CandO Canal National Historic Park

Georgetown, Virginia 22160

CandO Canal National Historic Park

C&O Canal National Historic Park Professional Review and Guide

"This ride's general location is between Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Maryland, along the Potomac River. Scenery includes splendid views of the wide Potomac River, forests, and mountains. Great Falls is one of the most dramatic outdoor scenes east of the Rockies. The C&O Canal Towpath is one of the nation's most historic-and spectacularly scenic-cycling trails. The 12-foot-wide path follows what remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Exploring the towpath by mountain bike is a perfect way to enjoy the park. Two companions are always with you-the wide Potomac River on one side and the canal on the other. In the summer you can take rides on mule-powered barges-just like when the canal was in its heyday 150 years ago. While the path is nearly flat, a wide range of surfaces-packed gravel, sand, wooded boards, and sections of dirt littered with rocks and tree roots-greet riders. Flat? Yes; always smooth? No. There is great scenery that greets you at nearly every subtle bend in the trail. Forested islands in the Potomac, rock cliffs rising over the canal, glimpses of wildlife, and fieldstone buildings, locks, and aqueducts are other sights to enjoy along the towpath."

C&O Canal National Historic Park Reviews

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I just completed 141 miles from Cumberland to Harper's Ferry with twin 7-yr old sons, riding 7 days, camping 5 nights at Hiker/Biker sites. This is pretty much the ultimate trail of its type in the U.S., but it's not for everyone. Specifically, while the double-track is in pretty good shape, within 3 days of rain you'll be seeing hundreds of mud puddles per day, 80% of which you can ride around, 20% you can't. This trip is made for hybrids, although between a road bike and pure mountain bike, I'd take the latter if you could carry enough gear. The C&O is infamous for breaking all things aluminum and thin and fast. Every fourth road-bike biker has a broken-parts story. Upsides: Free swimming, stone-pebble beaches, etc. in the Potomac about every other night; free campsites, almost all with free water, benches, river views, ready firewood, and almost always complete privacy. For three of our seven total days out, above mile 125, we didn't see a single soul on the trail, although at general stores just off the towpath we'd sometimes see day-riders. Even the weekdays before Labor Day the towpath was utterly person-less -- good for us, but I'd expected 20 through-riders a day. We didn't see more than 15-20 through-riders over the whole week and 141 miles. Many of those were going all the way to Pittsburgh, a 350-mile run. To summarize: This is one hell of a ride, and the only one I know of in the country of its length and beauty that children or anyone averse to traffic would love, but you and your bike both have to be fairly tough, and you should be pretty good at camping because generally, you have one resupply chance per day and that's it. And sometimes not even one. Oh yeah -- if you can't handle walking the bike through a totally-dark medieval 3200-foot abandoned canal tunnel -- the Paw Paw tunnel -- then skip this trip. I don't think one in two adults can go through that thing without getting the heebie-jeebies.
Nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. You can take it easy or push yourself as the trail goes on and on...
Trail runners. Use C&O canal in Georgetown in connection with Battery Kimble, Glover Archibald and Rock Creek parks to create some great urban trail running. Start off at Mile 0 and enjoy 3.3 miles of easy, flat, packed dirt along the canal to Fletcher Boat House. Use the tunnel in the parking lot to connect to Battery Kimble Park where you will climb up for about a mile (crossing a street) to the Wesley Heights trail. Take that to Glover Arhibald trail (where it ends) and turn left. At Whitehaven trail, turn left and follow it to Rock Creek Park. Turn right and go back to Mile 0. Total time about 1:20. Only paved part in the last section along Rock Creek.
This trail is a nice day ride - especially the part that goes through Great Falls Park and is away from the road. To avoid crowds, go early in the morning - crowds don't start ti pick up until 11am or so on the weekends. In the middle of the summer, bugs - especially gnats and mosquitoes - are a problem due to the canal's standing water.

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Trail Information

Nearby City
600 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Technical Difficulty
Physical Difficulty
Superintendent, C&O Canal National Historical Park 301-739-4200
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