A Hike at Point of Rocks

Point of Rocks Travel Blog

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Point of Rocks station (1875)

Another beautful late summer Sunday called for an afternoon of picture taking. I decided I would go to Point of Rocks, Maryland. The most picturesque railway station I can think of anywhere stands here. I have film photos of it from earlier years, but I decided I would get digital photos of it today. Plus, there would be opportunity for an afternoon hike along the C&O Canal. So, I headed off along the Fairfax County Parkway from Springfield north to Reston. From there I picked up the Dulles Toll Road and then the Dulles Greenway to Leesburg in Loudon County. US Highway 15 runs from this point through northern Loudon to the Potomac River and the Maryland state line.

Point of Rocks is named for the rock cliff formation jutting above the Potomac River at this point.

Point of Rocks
Construction of a canal, a railway line, and a highway through this point in the Catoctin Mountains has led to the presence of several interesting engineering works in the vicinity.

An eight span highway bridge carries US 15 across the Potomac from Virginia into Maryland. At the foot of the bridge is the community of Point of Rocks. A right turn brought me into the parking lot of the Point of Rocks railway station. The striking station, completed in 1875 and designed by archtiect E. Francis Baldwin, can't be missed. The Gothic style of the building, with a high steeple, looks something like a church. It's set in the middle of the junction of two railway lines, one leading to Baltimore and the other to Washington, DC.

Point of Rocks station
The junction point was once part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, but the station is still active today as a stop for commuter trains going to Washington. Point of Rocks station is said to be one of the most photographed in the USA and it's easy to see why. I spent some time here taking photos, and while I was there other visitors came and went.

Another goal of my afternoon visit to Point of Rocks was to hike for a ways along the C&O Canal towpath. The C&O Canal was constructed in the early 19th century as a means to link Washington with the Cumberland Gap and the route to the Ohio River. The canal remained in commercial operation until the 1920s and is preseved today as the C&O Canal National Historical Park. It is possible to hike or bike the entire length of the former canal beginning in Georgetown in Washington, DC.

Station sign
I was planning to hike a very brief portion this afternoon. After leaving the station, I picked up a ham and swiss sandwich for lunch at Kerrigan's Deli across the road. Mr. Kerrigan himself made it. I imagine he does a good business from daily train commuters, not to mention canal hikers and bikers.

I drove over the tracks and parked at the parking lot for the trail. Then, I set out along the towpath. The towpath was originally used by mules to pull the canal boats. It's well maintained by the Park Service and is easy hike upon. Little evidence of the canal itself remains. Trees have grown up in the canal bed and only a few sections have water. What has been preserved are the locks and lockhouses (houses where the lock keepers and their families lived).

Victorian Gothic at Point of Rocks
I came upon Lock 28 a short distance north of Point of Rocks. Historical makers tell of the family that lived here and operated the lock to lift and lower the canal boats. The stonework is very picturesque, and hiking along the towpath, one wants to see as many of the lock and aqueduct structures as one can. (I've hiked other portions of the canal in the past and have seen other preserved structures.)

Many people were out this afternoon--hiking, biking, jogging, and bird-watching. One group of scouts passed me, returning from a bike trip from Brunswick, Maryland, down to the Monocacy Aqueduct and back--about a 20 mile (32 km) round trip. The Catoctin Ridge rocks escapments from which Point of Rocks takes its name are visible from the towpath.

Masonic lodge
(They really can't be seen from the town.) In between the canal and the rock cliff runs the railway line from Point of Rocks around the rocks to Brunswick and Harper's Ferry. The C&O Canal company and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad battled for years during the 19th century over the right of way through the narrow strip of land between the rocks and the Potomac River and over which mode of transportation would prevail. Further along the towpath, the portal of Catoctin Tunnel, constructed by the railway in 1868 as a means of going through the ridge rather than around it, can be seen.

Eventually, I reached Lock 29 at Lander. The lock and lockhouse here are larger than at Lock 28 and historical markers tell its story.  I had hoped to travel as far as Catoctin Aqueduct this afternoon, about 0.7 miles further along the trail. But, time was pressing and I turned back at Lander. Returning to Point of Rocks, I had traveled about 5.2 miles (8.5 km). It was a very pleasant afternoon spent along the forested trail with historical reminders popping up at frequent intervals. At some point, I want to revisit and see both the Catoctin and Monocacy stone aqueducts.

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Point of Rocks station (1875)
Point of Rocks station (1875)
Point of Rocks
Point of Rocks
Point of Rocks station
Point of Rocks station
Station sign
Station sign
Victorian Gothic at Point of Rocks
Victorian Gothic at Point of Rocks
Masonic lodge
Masonic lodge
Kerrigans Deli
Kerrigan's Deli
Highway 15 bridge (1937)
Highway 15 bridge (1937)
C&O Canal park sign
C&O Canal park sign
The rocks at Point of Rocks
The rocks at Point of Rocks
Rock escarpment at Point of Pocks
Rock escarpment at Point of Pocks
US Highway 15 bridge
US Highway 15 bridge
Lock 28
Lock 28
Lockhouse at Lock 28
Lockhouse at Lock 28
C&O Canal towpath trail. Remains o…
C&O Canal towpath trail. Remains …
Catoctin Tunnel portal
Catoctin Tunnel portal
Water pump
Water pump
Potomac River near Lander
Potomac River near Lander
Lock 29
Lock 29
Lockhouse at Lock 29
Lockhouse at Lock 29
Lock 29
Lock 29
Point of Rocks
photo by: Andy99