A nice alternative to a section of the C&O Canal trail
This trail parallels the C&O Canal towpath for almost it's whole length (in fact, you can see the towpath much of the time just on the other side of the canal). The first time I rode the C&O, I rode the towpath right past this trail because I didn't really know about it. The second time I rode the C&O, I used this trail to bypass about 20 miles of it, and it was a welcome relief, as I had been riding a heavily loaded road-touring bike on the somewhat rough towpath. Comparatively, the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail is super fast and smooth, and just as scenic for most of it's length. There is a several-mile-long section of the rail trail that runs right next to US Route 40, so it's a bit noisier than the towpath. Also, there are many places where it is easy to cross back and forth between the rail trail and the towpath, so you can ride the rail trail without having to bypass the camping areas along the towpath.
I highly recommend stopping at Weaver's Restaurant and Bakery in Hancock. They have good food and epic deserts.
We did this trail in 2 parts over this weekend. We started in Hancock, which is central on the trail, rode the western 1/2 on Saturday and the eastern 1/2 on Sunday. This is a really beautiful trail. It's flat, so be prepared to pedal non-stop the entire distance. It is all asphalt, meticulously maintained and clean. It runs parallel to the C&O Canal Historic Towpath and there are many points where you can transition from one to the other if you wish. You'll see historical remnants all along the way. It was uncrowded and everyone we encountered was courteous and friendly. We enjoyed it immensely.
The town of Hancock is all about this trail and the cyclists that come to ride it. As a waitress in one of the diners where we ate told me, sadly, "it's all we have left". Hancock is a lovely little town with great charm and nice people, but has seen an economic downturn in recent years, losing their industry and their apple orchards, so they are very happy to have the business that cyclists bring to the area, and treat them accordingly.
We stayed on Saturday night at the America's Best Value Inn. We were disappointed in a lot of respects. It was run down, not very clean, there were many things in the room that were broken, no blankets, and for what it was we felt it was very overpriced. The sign outside says "rooms starting at $45" but we paid $78 for a basic room with 1 bed. The only thing I will say to recommend it is that they are extremely friendly to cyclists and don't seem to bat an eye if you want to take your bikes into the room with you. As a matter of a fact, most of the occupants seemed to be cyclists from the towpath. The pulled in in droves around dinner time.
The Park and Dine is a nice place for breakfast, extremely reasonable and they filled all our water bottles with ice cold water.
We plan to go back again before the season is over and do it again, all of it in a day this time. Well worth the drive.
Wonderful Trail with Great Potential
For my wife and me, this is our favorite rail trail in Maryland. It will be spectacular if and when it it is extended westward another 14 miles to cross the Potomac River six times on high bridges and pass through three tunnels. At the end of Gov. Ehrlich's term, funding was authorized to extend the trail through the first tunnel to Little Orleans but that seems to have been postponed indefinitely. The WMRT has two main advantages over the parallel Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath: It is paved, not gravel and dirt, and it is located above the Potomac River floodline. However, rockfalls have been a persistent problem, particularly on the section west of Hancock. Tiny slivers of slate from the rock cuts can and do puncture tires, so beware. Incidentally, the trail description given above confuses east and west: The Round Top Cement Mill is WEST on Handock, while Little Pool and Big Pool are to the east.
Really nice trail
"I've been riding the Western Maryland trail over the years ever since they opened it, and I'd have to say this is one of the nicest trails in the area. The surface is paved, which makes it similar to the W&OD Trail in Virginia and also the Allegheny River Trail in Pennsylvania. The paved surface makes for easy riding especially for beginners, it also means that you can use rollerblades on the trail, and there's no messy limestone/crushed rock dust to clean off your bike and legs like on conventional rails to trails.
The trail is 22 miles long from it's Eastern trailhead near Big Pool down to it's Western end at Pearre. There are parking facilities at both trail ends as well as at the 10 mile mark in downtown Hancock, and there are portajohns at both ends of the trail. The trail runs parallel to the C&O canal, so it's easy to combine both trails into a ride if you want to ride a loop with 1/2 on the WMRT and 1/2 on the C&O. The easiest places to cross from one trail to the other are at the road crossing at about the 1 mile mark (C&O is just down the hill a few hundred yards to the South), at Little Pool, at Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct, in downtown Hancock, at Dam #6/Polly Pond, and at the trail's end in Pearre which ends right behind Lock 56 at mile 136.2 of the C&O Canal. The Westernmost trail end at Pearre is the most remote, and the easiest way to get to it is to take exit 77 off of Route 68, then follow Woodmont Road across the top of the ridge then down where it meets up with Pearre Road, turn right, then follow Pearre Road for about 2 miles until you see the trail parking lot on your left.
The WMRT is the busiest on weekend mornings and afternoons, but it never gets really busy or crowded. You just have to pay attention to other riders when approaching them, and make sure you give a warning when passing...either by using a bell or yelling out ""Passing on the left"". Since it's paved the trail attracts alot of weekend/casual riders who sometimes don't follow the trail rules of keeping to the right, and sometimes ride 2-3 abreast across the trail....a painted dotted line down the center of the trail like on the W&OD Trail would probably help with this. The least used times of the trail are on weekdays and weekday evenings.
The best time to see animals along the trail is in the early morning, or in the evening after 5-6PM. Sometimes in the evening the animals outnumber the trail users. I rode the 22 mile length of the trail on a Tuesday afternoon-evening 8/15/06, from around 3-7PM and saw more deer than bike riders. One deer at the 2 mile mark, 3 near the water at Polly Pond, and on the way back a garter snake and wild turkey near the 15 mile mark, one small doe near Mile 12/Locher Road, and four deer in the backyard of the white church about a mile West of Hancock. The most I've ever seen at one time was near the old abandonded houses near Mile 12, it was late in the evening and there must have been about 20-30 deer in the fields on both sides of the trail.
On the Eastern end of the trail at around the 1 mile mark you can cross from the trail down the road over to the C&O Canal and take the C&O East past Big Pool to Fort Frederick, a ride of about 2 miles. "