It’s time to provide another Public Service Announcement. These are Twelve Mile Circle articles that answer burning questions from one-time visitors in the general public that may not appeal to the regular audience. I’ll talk about maps, transportation and a little history that may interest a localized geography of readers. Feel free to continue reading and discover whether you might derive some residual benefit, or skip this one and come back in a couple of days. You won’t hurt my feelings either way.
A day hardly goes by without one or two search engine queries landing on 12MC with the phrase, "ferry from Maryland to Virginia." I’m not sure if there is a question behind the question. Sure, it’s easy enough to accept literally. Simply, does a ferry operate between Maryland and Virginia? Yes. That’s an incomplete answer, though. That query can be interpreted different ways and that influences the details.
What are they really asking?
- Perhaps they are trying to find a way to avoid frequent traffic backups on the Route 50 Chesapeake Bay Bridge that have long been a regular feature of weekend trips to Maryland and Delaware beach towns.
- Perhaps they are of a certain age with distant, hazy memories of the great ferries that once crossed the Bay in the days before the bridges arrived, and they are interested in history.
- Perhaps they are searching for a pleasant scenic drive and romantic getaway to Virginia’s wine country.
- Perhaps they are seeking a new commuting pattern to deal with the dearth of Potomac River bridges west of Washington, DC.
There are two ways and two places to cross between Maryland and Virginia by ferry that I know about. I’m not aware of any others so please let me know if they exist.
Chesapeake Bay Route
Remember, the question mentions Maryland AND Virginia. There are also ways to cross the Chesapeake Bay by ferry from Virginia to Virgina (including by freight train!) and Maryland to Maryland. I had to keep reminding myself of that as I sought a solution so I could discard those possibilities.
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(A) Crisfield; (B) Tangier Island; (C) Reedville
First, the bad news: no vehicle ferries cross between Maryland and Virginia over the Chesapeake Bay. I talked all about that in Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries so there isn’t any reason to rehash the explanation and the story. That’s probably good enough for the history buffs. It also provides an answer for the weekend beachcombers, albeit not the one they probably wanted to hear.
I did allude to a technical solution for adventurers and geo-oddity enthusiasts in that earlier article. It is possible to take a passenger-only ferry from Crisfield on Maryland’s eastern shore to Tangier Island, Virginia. "Weekend Roady" just completed that leg on the passenger ferry Steven Thomas and proved the solution true.
For those who believe that heading solely to an island without continuing to the mainland is cheating, one can then hop aboard another passenger-only ferry, the Chesapeake Breeze, and continue onward to Virginia’s western shore via Reedville. Thus, one can start at Crisfield, transit at Tangier Island, and continue to Reedville. One crosses the entire Chesapeake Bay and travels by ferry from Maryland to Virginia. One has to deal with a lack of transportation on the other end, however, so that’s a puzzle I’ll leave behind for others to resolve.
I’ve crossed on the Chesapeake Breeze (my page) and I’ve been to Tangier Island (also my page) and I’d recommend both. One should experience this unique culture in person before it’s eventually subsumed within a broader swath of Americana.
Potomac River Route
Numerous ferries once crossed the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Bridges have long since replaced all but a single one: White’s Ferry, about 35 miles upriver from Washington, DC.
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This anachronism continues to exists solely because of fierce opposition to additional Potomac River bridges west of Washington, and concerns that new crossings would expose agricultural areas to rampant development. This is a sensitive issues and I won’t take sides or make value judgements. We all select our tradeoffs in life and it’s not my place to question others’ choices. I will simply note for the record that no river crossing exists between the western edge of the Beltway (the former Cabin John Bridge) and the Route 15 bridge at Point-of-Rocks, Maryland, a distance of greater than forty miles; except for White’s Ferry.
Please excuse my lame video of White’s Ferry. I posted this awhile ago before I started tracking ferries with much greater zeal. At least it’s blessedly short. I’ll return someday with more patience and a better camera to do it justice. I also have a page about the Ferry elsewhere on the site with considerably more detail for those who have an affinity for such things.
Nonetheless, notice the ferry’s various characteristics. Right away one is struck by its throwback appearance and its diminutive size. That’s why it’s often included on the weekend itinerary of people who wish to "get away from the city" for a couple of days. The ferry delivers passengers to a bucolic setting near several vineyards, and it’s all very nice and quaint and makes a lot of people happy.
It also serves as a commuter ferry, believe it or not. Some people living in Leesburg take White’s Ferry as a means to shortcut and avoid crowded river-crossing bottlenecks closer to the city. It has obvious limitations. Traffic throughput isn’t great and the schedule can be altered by the whims of nature including droughts, floods and ice. However even considering the possible inconvenience, absolutely, one can take an automobile ferry from Maryland to Virginia at this location. Often it beats the better-known alternatives.
Thus ends the 12MC public service announcement. Hopefully all questions, literal or hidden, have been resolved.