Potomac Heritage
National Scenic Trail
District of Columbia-Maryland-Pennsylvania-Virginia
Park Photo
NPS photo

Linking the Potomac and upper Ohio river basins from Chesapeake Bay and Potomac tidewater to the Allegheny Highlands, this national scenic trail network lets you retrace—by foot, bicycle, horse, or boat—the corridor George Washington explored as essential to U.S. national development.

Linking People and Places

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail both encompasses and transcends the Potomac River. By varied modern means it lets you explore the landscapes and footsteps of George Washington and his prescient vision for western expansion in the 1700s. He could see that Pittsburgh was closer to Georgetown (and the future Washington, D.C.) than to Philadelphia. Washington's dream birthed the region's booming 1800s industry and commerce.

The region brims with tales about George Washington. From his Mount Vernon estate on the river, Washington recognized the Potomac's potential as a commercial artery between the Atlantic and "the Ohio countrie," a site for a major federal armory, and a capital city of the fledgling United States. The city would bear his name, and the Potomac become the nation's river.

George Washington's Patowmack Canal proved short-lived, but his foresight gave rise to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal that borders the river between Washington, D.C, and Cumberland, Md. Decades after the C&O's demise, the canalway would be preserved, thanks to Justice William O. Douglas and many other visionary conservationists, to become a national historical park.

Associations with this history are many today, and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, designated by Congress in 1983, has become an expanding network of trails in a corridor that blends the heritage of the past with the needs of future generations. The corridor encompasses the Nation's Capital and landscapes that vary from tidewater marshlands and rolling foothills of the Piedmont to mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies.

park map
(click for larger map)

The story today is one of people and organizations—in practice, planning, and partnerships—who seek to rediscover rivers and trails as windows onto the region's history, culture, and ecology. With modern tools like land trusts, community-based river corridor conservation, the Clean Water Act, and redevelopment of formerly polluted brownfields, they are imagining and building a new kind of conservation.

Enjoying the Trail Corridor's Mix of Natural and Cultural History

Opportunities abound to explore historic sites and museums and Civil War fortifications and battlefields. Frederick Gutheim, the biographer of the Potomac River, has written that you can discover the Potomac's lineage as a "fishery, granary, harbor, route, homesite, plantation, hunting ground, mine, power source, factory, swamp, and pleasure ground."

From hiking, biking, or horseback riding to canoeing, kayaking, or fishing, the Trail embraces manifold recreation opportunities and natural areas. See pileated woodpeckers, beavers, Virginia bluebells, and other birds, small mammals, and wildflowers. Or just relax and enjoy serene moments basking in the solitude beneath a majestic oak, maple, or sycamore.

Building Partnerships for Conservation and Recreation

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is part vision and part reality. Under the National Trails System Act, the Secretary of the Interior may designate trails between the Potomac River mouth and the Allegheny Highlands (except in West Virginia) as Trail segments, based on applications by local or state agencies. As of early 2009, over 800 miles of trails exist or are planned in the Trail network.

In addition to efforts to improve the health of the Potomac and other rivers in the Trail corridor, many communities are pursuing conservation and economic development goals to preserve historic landscapes and open space, to restore riverscapes, and to maintain local sources of food. At the same time, they create great opportunities for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, boating, and crosscountry skiing. The braided Trail network not only connects communities and special places but will link present and future generations to the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Potomac and upper Ohio river basins.

Safety Watch children near stream banks, cliffs, and automobile traffic. Beware of poisonous snakes and spiders and know how to identify and avoid poison ivy and poison oak. Observe the posted regulations and always wear life vests (PFDs) when on the water. Your safety is your responsibility.

Experience the Corridor of Commerce First Imagined by George Washington

A Growing Network of Trails and Waterways

Over a relatively short distance the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail embraces five distinct geographies, from "A Coastal Plain to Allegheny Plateau. This land-and-water network of trails connects you to America's history and continuing evolution: As urban areas expand, many communities are conserving lands for recreation and preserving their natural systems. For local information visit www.nps.gov/pohe and click on "Plan Your Visit."

Source: NPS Brochure (2009)


Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail — Mar. 28, 1983

For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


A Development and Management Plan For The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail In Virginia (Doug Pickford and Don Briggs, February 2006)

Common Interpretive Strategy for the Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, Charles and St. Mary's Counties, Maryland (Heritage Strategies, October 2014)

Corridor Analysis For The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail In Northern Virginia (The Northern Virginia Regional Commission, June 2011)

Foundation Document, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, District of Columbia/Maryland/Pennsylvania/Virginia (October 2014)

Foundation Document Overview, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, District of Columbia/Maryland/Pennsylvania/Virginia (October 2014)

Georgetown Pike Footpath Feasibility Study (Kimley Horn, November 2019)

Interpretive Concept Plan, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (September 2004)

Route Marking & Graphic Identity Guide: Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (2015)

Handbooks ◆ Books expand section


Last Updated: 11-Feb-2022