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

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WMRT Trail

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!

Although this post covers events prior to our Gettysburg visit, I posted it afterward to stay in the spirit of July 4th.

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Niagra Falls, NY

Toronto, Canada


Blackwater Beauty – Davis, WV

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Blackwater Falls

Steve saw an article in Motorhome magazine about a picturesque falls nestled high in the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia and he was excited to see it.  The campground at Blackwater Falls State Park, located in Davis, WV could not accommodate Betsy – she is a little too big.  We found the nearest available RV park in Moorefield, WV called Riverside Cabins and RV Campground,  a spacious park by the river with a separate lot area designated for transients like us.  Getting into the campground was not a walk in the park, however. Click here if you want to see Steve’s review.

Riverside Cabins RV Park

Riverside is nice – once you get in!

Blackwater Falls is about 57 miles from where we were parked, so we set aside a day to see for ourselves if it lived up to its billing.  Well, it did!  For one thing, it has its own distinctive characteristics.  The name Blackwater comes from the dark reddish-brown appearance of its water, which has a color sort of like tea.

Blackwater Falls

Note the tea-colored water

The river is fringed by red spruce and eastern hemlock, and the tannic acids from their needles and branches leach into the streams after falling to the ground and receiving a pelting of rain and snow.  The waters plunge 57 ft over Blackwater Falls and then flow through an 8-mile long gorge within the Alleghenies.

Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls

Access to Blackwater Falls is thru a 214  steps boardwalk that follows the natural contours of the waterfall.

Boardwalk to Blackwater waterfalls.

Though Blackwater Falls is the centerpiece of this park, there are two other waterfalls – Elakala Falls and Pendleton Falls – that we came across during our 8+ miles of hiking.  We enjoyed hiking in this neck of the woods because despite the humidity, the trails are shaded and it stays fairly cool under all the lush greenery.  Several trails intersected and we got a good workout following seven of the many trails.  And once again the rain did not fail to drench us just as we were heading back to our car!

The article mentioned one more hike with a view at the end that we wanted to see – Lindy Point.  It showcases stunning mountain views and a large section of Blackwater Canyon.

Lindy Point Outlook

Lindy Point overlook

Steve also likes riding on trains (although we don’t like the noise they make passing by our RV parks).  We hopped on a vintage passenger train, the historic Potomac Eagle, which rolls through a scenic section of West Virginia and is considered one of America’s most beautiful train rides.

For three hours we enjoyed a narrated excursion through a tranquil and pristine mountain valley, historic farms and lush mountain greenery.  Around every curve we were rewarded with the blooming wildflowers, evergreens, and mixed hardwoods in this unspoiled countryside environment.  Bald eagles were soaring above as we enjoyed a yummy lunch and then sat outside in an open car for a portion of the trip.

Mountain Greenery, Potomac Eagle

View from train

The train briefly stopped at “The Trough”, a spectacular narrow mountain valley.  Below us ran the South Branch of the Potomac River, where the water was so clear that we could see fish as they lie resting in the shade.

The Trough, south Potomac River

The Trough

We saw a young eagle perched high up on a tree, and according to our guide the area is the eastern home of the American Bald Eagle.  Our lunch consisted of “comfort food” and was very filling.  We felt the trip was a bit pricey for 3 hours but we really enjoyed it.

Bald Eagle

Young Bald Eagle – no white on his head yet

These wildflowers brought color to the lush and green background scenery.

Next Up:  Finally – a great biking trail, in Maryland.