The Laurel Highlands is one of the most scenic and diverse destinations in Pennsylvania. Its unique typography and natural resources of mountains and rivers, offers a wide range of active outdoor experiences for visitors year round. Thousands of acres of state and federal park land throughout the region are open for hiking, biking, water recreation and wildlife viewing. Incredible vistas open over white water and quiet pools as the parks are crisscrossed with hundreds of streams and tributaries. Thanks to photographer paul g. wiegman for providing the wonderful photos that accompany this itinerary.
One of the region’s significant National Park Service sites is the Flight 93 National Memorial which is now open year round to the public. A short distance away is another iconic site commemorating the Quecreek Mine Rescue Site, celebrating the successful rescue of none trapped miners, an event that captured the attention of the world a decade ago.
Discover the many ways you can enjoy family fun, outdoor activities, parks , attractions, shopping, dining and cozy accommodations in the Laurel Highlands by visiting www.laurelhighlands.org.
Those interested in active outdoor adventures should not miss the following experiences while in the Laurel Highlands:
The Laurel Highlands actually provides the setting for two outstanding examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture: Fallingwater in Bear Run Nature Preserve and the nearby Kentuck Knob. Fallingwater, Wright’s most widely acclaimed work, dramatically cantilevered over the waterfalls, is considered to be the best all-time work of American architecture and is his most sublime integration of man and nature. The house on Kentuck Knob exhibits the extraordinary warmth, serenity and functionality of a home Wright designed for family living, Enhanced by a breathtaking vista, its wooded landscape is the setting for the notable collection of artifacts and post- World War II sculptures of owner, British Lord
Peter Palumbo. These famous architectural icons are open to the public throughout most of the year but reservations are essential.
Bear Run Nature Preserve
Bear Run Nature Reserve‘s 5,851 acres makes it the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s largest property. With more than 20 miles of well-marked trails, the reserve is managed to protect, conserve, and restore land and water for the diversity of the region’s native plants, animals, and their ecosystems. Streams and watersheds, forests, and common as well as rare native species are the focus of management.
The Great Allegheny Passage
The Great Allegheny Passage is a world-class rail-trail stretching from near Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD. Historic tunnels, bridges and viaducts carry cyclists and hikers on a nearly level scenic trip over and through the Allegheny Mountains. The trail follows the Youghiogheny and Casselman rivers for much of the way. In Cumberland, it connects with the C&O Canal Towpath providing a continuous non-motorized route to Washington, D.C.
This 3,070-acre tract of second and third growth forest in southeastern Westmoreland County is part of Forbes State Forest. Although the entire area is closed to all vehicles, it is open to hiking, cross-country skiing, and in the appropriate seasons, to access on foot by hunters and fishermen.
For specific hikes along the Laurel Highlands, check out our other step-by-step itineraries: Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail: Ohiopyle to Route 653, Route 653 to Route 31, Route 31 to Route 30, Route 30 to Route 271, and Route 271 to Seward.
You can visit these sites in any order, but in summer mornings are the best time to see Fort Washington; you can explore the grounds before the sun gets too high.
Fort Washington. Fort Washington was part of the original defenses of the Capital, first completed in 1809. After being destroyed and rebuilt, it was improved over the years and remained in use through World War One. From the massive doorways at the entrance, to the gunnery posts, to the bastions and garrisons, it’s just a cool place to explore and hang out. Fort Washington Park has a wide variety of activities. There is a 3-mile trail that follows the perimeter of the park boundary, offering the opportunity for wildlife viewing. Birdwatchers enjoy the quite solitude of the park to find that one special bird. If fishing is for you, the park is located right along the Potomac River where there are many different types of fish waiting for you.
One Sunday a month from April to October the park has Civil War artillery demonstrations.
Oxon Cove Park/Oxon Hill Farm. The park has been home for many generations of human habitation during the past 10,000 years–beginning with the Native American peoples who hunted for wild game and gathered plants up until the 17th century. You can explore on your own and see farm equipment, historic structures, our Visitor Center, and barnyard. Explore Oxon Cove Park’s 512 acres by strolling along the lower fields, walking the nature path or riding the bike path along Oxon Cove. It’s a pleasing spot for a picnic, too. There are picnic areas, no reservations required. Food is not sold in the park, so pack a lunch.
Oxon Cove is listed second in this itinerary for those who are ready for a picnic lunch after exploring Fort Washington. It is next door to Oxon Hill Manor, so if you’re not ready for lunch, visit the manor first.
Visitor information for all three sites is available on the porch of the bookstore.
Oxon Hill Manor, a few miles up river from Fort Washington. The mansion as we see it today was built in in 1928, but the former home was built for home to the nephews of George Washington, and the nephew of John Hanson, the first president elected by the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. In the 49-room mansion, check out the graceful spiraling staircase and ballroom especially. Wonder the English gardens and enjoy stunning river views. Tours are available by appointment. The manor is managed by Prince George’s County Department of Parks & Recreation.
To reach Fort Washington From I-95/495 take exit 3, Indian Head Higway South/MD 210. Travel about 4 miles to Fort Washington Road, turn right. The park is located at the end of the road.
From Waldorf, MD: MD228 to Indian Head Highway/MD210 North. Turn left onto Old Fort Road. Continue to end of road, at the stop sign turn left onto Fort Washington Road, continue to park.
Through this a one- or two-day journey through Potomac Heritage, you experience the breadth of the American ideal of freedom through voices and images. You’ll also relax on a short walk to a stunning (and still secret) overlook of the Shenandoah River, and pause to ponder it all on a visit a winery or two. Frederick Douglass is best known as a formerly enslaved man who became the orator-in-chief for emancipation. W.E.B. DuBois is remembered as the political organizer who set in motion the creation of the NAACP. Often forgotten today is that both were champions for the Civil Rights and equality of all people—including Irish immigrants who built the C&O Canal and American women battling for the right to vote.
This tour begins in Washington, D.C., then heads west to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., followed by the Civil Rights Walking Tour in the Potomac town of Leesburg, Va.
Stop 1, Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, 1411 W Street SE, Washington, D.C. Douglass was born on a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland around 1818. He escaped to New York in 1838 disguised as a sailor, then traveled speaking about his experiences in slavery. Soon, he was one of the most famous orators in America. For nearly 60 years, he championed the cause of equal treatment under the law.
Cedar Hill today is furnished largely the way Douglass left when he died in 1895. See gifts from U.S. Presidents, paintings and photographs, and his incredible library. You can take a self-guided tour, but make time for a guided tour—you’ll never forget it. And the view of Washington from the Hill rivals the view from anywhere. The house is kid-friendly (Douglass’s grandchildren were daily visitors), but on sunny days, today’s kids love to play outside on the Hill—allowing two adults to “tag team” visits indoors.
Stop 2, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. About an hour up the Potomac via Interstate 270, then south/west on U.S. 340. After crossing the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, turn left into the Harpers Ferry NHP visitor center at the top of the hill.
Harpers Ferry brings to life America’s industrial history beginning in the early 19th century, slavery and the Civil War, and the founding of the modern Civil Rights movement.
There are six major exhibits interpreting African American history. The John Brown museum includes artifacts, storyboards and video presentations charting the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement. Also in Harpers Ferry’s lower town are Black Voices and the Storer College Niagara Movement exhibits. Black Voices is an interactive audio-visual exhibit depicting the stories of enslaved people.
The Storer College Niagara Exhibit reveals the story of the school founded for freed African Americans shortly after the Civil War. The college hosted the 1906 meeting of the Niagara Movement, founded by W.E.B. Du Bois. It was the group’s second meeting, and its first meeting on American soil. The meeting is considered the beginning of the modern Civil Rights era. Its members launched the NAACP a few years later. There are more Niagara.
Stop 3, Murphy Farm. In 1906, the Niagara delegates walked from Storer College to John Brown’s Fort, which had been dismantled and moved to the farm by the Murphy family. From the park visitor center, it’s an easy 30-minute round trip to the site. Near the site is an overlook with incredible views of the Shenandoah River.
Leaving the park visitor center, backtrack on Route 340 to the bottom of the hill. Just before the bridge over the Potomac, turn right onto Harpers Ferry Road (Route 671). In 5 miles enter the Hillsboro, Va., area. There is a vineyard on 671, and two more on Route 9, where you will turn right to continue the trip.
Continuing on Route 9, go east on Route 7 to Leesburg.
Stop 4, Leesburg’s African American Heritage Tour. Stretch your legs before dinner walking the streets of this historic town while experiencing Civil Rights history on an architectural walking tour. Pick up a brochure at the visitor center, 16 Loudoun Street, or request one by phone or email by visiting their website.
Visiting Fort Belvoir or Mount Vernon? There’s more to see. The Woodlawn Plantation historic district, near the junction of Mount Vernon Highway and Route 1, includes an historic house on a hill. From the porch on the east side of the house, when the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, the tallest trees on the horizon are on the grounds of Mount Vernon. Winter is lovely, but anytime is perfect time for a visit!
Such is not a coincidence: George Washington gave the plantation, once part of his Mount Vernon Estate, to his nephew and Martha Washington’s granddaughter as a wedding present. The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides tours of the house, as well as the Pope-Leighey house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
To the south of the plantation house, the Woodlawn Quaker Meetinghouse serves as a reminder of a successful mid-nineteenth century experiment in agriculture without the use of enslaved laborers.
Situated on Dogue Creek, George Washington’s Distillery and Grist Mill is the closest site to Mount Vernon in the district and open for tours seasonally. And while it’s possible for experienced walkers and bicyclists to travel from Mount Vernon to the Grist Mill and to cross Route 1 to reach the Plantation house, one needs to exercise caution, especially at the narrow, two-lane highway bridge over Dogue Creek.
The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is a corridor of history and outdoor adventure. The Trail network follows the river through its tidal reaches to the fall line, with an interlude along the escarpment of Washington, D.C., then up the C&O Canal to Cumberland, Md. From there it goes over and through the mountains along the Great Allegheny Passage and the Laurel Highlands Trail.
This scenic bike ride includes an eight-mile ride on the C&O Canal segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail in the Great Valley near Sheperdstown, WV, and through Sharpsburg, MD. Experience the natural beauty of the Potomac River beneath cave-dotted bluffs, and pause for a break to examine the incredible stonework of a canal lock. Then, take a road connection to Antietam National Battlefield, the Civil War site commemorating the bloodiest single day in American history. After circling the interior of the Battlefield, pass through the village of Sharpsburg for lunch and treats, with a return to the canal along Maryland Route 34. (Miller’s Sawmill Road is an option, but one misses a site marking General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters.)
- A casual ride along the river beneath the canopy with a long, open views of South Mountain and the Blue Ridge
- The Battle of Antietam was one of two major battles fought north of the Potomac River. The Battlefield observation tower offers expansive views of the valley and ridgelines, and a rare chance to see the entire landscape of battle of a Civil War site. You can also find out more and take a pit stop at the Antietam Visitors Center.
- Sharpsburg has a popular ice cream shop on Potomac Street, a bakery and a tavern named in honor of a C&O Canal boat captain, as well as bed and breakfasts.
- One can ride this route starting either in Shepherdstown or Sharpsburg without driving a car to the trail head.
Total Distance: 16.4 miles.
Trailhead Directions: Parking beneath the Rumsey Bridge (Route 34) over the Potomac; Snyders Landing and Taylors Landing; and Antietam Battlefield.
Finding the Trailhead: From Shepherdstown, WV, cross the Potomac River on the Rumsey Bridge, Route 34. On a bicycle, turn right at the Maryland side of the bridge and follow the bike/pedestrian ramp or, via automobile, turn right at the top of the hill and descend into one of two parking areas. (Reach the second parking area by turning left at the bottom of the hill on River Road, which parallels the canal, and continue less than a half mile to a parking and pedestrian bridge.) On the Maryland side of the river, you can visit Ferry Hill Place, a historic visitors center, before you begin your ride.
Turn left on Mondell Road and ascend steep hill.
Route 65. Cross road and enter battlefield; go straight and ascend.
Turn right on Smoketown Road.
Turn left toward Mumma House.
Turn left toward Bloody Land.
Observation Tower. Turn right to follow the road, then descend a steep hill. This lane leads to Route 34.
Cross Route 34 and climb park road.
Turn right and follow road as it climbs. At the top of the hill are splendid views and a long stone wall. The stone wall is makes for a sunny rest stop overlooking the battlefield.
Turn right on Harpers Ferry Road, leaving the park. Continue into the village of Sharpsburg.
Turn left on Route 34.
Turn left just before the bridge onto Canal Road and descend the trailhead parking lot.
Brunswick, Maryland is just a short drive from Washington D.C., approximately 45 miles. The town’s roots are rich in history with the establishment of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In the 1890′s Brunswick became the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s major freight yard for the east-west line. Population of the town multiplied tenfold in 1896 and thrived because of the railroad. You can still take the MARC train from Washington, D.C. to Brunswick today.
When visiting Brunswick, you can stop by the Brunswick Railroad Museum to learn more about the B & O line and the way of life of the railroaders. The Brunswick Museum has exhibits about the life of railroaders from 1890 to 1940. A railroad exhibit with a model of the B&O rail line from Washington to Harper’s Ferry is open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.
In 2005, Brunswick earned Maryland Mainstreet status. Brunswick Mainstreet sponsors many events and activities in the historic district. Brunswick also celebrates “History Days” each April, the “Great Brunswick River Race” in July, “Railroad Days” in October, and a “Victorian Christmas” on Thanksgiving weekend. In October the town hosts Railroad Days which takes place with music, festivities and train rides. Every year the annual Great Brunswick River Race offers adventure to those who want to create their own boat and race down the Potomac River. These events feature the roles of the Potomac, the canal, and the railroad in Brunswick’s development. Visit the Brunswick Mainstreet website to learn more.
Brunswick offers other fun activities including camping, biking on the C & O Canal, or just participating in some of our local events.
Check out our events calendar for other fun activities, we hope to see you soon in Brunswick.
This 5-day bicycle tour starts at Fort Washington Park at the Prince George’s County Potomac Heritage On-Road Bicycle Route as a segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.238 miles, averaging 41 miles a day for the first four days, with options for short-cuts on each day. 52 miles back to La Plata on the last day, with another 20 miles back to Fort Washington National Park.
42 miles – Fort Washington Park to Bel Alton
The tour begins Fort Washington Park. Fort Washington is the only permanent fortification built to defend the river approach to the Nation’s Capital. Follow the route south to Smallwood State Park, and then cut across through Pisgah to Port Tobacco where you can explore and eat lunch. Chapel Point Road will take you past St. Ignatius Church to the Motel Bel Alton. After you check-in, you can bike or drive 5 miles to Pope’s Creek for a seafood dinner on the Potomac.
28 miles – Bel Alton to Charlotte Hall
Head back down to Pope’s Creek, across Rt. 301 and up through Amish country to Charlotte Hall, where you can have lunch at Bert’s 50 Diner. After lunch riders can visit the nearby farmers’ markets and/or bike a 13-mile loop to the lake and park Gilbert Run. Here you can enjoy fishing, pedal boating, row boating and canoeing from March to November. Several good restaurants are within walking distance of the Charlotte Hall Motel for dinner.
42 miles – Charlotte Hall to Leonardtown
The route passes many Amish farms as you dip down to Chaptico, Bushwood, and Avenue, along St. Clements Bay. Grab lunch along the bay and then cycle back up and around to Leonardtown. You can paddle here, as well as enjoy the Leonardtown Winery, Wharf and Water Trail. You have a wide choice of places for dinner, including the Café des Artistes, and you can stay at the Relax Inn for the evening.
45 miles – Leonardtown to Wynne
Out of Leonardtown, follow backcountry roads down to Valley Lee, up to Great Mills, and then Route 5 to St. Mary’s City. This quaint, historic town along the river is a perfect place to grab a bite to eat. Then continue down Route 5 toward Point Lookout to the 1828 Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula, with the Potomac River on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on the other. There is also a nature center in Point Lookout State Park and a Civil War Museum to explore (there may be a $3 per person entry fee). Retrace the route back a few miles to Wynne where you can watch the sun set over the Potomac. Courtney’s has been recommended as a great seafood restaurant, and you can stay at the Scheibles Restaurant and Motel for the night.
52 miles – Wynne to La Plata, the 20 miles – La Plata to Fort Washington
This is a long day, so you may want to get an early start as you head back to La Plata. Once you get back to La Plata, you will need to go the 20 extra miles to get back to Fort Washington, if that’s where you left your car.
For information on the map of the Tidewater Potomac Heritage Bicycle Route produced by the Adventure Cycling Association with assistance of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Office, National Park Service, visit http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/tidewater.cfm.
Explore the easternmost portion of the Northern Neck, including the fishing village of Reedville, dozens of inlets, and a beach, on this 28-mile loop. For an extended tour on the Chesapeake Bay, hop on a cruise to the Tangier Island.
This loop begins in Reedville, founded in 1874 by Elijah Reed who moved his menhaden fishing operation from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay; today the ambiance reminiscent of a New England village is recognized as an historic district. From Reedville, on Routes 360/Northumberland Highway, take either Blackberry Road or Sunnybank Road to Route 352 to Sunnybank Road. Ride the free ferry across the Little Wicomico River to Ophelia (ferry operates Monday-Saturday). Take Route 644/Hacks Neck Road to Route 643 to Vir-Mar Beach public landing on the Potomac River. Double back on Route 643 on to Route 644 to Route 646/Folly Road at Gonyon. Cross Route 360, staying on Route 646, whose name changes to Brickyard Road, which winds back to Route 360 to Reedville.
To reach Smith Point–the most eastern location within the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail network–and a private campground where you can take a cruise to Smith Island, take Route 802 off of Route 652 where you will see the Smith Point Light in the Potomac River. On the return, just outside of Reedville, take Fleeton Road/Route 657 to the end of the waterfront community of Fleeton.
Reedville includes several restaurants, bed and breakfasts and cottage rentals, an ice cream shop and the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. Overnight stays in Reedville provide the time to take a cruise to Tangier Island, to Smith Island, and to explore other bicycling loops on the Northern Neck. To reach Point Lookout on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, part of the Tidewater Potomac Bicycling Route, the Adventure Cycling Association suggests that you hire a private fishing boat to ferry you across: Captain Danny Crabbe of Crabbes Charter Fishing has been offering this service to cyclists for years, but you will need to make reservations.
This loop is estimated to take 2.5 hours. To view a map of this loop and others in the Northern Neck, visit the Northern Neck Heritage Bike Route Network. For more information on attractions and accommodations in Virginia’s Northern Neck, please visit http://www.northernneck.org/index.htm.
Beginning and ending in the historic town of Heathsville, this 32-mile bicycling loop explores a landscape shaped by water, forestry and farming. Begin your tour at Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern, which includes the Tavern Restaurant (call for lunch and dinner hours), a blacksmith shop, and craft guilds. Leaving Heathsville, take Route 634/Spring Road near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church past Clark Mill Pond to Coan Wharf Landing, a former steamboat landing for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Doubling back on Route 634, take Route 629 in Northumberland County to Route 637. For a short side trip, take Route 604 to Bush Mill Stream State Natural Area Preserve and stop for short walk on the forested trails. Complete the loop on Route 779 back to Heathsville.
Founded in 1648, Heathsville is the county seat of Northumberland County, named for native son John Heath who represented Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives. Near the Tavern, on Back Street, tour the historic jail and the Historical Society visitor center, and visit the several antique, thrift and gift shops.
The Heathsville loop will take approximately 2 hours, 45 minutes. Another site to visit in the area is Robert E. Lee’s childhood home, Stratford Hall. For more information on attractions and accommodations in Virginia’s Northern Neck, please visit http://www.northernneck.org/index.htm.
The Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum and Historic Park kayak launch is situated in a small protected lagoon that opens into the larger area of Piney Point Creek. (more…)
By day, enjoy one of the most scenic stretches of the C&O Canal on a leisurely ride from Four Locks Recreation Area to Williamsport and the C&O Canal National Park Service visitor center. Spend the night in a historic lockkeeper’s house, managed through a special partnership with the C&O Canal Trust.
Take a day ride or weekend getaway in St. Mary’s County, Md., from Leonardtown to the Piney Point Lighthouse and Chesapeake Bay Field Lab.
Explore this lovely Southern Maryland loop on two wheels as you begin your ride in Leonardtown, then pass through some hills to arrive on the Potomac River at the Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum. Here you can see the oldest lighthouse still standing along the Potomac River. (more…)
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 best days on the C&O Canal Towpath are ones that cover short distances, allowing you time to experience what’s along the way. The few stops and short mileage of this short trip add up to a wonderful day outside and immersed in history. (more…)