Here’s a pleasant circuit walk along the surprisingly wild Antietam Creek less than a mile from the C&O Canal. The hike meanders along one of three fronts in the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War. Wild turkey, beaver, barred owls, and other wildlife inhabit the stream valley. Cows can often be seen grazing on the other side of the creek. The lovely bucolic countryside belies the carnage that took place along the creek on September 17, 1862.
The Battle of Antietam (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg) took place in three phases over 12 square miles. Down by the creek, Union General Burnside tried to move his army over the bridge and into Sharpsburg. The streamside trail preserves the landscape that saw the deaths of thousands. Now it is alive with towering oaks and maples, blackberries on the edges, and the scent of paw paws by the bank.
From the parking area, descend the walk to Burnside Bridge and turn right onto the narrow footpath next to the creek. Pass a small dam that creates enough of a waterfall to give paddlers a thrill. Ancient beech line the creek and uplands, while the bottomland is still thick with the lower story of second-generation forest. The pathway leading right, at 0.5 mile, ascends steeply to Georgians Overlook; from there southern troops trained their rifles on federal troops approaching the bridge.
The river bends sharply west at about 1 mile. The hillside to the right is home to wild turkey, barred owls, and deer. In spring, there are Dutchman’s britches flapping in the breeze; in fall, the paw paws give the forest a banana smell.
At 1.4 miles, reach Snavely Ford, the crossing point for several divisions of Union soldiers on a flanking maneuver. They made their way up the hill toward Sharpsburg here; the road they traveled is still visible to the left beginning at about 1.6 miles. Uphill, the forest cover changes to thick red cedar. On early evening hikes, you may see several deer leaving the cedar cover to follow the trail down to the creek.
At the top of the hill, at 2 miles, a dirt road to the right leads to an old homestead. To the left, the parking area is 0.5 mile down a dirt cart path.
For more information: Antietam National Battlefield.