells primarily in groundwater. The trail system is limited to the half-mile Deep Landing Trail, which in a short distance traverses the complexity of the preserve’s typography and habitat, ending at Bush Mill Stream. About midway along the path is the Heron Loop, a quarter-mile stroll to an overlook offering the patient walker a bird’s eye view of this great bird in stillness and action.

Return to Heathsville and turn right onto Route 360 and follow into Reedville and the Reedville Fisherman’s Museum. Reedville is known as a fisherman’s town. It is home to a thriving menhaden commercial fishing industry and sport fishing charters. The Reedville Fisherman’s Museum is located in the center of the town’s historic district. The museum houses a collection of traditional Chesapeake Bay work boats and exhibits on the fishing industry and local community in and around historic Reedville. While at the museum, pick up a copy of the Reedville Walking Tour brochure. The tour describes the turn-of-the-century Victorian homes which line Main Street.


Region: Virginia's Northern Neck
Activity: Bicycling, Birding, Hiking, Museum/Visitor Center

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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Mailing Address:

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

Williamsport, MD 21795


This phone will reach the main line for the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

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