|Foot/rail bridge that carries the Fifty Trail/Appalachian Trail over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia|
Entering West Virginia at Newell, the Fifty Trail follows roads along the Ohio River south to Weirton where it picks up the Panhandle Trail, a Rails-to-Trails conversion that runs eastward into Pennsylvania and on toward Pittsburgh.
This segment then crosses the SW corner of Pennsylvania and a bit of the Maryland panhandle before returning to West Virginia. The route across PA and MD is all on non-motorized Rails-to-Trails paths with only two or three short gaps requiring road walking. The Panhandle Trail ends at the Montour Trail west of Pittsburgh, and the Fifty Trail then proceeds east on the Montour Trail around the south side of the city. A short connecting road walk links the Montour Trail with the Great Alleghany Passage at McKeesport.
The Great Alleghany Passage is a segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and the Fifty Trail follows the Potomac Heritage Trail all the way to Washington DC with one significant exception that allows some mountain footpath hiking on two of eastern West Virginia’s best hiking trails.
More on that in a moment. The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail/Great Alleghany Passage crosses into Maryland after passing through the 3294.6-foot-long Big Savage Tunnel (closed in winter), one of four tunnels along this route. Continuing to Frostburg and then Cumberland MD, the Great Alleghany Passage ends and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (and the Fifty Trail) join the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Tow Path at the western terminus of the developed portion of this trail.
The C&O Canal follows the Maryland side of the Potomac River to Washington DC, but at Hancock, MD the Fifty Trail picks up the route of the Tuscarora Trail as it turns south and crosses the Potomac River into West Virginia. The Tuscarora Trail was envisioned as a more remote rural reroute for the Appalachian Trail, which was threatened by development. Though the reroute never happened, the trail is in place and well maintained. It crosses eastern West Virginia on the ridge of Sleepy Creek Mountain and then cuts across a bit of Virginia, returns to West Virginia straddling the border then finally veers southeastward into Virginia. It ends at the Appalachian Trail at Matthews Arm Campground in Shenandoah National Park.
From there the Fifty Trail follows the Appalachian Trail northbound back into West Virginia to Harpers Ferry. Be sure to take the short side trip to visit the AT Headquarters/Visitor Center before leaving the state. The Fifty Trail and Appalachian Trail cross back into Maryland at Harpers Ferry and we rejoin the C&O Canal tow path.
MAPS and TRAIL GUIDES:
Tuscarora Trail: https://www.patc.net/PATC/Our_Store/Tuscarora_Trail.aspx
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail: https://www.nps.gov/pohe/index.htm
HEART OF THE TRAIL:
Tuscarora Trail, Hancock MD to Shenandoah National Park in VA. Details TBD