Editor's note: Supporting a national park friends group not only provides funding that can be put to use in your favorite park, but also provides you with regular updates on that park from the friends group. Some of those updates include tips on how to enjoy the park. The following article about the Gold Mine Trail at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park stemmed from an e-letter from the C&O Canal Trust.
Gold deposits, many of us assume, are found in the Rocky Mountains or Sierra Range, not along the Eastern Seaboard. But there was a time when gold fever reigned along the Chesapeake and Ohio towpath.
It was sparked during the Civil War, when a Union soldier stationed along the Maryland side of the Potomac River near Great Falls noticed a glint of gold in a creek. After the war he returned to the area, bought some farm land, and started mining for gold in Montgomery County, according to historians at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Eventually, 30 small mines were opened. One of the largest was the Maryland Mine.
Today, there is a different type of gold found in the Great Falls area around the old Maryland Mine. A loop trail starting at the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center at milepost 14 along the canal will lead you up past the mine ruins. The trail, not surprisingly, is appropriately named the Gold Mine Trail.
This trail is a three-mile loop that usually takes about an hour to complete. It truly is a trail for all seasons, park rangers note.
"Its towering trees will protect you from the harsh sun in August, provide shelter from spring rains, and give you a glorious show of autumn color in the fall," they note. "During the winter snows, look for footprints of the many woodland creatures that call the Gold Mine Trail home."
Stay alert on your hike and you might see some of the Pileated woodpeckers that call the forest home, or deer and fox.
If you're looking for a longer hike, try one of the spur trails that run off of the Gold Mine Trail. Several different trails connect the Gold Mine Trail to the Anglers section of the park. The Overlook Trail, meanwhile, leads you up onto a ridge that offers great views of the Potomac River.
Although the gold mines have long since closed, there is still plenty of evidence of the operation just off the Gold Mine trail. A wayside exhibit along the trail will explain the mines and the mining process for you.