Back on the bikes – the beautiful Rail Trail in Hancock, MD

For several months we’ve been hauling our bikes around, waiting for decent weather and a nice trail to hit.  Our next stop was going to be a catch-up, a do-nothing-for-a-couple-of-days stop, but instead it became a let’s-ride-the-bikes stop.  When we learned about the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT), Steve immediately took down the bikes and we got ready for a great ride.  But before continuing on that story let me show you first what we saw on our way into Maryland.  We were cruising along I-68 and look what we saw far ahead in the mountain.  It is considered one of the best rock exposures in Maryland.

Sideling Hill
Sideling Hill

As we approached it, we noticed that this was no ordinary road cut over a mountain, but a huge excavation called Sideling HIll.  Almost 810 feet of strata are exposed in this cut, and as Betsy labored up the mountain I observed various exposed sedimentary rock types and structural features which might interest geologists.  We have seen a mountain cut similar to Sideling Hill in the Canadian Yukon territory, but it was not as interesting as these exposed layers.

Sideling Hill
Sideling Hill

Going back to the excitement of being able to ride our bikes – no sooner did I hop on when I noticed that something was very wrong with my bike, the cogs were not locking when I pedaled.  That could have been the end of our ride, but fortunately the C&O Bicycle store is located right at the trailhead!  We went in and found our savior for the day, Jonathan, who figured out the problem and replaced the part in 20 minutes!  I think we need to use our bikes more often, and take a little better care of them.

Western Maryland Rail and Trail
Western Maryland Rail Trail

The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) is a 20+ mile trail that follows the bends and curves of both the historic C&O Canal and the Potomac River.  The C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal is an old towpath used to transport freight from Georgetown to Cumberland, and it runs 184.5 miles along the Potomac River.

C&O Canal
Riding along the C&O Canal towpath

The town of Hancock is at the center of the WMRT trail, so one can start there to head east for 10 miles or west for 10 miles.  The folks at C&O Bicycle recommended that we ride the western half of the trail  from Hancock to Lock 56 taking the C&O towpath going out, and the parallel WMRT on the way back.  This route has excellent scenery and is away from road noise.  Although the towpath became a battleground  during the Civil War where the Potomac River and the canal were frequently crossed by troops from both sides, we did not see any signs or remnants between Milemarkers 124.1 and Milemarker 134.2.  We did see remains of Locks 53, 55 and 56 of the canal, and the ruins of the old Round Top Cement Works where  the remains of eight kilns once used to burn lime to ash existed.

From Lock 55 where Steve stood with a wide grin,

C&O Canal Lock 55
C&O Canal Lock 55

we continued another 2.5 miles to the western terminus of the WMRT at Pearre (PARE-ree) Station.  Nearby is the historic 1930’s stone Woodmont Lodge, which served as a private premier rod and gun club and is now operated by Fort Frederick State Park and Maryland’s Wildlife & Heritage Service.  This is where we turned around and picked up the WMRT to head back.

The ride back was easier on the asphalt paved path of the WRMT, but by this time my GPS showed 12.5 miles and we were getting tired and were only half way through.  The humidity was taking its toll on us.

Western Maryland Rail Trail

Western Maryland Rail Trail

We trudged on and along the way saw plaques describing the apple industry that thrived in the area a century ago and is now just a memory.  Blooming flowers and some critters were also on hand to greet us.


To our surprise, we saw a sign after about 19 miles that pointed to the Happy Hills Campground about a mile off the path, our current home base!  I did not hesitate to quit and call it a day. My GPS showed 19.1 miles, my legs felt like wet noodles, and we were almost out of water.  Steve continued the last 5 miles to get the car while I headed off through the woods back home.

My stats, 20.15 miles in 4.07 hrs and 1752 Cal burnt (although Steve says the cal count is incorrect)

The WMRT and C&O Canal can easily be one of our top bike rides this year, but we’d like to ride the eastern section as well – maybe next time!

At this stop we parked at Happy Hills Campground at Hancock, MD and although there were quite a few “perms”, this place was nice and quiet!   You can see Steve’s campground  review here.  Access to the WMRT a mile away from the park is very convenient for walking or riding.  And if you don’t have bikes, remember you can always rent one for the day from the good folks at C&O Bicycles!




  1. The C&O Canel is a great bike ride. Riding in the Georgetown area is really neat. There’s also a fabulous bike trail in DC, runs from Mt Vernon to DC. We have spent many hours riding in all these areas with our children. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Nice path … we’ve done the C&O canal tow path on foot where it runs through Great Falls National Park and Washington DC; also the short boat ride for a different perspective of the canal. If you have time, do stop and check out Great Falls … either from VA or MD.

    Sideling Hill is pretty fantastic, isn’t it? Don’t recall which trip we were returning from, but we stopped at the parking area across from it. Thinking we would check out the visitor center, we crossed over via the bridge, but it was closed. I braved the 95F heat for a closer look from a short trail, while Mui returned to the coach to fix lunch.

    Don’t have any thoughts for Toronto, but I’ll be following along as we will have at least a few days there next fall.

    For Niagara Falls I highly recommend you view the falls from both the US and Canada. We stayed at a hotel on the Canada side and walked across the bridge to the US and back … don’t forget to take your passports with you. On the Canadian side, there are a lot of places to visit outside the immediate falls area. We especially enjoyed the Welland Canal (think mini Panama Canal) at/near Niagara on the Lake.

    Of the experiences at Niagara Falls, one of the tours that take you down to the falls level is fun … but prepared to get wet, and make sure you really protect your camera (and I don’t mean just hiding it under the poncho they give you). We did the Maid of the Mist boat trip, but I’d skip it — you can barely see anything … you can’t even look up because of the amount of water pouring down on you. A nighttime stroll to see the lights is fun. And if I recollect correctly, there is a lovely topiary garden on the Canada side if I recall correctly.

    Check out the June archives for this blog … they were just in Niagara Falls this year.

  3. What a great bike trail. And a great workout! Love the picture of the fawn!
    We only saw Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. It was just beautiful. Can’t wait to bear about Toronto!

  4. Such a wealth of history in the eastern part of the country and a beautiful place for a bike ride. What a gorgeous photo of the fawn. Hopefully the rangers were able to help the little fella.

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