Built between 1828 and 1850, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal worked with 74 lock lifts that, for nearly a century, allowed the passage of boats carrying coal, lumber and other products. Today, the 184.5-mile C & O Canal Towpath Trail has become an outdoor recreation mecca. The national park site has a network of visitor centers, campsites, recreational activities and nationally significant historic landmarks for you to enjoy.
Cumberland to Hancock
Including MD 51, MD 144, I-70, US 40, MD 56, MD 68, MD 63 & MD 65
Original plans had called for the canal to extend into the Ohio Valley, but when railroading won the race to the west, work stalled in Cumberland, a transportation crossroads in the coal-rich Allegheny Mountains.
This scenic mountain town is now home to the Cumberland C&O Canal National Historical Park Visitor Center and the Canal Place Heritage Area, offering boat tours, scenic railroad rides, dining and shopping.
At the Spring Gap Recreation Area in Oldtown, a one-mile hike takes you to Lock 72 and a restored, two-story lock tender’s house. Back on the road below Flintstone, you skirt Green Ridge State Forest, famous for its wildlife watching and off-road biking. Adjacent to the state forest is the Paw Paw Tunnel, which workers spent 14 years cutting through more than 3,000 feet of rock to bypass 6 miles of twists and turns in the river. Hikers and bikers anticipate the unique experience of traveling through the dark tunnel that carries the canal and towpath.
The byway dips into West Virginia, following WV 9 and US 522 for about an hour before re-emerging in Maryland near the C&O Canal’s Hancock Visitors Center and the Western Maryland Rail Trail.
For several miles from Hancock to Big Pool, the canal runs parallel with the Historic National Road another scenic byway route worth exploring. Outside of Williamsport, Lockhouse 49 is the first of four authentic lockhouses you will find on the byway where lock tenders once lived. They now provide overnight quarters for up to eight people. Nearby is another canal visitor center.