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.
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.
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.
Open for Exploration
Bring a bike along, or make a plan to walk all or part of the C&O Canal Towpath Trail, which offers primitive campsites and accommodations in historic lockhouses along its 184.5-mile length.
Sharpsburg to Washington, D.C.
Including MD 34, MD 478, MD 464, US 15, MD 28, MD 109, MD 117, MD 190 & MD 189
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 Gothic Revival Point of Rocks Train Station is a short ride from the canal. During the early 19th-century, the railroad and canal companies competed for land access where steep, rocky cliffs plummeted to the Potomac River.
Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg has a restored 19th-century one-room schoolhouse and a partially restored mill that visitors are welcome to explore.
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.