Potomac Heritage Trail


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Following a waterway that shaped our young nation’s history by serving as a westbound highway for goods from eastern settlements, the Potomac Heritage Trail travels for 1,100 miles through the tidal Potomac and upper Youghiogheny River basins. Discover history and scenic beauty by following the trail by foot or boat.

Distance: 1,100 miles

States: Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Pennsylvania

Year Established: 1983

Best Times of Year to Visit: Spring and fall

Lock 27 along the canal section of the Potomac Heritage Trail. Photo courtesy of Bart Smith.

Notable Spots Along Trail:

  • The Great Falls of the Potomac offer views of steep, jagged rocks and forceful falls.
  • The Patowmack Canal features the ruins of historic locks on this canal that George Washington hoped would connect the east with the Ohio River Valley.
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park contains the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, known as The Point, which offers views of three states: Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Fun Facts, According to the National Park Service:

  • The highest point on the trail is the Big Savage Tunnel, Maryland, at 3,924 feet.
  • Within the Underground Railroad network, the Potomac River provided a corridor to freedom in the North for people escaping slavery, as many features of the river were hidden from view.

Spring morning along the canal near Spring Gap, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Bart Smith.

Trail Uses: Hiking and boating along the entire trail; limited cycling and equestrian use.

Administering Agency: National Park Service

Nonprofit Partner: Potomac Heritage Trail Association

Permitting Information: No permits needed.

REI Stewardship: The co-op has invested more than $157,000 in the Potomac Heritage Trail since 2003.

Read More:

Learn more about all of our national scenic trails.