A peaceful trail you won’t forget … plus a ferry!

by Angela Meyers

This fall, we have the perfect plan for you to avoid the crowds and get some of the best views of the gorgeous fall leaves Virginia has to offer. You can enjoy a lovely nature walk, immerse yourself in some local history, and even ride a ferry! Our plan: escape to tranquil Whites Ferry.

Just a little past Leesburg, you’ll turn down a lovely tree-lined drive where you’ll find your first treat – glimpses of the river that offer luscious pictures of the fall foliage. The end of this road is the line for the ferry. As you embark on your boat ride, take note of the design. Whites Ferry is the last of what was once a fleet of over 100 cable ferries that crossed the Potomac at different locations. Enjoy not only the great view that the river provides (the reflection of the leaves on the water’s surface adds an extra dimension to the bold seasonal colors), but also the special connection to the past.

On the Maryland shore, you’ll get to explore the historical details of the ferry, as well as enhance your leaf-peeping with a little local knowledge. The Civil War trail passes through this area, and there are maps and exhibits explaining the place’s role in key battles of the Gettysburg and Antietam campaigns. Take some time to walk around the area near the small shop. You can grab a sandwich there, and if you like, enjoy a quick picnic along the water.


C&O Canal at Whites Ferry

C&O Canal at Whites Ferry Source

Now you are ready to Hit the Trail!

The C&O Canal Trail intersects the road just a tenth of a mile up the road from the shop. It starts at the old stone and metal bridge you can see from the water. The beauty of the trail is that either direction you choose, you will enjoy an amazingly calming experience. The tree canopy envelops you during your journey and offers not only a kaleidoscope of fall colors, but also a cooling shade on warmer days. When the sun peeks through, it amplifies the golds and oranges and reds. The tow path is level and flat. You’re likely to see deer, birds (including owls, woodpeckers and eagles), and other small wildlife. And you’ll experience serenity. The peacefulness of the path is unmatched in the DC area. There is remarkably little foot traffic. You’ll enjoy stretches where you will pass no one for 15 minutes, and if you are lucky, you may not see anyone for an hour! Only the occasional airplane will interfere with the melodious sounds of the forest. There is some bike traffic and a rare horse, so be aware, though it’s not excessive, even on busy weekends. The trail continues to be less busy the further you travel.

C&O Canal Trail Fall Foliage

Fall splendor along the C&O Canal Trail.

The entire trail is marked at each mile. White’s Ferry is at mile 35.5.
Consider planning so that you catch the spectacular sunset from the MD side before heading back across the ferry. The light makes the leaves glow and the river shimmer like gold.

North Route:

The northern route stays fairly close to the Potomac, enabling you to catch some gorgeous views. You’ll find a few narrow trails to the river’s edge for a cool down dip in the water.
You’ll reach Marble Quarry Campsite at mile 37.8, Lock 26 at mile 39.4, and Lock 27 at mile 30.9.

South Route:

During the first half mile you’ll steal a few glimpses of the Potomac, then the trail heads inland a bit. This segment is particularly dense with wildlife. You’ll reach Turtle Run Campsite at mile 34.5, Broad Run Trunk (aqueduct ruins) at mile 31.9, and Lock 27 (which features a historic, rustic lockhouse that you can rent by the night) at about mile 41.5.

Getting There:

Whites Ferry Crosssing C&O Canal

42478 Whites Ferry Rd
Leesburg, VA 20176
(This is the address provided online. Do not turn down the road to the house; instead, follow Rt 655 to the water.)
Open: Ferry Daily 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Trail: Dawn to Dusk

What To Bring
Be sure your dog has adequate tick protection and bring bug repellent. Bring water for you and your dog, poop bags, and towels for the after-hike/swim clean-up. (The campsites have port-a-johns and iodine-treated well water.)

Trail Specifics:

Distance: Choose your own distance, out and back.
Time: Depends on your distance
Fido-Friendly Features: Off-street parking, fun dog-safe trails, water access, trash containers at the ferry, shop with supplies, food and drinks.
Use: Hikers, Bikers, Horses, On-leash dogs.
Best Time to Go: Anytime.
Rated: 2 paws (very level and hard packed)
Map: https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/maps.htm

Map - C&O Canal Trail

Ferry Details:

http://www.poolesvillemd.gov/338/Whites-Ferry OR 301.349.5200
Operates daily, 5 a.m.-11p.m. Please check their website for updates. No schedule; runs continuously. Waits are typically no longer than 15 minutes, but at peak times including commuting hours, you may wait 30 minutes. Capacity is 22 cars. The ferry is dog-friendly, but it can get crowded, so just watch your pup.

FEES: Fess: $1 for pedestrians, each way. No fee for dogs, $5 cars one way, $8 round trip. Pay cash on the boat.

Plenty of parking on the MD side. On the VA side, room for only about 8-10 cars at two small pull-offs.

RESTROOMS & FACILITES: On the MD side only.


On the MD side rent canoes and jon boats for $15 per 2 hours. Check the season and times. Dogs are permitted on the boats.

Predicted peak fall foliage dates are predicted to be Oct 10-20. More accurate forecasts are continually posted on http://www.dof.virginia.gov/fall/.