From car windows in Virginia's Tidewater Potomac area (also often referred to as Virginia's Northern Neck), you can 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 Neck is the eastern region of a peninsula stretching from Fredericksburg to Reedville. 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 ferries still ply the waters.
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. This section of the hiking guide has a slightly different format than other sections. Rather than describing a route, it describes parks and natural areas that have hiking trails and walking opportunities, and includes helpful links and phone numbers for additional information.
Two online resources will be very helpful in planning sojourns to the region. The Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation has fact sheets on the parks and “natural area preserves” in its system. The privately owned and operated natural and heritage areas also have Web descriptions that provide details on park hours and programs. Often they provide stories on how the land was preserved—stories that are themselves part of the Potomac’s heritage now.
A second resource is www.northernneck.org, a Web site focusing on the region. The pages offer a portal to local chambers of commerce, history and travel information.
For those who wish to travel this part of the trail corridor under their own power, the best options are by bicycle, using the Tidewater Potomac Heritage Bicycling Route published by Adventure Cycling Association, and by boat using charts and guides that follow the shoreline, part of the evolving Potomac River Water Trail. See the Books and Maps section for more information.