Ride the Indian Head Rail Trail

Indian Head Rail Trail

I last rode the Indian Head Rail Trail (IHRT) a few years ago. With our new ebikes, the trail is doable again for us, as an out and back. Popular for a reason: the railtrail passes through some gorgeous scenery — wetlands and farm pastures — as it connects White Plains to Indian Head. The IHRT is just 18 miles south of Washington DC and just over an hour away from Baltimore.

The Department of the Interior’s Federal Lands to Parks Program generously gave the abandoned rail corridor to be developed into a railtrail. Originally built in 1918 to carry supplies for the Navy’s Indian Head Powder Factory, the Indian Head White Plains Railroad operated until the 1960s. For more history of the rail road and how the trail came into being, check out MidAtlanticDayTrips’ 2014 ride along the trail.

Popular Rail Trail for a Reason

Runners, cyclists and even nature enthusiasts seem to love the Indian Head Rail Trail. In fact, the morning we rode it, numerous runners participating in a 5k ran the railtrail. Along the way, you’ll find numerous benches, covered picnic tables and information signs talking about the flora and fauna and history of the Mattawoman Creek valley.

This is a trail for nature enthusiasts. I noticed two deer and a huge tom turkey on our ride. During a stop to photograph some wild flowers, we heard the lovely “hoo hoo de hoo” of an owl. During a previous ride we’d seen eagles and osprey. Beavers have left plenty of evidence of their inhabitation of the wetlands areas. Turtles sunned themselves in the ponds surrounding the trail. Butterflies flit between the wildflowers along the path.

Sadly, Indian Head isn’t really a thriving town any longer, although it did well through the World War II and until the late 1960s. But then St. Charles was constructed, just south of Waldorf. St. Charles is a giant, planned community with lots of retail and big-box store chains. That just killed the smaller communities in Charles County like Indian Head. Today, Indian Head is rich in history but is lacking many basic retail and service businesses.

About the Name

Does the name Indian Head bother you? It bothered me. It wasn’t too long ago that the Washington Football Club announced its new name of the Washington Commanders. Before the football organization became the Washington Football Club, its name was a pejorative phrase referring to Native Americans. I imagined the worst in the origin of the name, although it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

The peninsula where the town is located is a “head” of land overlooking the Potomac River, long occupied by various cultures of indigenous peoples. The historic Algonquian-speaking Native American tribe called themselves the Mattawoman (likely a band of the Piscataway encountered by the first English invaders). The latter referred to the region as Indian Head, or Indian Headlands, meaning Indian Peninsula. The name stuck and was first documented in the Census of 1800. The beautiful waterway the trail parallels is Mattawoman Creek.

Regardless of the origin of the name, the descendants of the folks the European invaders were referring to don’t like it. The indigenous Piscataway Conoy Tribe <edited Sept 10 2022> consider the town’s name offensive and have petitioned to have it changed.

Know Before You Go

The Indian Head Rail Trail is paved and wheel chair accessible. There are a few porta-potties at different points along the way and bathroom access at the Theodore Green parking area. The trail is almost completely unshaded, so sunscreen in the warmer months is recommended.

Getting there: 100 Walter Thomas Road, Indian Head, MD or 10390 Theodore Green Blvd, White Plains, MD. You won’t find any parking at the Mattingly Avenue trailhead in Indian Head, so instead park across State Route 210 at either the Village Green Town Park or Charlie Wright Park (101 Doctor Mitchell Lane). You can find other parking for the IHRT off Bensville Road/SR 229 south of Bensville and on Turkey Hill Road north of Marshall Corner Road.
Hours: Daylight
Website: Indian Head Railtrail Map

Looking for more about railtrails in the mid-Atlantic region? Check out these articles about railtrails.

5 Replies to “Ride the Indian Head Rail Trail”

  1. Please correct the name of our Maryland State Recognized Tribe. We are the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, not Piscataway Conoy Tribe of Maryland.

    Furthermore, at time did our people have a bird’s eye view of the land and say, the land looks like an Indian’s Head, let’s call it that. Our people’s heads were removed as a tactic of warfare and the heads were placed on stakes alongside the road (trail) at the time. You can not replace Indian Head with any other race of people before Highway, in which this would be okay. It’s not okay and needs to be changed (not designated). IMMEDIATELY!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’ve fixed the name of your tribe and apologize for first writing it incorrectly. I agree with and support your assertion that the name of the town and rail trail should be changed.

  2. Hello, I found your website while researching a trip to the Hudson Valley, specifically upon seeing your description of the Olana mansion. Upon reading your description “I love exploring the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, finding the best, most interesting and fun daytrip destinations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington DC, Delaware, West Virginia, New Jersey and New York.”, it occurs to me that you may be the author of the “Jaunts with Jody” articles, from where I used to work (and retired from in December). If so, what a happy coincidence and small world. Thank you for your travelogues!

    1. Greetings! Jaunts with Jody is one and the same as MidAtlantic DayTrips! 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve found MidAtlantic DayTrips and are planning a retirement filled with daytrips!

  3. Hi, Jody, Erica here again. Just saw your C&O canal/Williamsport post. I grew up there. Harvey Brant was my great-uncle Harve- my grandfather’s uncle. Like some families, different family members spelled their last name differently. Uncle Harve spelled his name Brant, but his brother Charles and Charles’ family, including my grandfather Pete, spelled it Brandt. Many/most men in Williamsport went by nicknames. My grandfather’s true name was Harold Edgar Brandt, but only his mother and grandmother called him Harold.

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