TRIP IDEA

Explore the Virginia Piedmont along the Potomac River

Multiple Parks

a natural surface footpath along the bank of a river with overhanging tree branches
The PHT in the Virginia Piedmont provides access in many places to the Potomac River

NPS photo

These activities bring you close to the Potomac River, creeks, other natural areas, historic sites and modern suburban landscapes in a corridor that has changed significantly since the mid-1960s, from predominantly farms and small towns to residential and commercial uses. However, since completion of the feasibility study for the PHT in 1974, a variety of government agencies, non-profit organizations and volunteers have been creating what some have called a “linear park system” between White’s Ferry and the trailhead for Theodore Roosevelt Island and the northern terminus of the Mount Vernon Trail. The corridor includes three substantial gaps for non-motorized travel on land, but opportunities for travel on foot and horseback and for paddling are exceptional and it’s possible to envision a loop between White’s Ferry (upstream) and one of the bridges connecting Virginia and Washington, DC (downstream), hiking or bicycling on the C & O Canal Towpath and using footpaths on the Virginia side. One can also include paddling and horseback riding to create a continuous, non-motorized experience. Assistance from an outfitter would be helpful when changing modes of travel.

For regional orientation, refer to the “Maps” page, especially the map of the corridor between White’s Ferry and I-495 and of the PHT within George Washington Memorial Parkway. The activities below are organized in a downstream direction but a list of additional activities in Northern Virginia includes excerpts from a hiking guide to the PHT organized in the reverse direction. For local information, see visitor information sites for Loudoun and Fairfax counties. And to help maintain and/or complete the PHT, contact the Potomac Heritage Trail Association.
White's Ferry - Theodore Roosevelt Island trailhead
    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Paddling
    • Pets: Yes
    • Location: Potomac River Harpers Ferry-Riverbend Park
    • Duration: 2–4 Days
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Day, Dawn, Dusk
    kayaker on a calm, wide river with forested hillsides on both shorelines

    Paddle from Potoma (sic) Wayside, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, or another launch site and take out at Algonkian Regional Park or Riverbend Park (both Virginia side). Camp at sites along the C & O Canal Towpath, reserve a night in a historic lockhouse (river left upstream of Point of Rocks), reserve a cabin at Algonkian Regional Park (two-night minimum) or find a B & B or hotel. This trip can be combined with hiking and bicycling.

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  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

    Hike Kephart Bridge Landing to Bles Park

    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Front-Country Hiking
    • Pets: Yes
    • Location: Kephart Bridge Landing - Bles Park, Loudoun County, VA
    • Duration: 1–2 Hours
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Day, Dawn, Dusk
    hiker on a natural surface trail though mixed-age trees

    The trailheads might at first seem difficult to find, but this segment of the PHT is one of the most accessible and developed in the corridor between White's Ferry and Scott's Run Nature Preserve. One can also access the PHT 1.4 miles upstream from Kephart Bridge Landing via a sidewalk along Riverside Parkway (no parking).

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    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Front-Country Hiking
    • Pets: Yes
    • Location: Algonkian Regional Park - Difficult Run VA
    • Duration: 3–6 Hours
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Day, Dawn, Dusk
    a 20-foot wooden bridge with a handrail over a small creek

    This hike is mostly wooded; some parts are rocky and some can be rocky. But you will see, in some places, exceptional displays of bluebells in spring and colors in autumn. Management partners include Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority; The Nature Conservancy; Fairfax County Park Authority; and National Park Service, all are aided by volunteers with the Potomac Heritage Trail Association and others.

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    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Front-Country Hiking
    • Pets: Yes
    • Location: trailheads for Scott's Run Nature Preserve and for Potomac Heritage Trail/Theodore Roosevelt Island/Mount Vernon Trail
    • Duration: 4–7 Hours
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Day, Dawn, Dusk
    a wooden sign for the Potomac Heritage Trail in a forested riparian area

    The ten-mile Potomac Heritage Trail within George Washington Memorial Parkway is a popular path, connecting at some places to neighborhood trails, Turkey Run picnic area and Chain Bridge. Here, though, we suggest a longer hike connecting with another PHT segment in Scott's Run Nature Preserve, managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority. A combination natural surface path and road walk along Live Oak Lane connects the two.

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  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

    Volunteer to complete the PHT in Northern Virginia

    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Front-Country Hiking
    • Pets: Yes with Restrictions
    • Location: Northern Virginia
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

    Volunteers are essential to complete the PHT network in Northern Virginia.

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Last updated: April 20, 2018