Where do visitors to Hagerstown & Washington County, MD, go for great hiking? Some of the most iconic points along the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail are located in Washington County. And with 5 national, 8 state and many local parks, there are endless opportunities for enjoying the beauty of the outdoors and connecting with nature. So grab your backpack, camera, trail map, plenty of water and your most comfortable hiking shoes for a great adventure on the trial!
Both the C&O Canal towpath and Antietam National Battlefield offer trails that are perfect for novice hikers. The towpath is predominantly flat with very gradual changes in elevation. More than 78 miles of the canal are in Washington County, providing a wide variety of landscapes and opportunities for exploration, from a mile or two to much larger sections of the towpath, depending on the distance you’d like to travel. Adjacent to the canal, just past milepost 112, Fort Frederick State Park has two easy hiking trails to enjoy flora and fauna as well as wildlife. Close to Fort Frederick is the southern terminus of the Western Maryland Rail Trail in Big Pool. It’s 28 miles of paved trail are also suitable for hiking, with beautiful views along the way. Its opposite terminus is in Hancock, MD, where the towpath can be resumed. Hancock, MD was recently designated as Maryland’s Trail Town, by Governor Hogan in recognition of its 12+ trail heads parks. Take a side visit off of the towpath into Hancock for lunch at Weaver’s Restaurant, or Buddy Lou’s, or grab a pie at the Blue Goose.
Antietam Battlefield has ten hiking trails and miles of park roads that can be hiked. The trails range in length from a quarter of a mile to 1.8 miles in length, consist of varying terrain, and can be pieced together to create longer hikes. If you’re a history buff or enjoy learning more about the Civil War, be sure to check out the battlefield’s calendar of events. They offer ranger-led hikes throughout the year, especially each September, when the park commemorates the anniversary of the battle.
If you’re looking for more moderate to difficult hikes in Washington County, there are many beautiful section hikes and miles of connector trails along the Appalachian Trail. You’ll find scenic overlooks with sweeping views at Weverton Cliffs, White Rock, Washington Monument State Park, Annapolis Rock, Black Rock Cliffs, High Rock and Pen Mar. With 41 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, you can plan a hike that lasts a few hours or a few days. The trail is rocky in sections and includes several challenging climbs that will surely get your heart pumping. South Mountain Recreation Area often offers ranger-led section hikes of the Appalachian Trail. Contact the office at Greenbrier State Park for more information. And speaking of Greenbrier, the state park has its own system of trails, some that are easy, like the Green Trail near the visitor center, while others are much more challenging, like the Big Red Trail.
The Maryland Heights Loop is one of the most popular trails at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and, as the name implies, is actually located in Maryland but offers a beautiful and iconic view of the historic town of Harpers Ferry, the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and the C&O Canal towpath. The trail varies in length from approximately 4.5 to 6.5 miles, depending upon your starting point and parking availability. It’s a heavily trafficked trail with steep and rocky sections that intersects with the challenging Stone Fort Trail, showing the position of Civil War artillery batteries.
Hiking is a wonderful way to explore and appreciate the beautiful scenic landscapes throughout the year in Washington County. Know your route before you begin (cell phone coverage is not always available), be prepared for the hiking conditions, temperature and terrain, make sure you’re aware of potential wildlife encounters, and practice Leave No Trace principles when on the trail.
Written by Charissa Beeler Hipp for Visit Hagerstown CVB
Cover photo: The Potomac River & CO Canal, photo by Maggie Clingan