September 29

Potomac Heritage Trail

Residents of Sterling, Virginia who are fans of nature are lucky to have the Potomac Heritage Trail running right through their back yards.  Established in 1983 as a National Scenic Trail, the PHT consists of over 700 miles of existing and planned sections, spanning several states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States.  

Running through Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington D.C., the PHT traces the outstanding cultural, historical and physical features of the upper Ohio River watershed, which runs through Western Maryland and Pennsylvania; the Potomac River corridor; and the Rappahannock River watershed, which is found in Virginia.  All this is managed by the National Parks Service.

What Makes the Potomac Heritage Unique?

Unlike the Appalachian Trail, which runs almost the entire length of the Eastern United States, the Potomac Heritage trail is a more general route with multiple side paths to explore.  Some of the paths run parallel to one another on either side of the Potomac River and are connected by various roads.

Also, the PHT intersects with the Appalachian just outside of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, making it possible for the most adventurous explorers to hike along parts of both scenic routes.  The PHT additionally connects with the American Discovery Trail along a portion of the C&O Canal Towpath running from Washington, D.C. to Oldtown, Maryland.

When the PHT originally became a National Scenic Trail in 1983, it consisted of three sections.  The longest was the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, which ran 184.5 miles along the D.C. and Maryland side of the Potomac from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown, Washington D.C.  There was also the 18 miles of the Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia and the 70 miles of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Pennsylvania.

These paths were a mix of different surfaces such as gravel, asphalt and natural surfaces which shows the wide variety of landscapes and cultures that make up the region.  This is unlike other National Scenic paths, which have a more homogenous quality to them.

PHT Association

The Potomac Heritage Trail Association is a membership-based organization dedicated to the interpretation, preservation, development and construction of the PHT.  The group works with local, state and federal officials and authorities to develop new sections along the Potomac Heritage National Scenic corridor. The group, along with other advocacy groups sponsor, work trips to maintain and construct natural surface portions of the trail.  These include the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, the Great Falls Trail Blazers, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Oxon Hill Bicycle Club among many others.

Guidebooks to the Potomac Heritage

There are also two guidebooks dedicated to mapping out the PHT for people wishing to try hiking different areas.  The Potomac Heritage Trail: A Hiker’s Guide exclusively deals with the PHT and all the pathways that it is comprised of while The C&O Companion guidebook has a section devoted to this specific portion of the PHT.

The Potomac Heritage Trail is just one of the many naturally beautiful paths that are part of the National Parks Service.  The PHT is perfect for lovers of nature who enjoy hiking regardless of their level of experience. Luckily for residents of Sterling, Virginia there is a trail just outside their doors waiting to be explored.

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