Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The 19th-century engineering feat nicknamed “The Grand Old Ditch” has become a hub of outdoor recreational activity, with biking, bird watching and mule-drawn barge rides.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal parallels the wide and scenic Potomac River, connecting Cumberland to Washington, D.C. Explore the waterway in a canoe, kayak or powerboat.

Capital Region
Western Maryland
236 miles on a mix of country roads and state highways from Cumberland to Washington, D.C.
6-8
hours

Places along the way

1
C&O Canal Cumberland National Historical Park-Cumberland Visitor Center
13 Canal St, Room 100
Cumberland, MD 21502

2
Canal Place Heritage Area
13 Canal St
Cumberland, MD 21502

3
Great Allegheny Passage
13 Canal St
Cumberland, MD 21502

4
Get Out & Play! Outfitters
13 Canal St
Cumberland, MD 21502

5
Allegany Museum
3 Pershing St
Cumberland, MD 21502

6
City Lights-An American Grill & Bar
59 Baltimore St
Cumberland, MD 21502

7
Queen City Creamery & Deli
108 Harrison St
Cumberland, MD 21502

8
1812 Brewery
13006 Mason Rd
Cumberland, MD 21502

9
Spring Gap Recreation Area
Oldtown Road SE
Oldtown, MD 21555

10
C&O Canal Paw Paw Tunnel (1850s)
Tunnel Hill Rd
Oldtown, MD 21555

11
Green Ridge State Forest
28700 Headquarters Dr, NE
Flintstone, MD 21530

12
C&O Canal National Historical Park Hancock Visitor Center
439 East Main St
Hancock, MD 21750

13
Western Maryland Rail Trail
c/o Fort Frederick State Park
Big Pool, MD 21711

14
Canal Quarters -C&O Canal Trust-Lockhouse 49
11042 Four Locks Rd.
Clear Spring, MD 21722

15
Wilson Country School/Wilson Store
14921 Rufus Wilson Rd
Clear Spring, MD 21722

16
Antietam National Battlefield
5831 Dunker Church Rd
Sharpsburg, MD 21782

17
Barron's C&O Canal Museum & Store
5632 Mose Cir
Sharpsburg, MD 21782

18
Brunswick Heritage Museum
40 W Potomac St
Brunswick, MD 21716

19
Canal Quarters-C&O Canal Trust-Lockhouse 28
3705 Canal Rd
Point of Rocks, MD 21777

20
Canal Quarters-C&O Canal Trust-Lockhouse 25
15213 Edward Ferry Rd
Poolesville, MD 20837

21
Seneca Creek State Park
11950 Clopper Rd
Gaithersburg, MD 20878

22
Canal Quarters-C&O Canal Trust-Lockhouse 22
Pennyfield Lock Rd
Potomac, MD 20854

23
Canal Quarters-C&O Canal Trust-Lockhouse 21
10700 Swains Lock Road
Potomac, MD 20854

24
C&O Canal National Historical Park-Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center
11710 MacArthur Blvd
Potomac, MD 20854

25
Carderock Recreation Area
9500 MacArthur Blvd
Bethesda, MD 20817

26
Canal Quarters-C&O Canal Trust-Lockhouse 6
6100 Clara Barton Pkwy
Bethesda, MD 20816

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.

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Great Falls Tavern is home to a visitor center, replica canal boat rides, an overlook of the Great Falls of the Potomac and the Billy Goat trail.

Sharpsburg to Washington, D.C.

Including MD 34, MD 478, MD 464, US 15, MD 28, MD 109, MD 117, MD 190 & MD 189

The canal byway links into a Civil War trail around Sharpsburg, site of Antietam National Battlefield. Canal-related exhibits are displayed at the Barron’s C&O Canal Museum.

In Brunswick, the heritage museum displays artifacts and exhibits on railroad history. The museum shares space with the  C&O Canal’s Visitor Center, featuring exhibits that showcase the town’s lively transportation past. Meanwhile, single-night tent camping is available at more than 30 hiker-biker campsites located every few miles along most of the towpath.

Beyond Poolesville and Seneca, you come to the Carderock Recreation Area, a haven for rock climbers. Three miles to the west is Great Falls, a spectacular series of waterfalls and rapids that made the Potomac River unnavigable by ships, prompting the need for a canal. At the Potomac-based C&O Canal Great Falls Tavern visitor center, arrange for an hour-long mule-drawn barge ride through one of the lift locks.

Before entering Washington D.C., veer slightly off the canal route into the Downtown Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, where you can enjoy museums, gardens, galleries, performing arts and upscale shopping. Another canal visitor center is based in Georgetown, not far from the canal’s first lock at the mouth of Rock Creek.

The C&O Canal Towpath follows the route of the canal from Cumberland to Washington D.C. providing recreational opportunities like hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Maryland Lore

The name Paw Paw, shared by a canal tunnel and a West Virginia town at the Maryland border, refers to small, fruit-bearing trees found nearby.

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad runs excursion trains out of the Western Maryland Railway Station in Cumberland.

Byways in this Region

Historic National Road
Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Byways Guide & Map

Maryland Scenic Byways Travel Guide and Map

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