The Canal Towns Partnership

What is a Canal Town?

Canal towns are communities along the C&O Canal that:

  • Offer services to trail users, including lodging, restaurants, shopping and equipment repair,
  • Enrich the C&O Canal experience with their history, hospitality, and small-town charm,
  • Provide valuable support to the National Park Service in its stewardship of this important historical and recreational resource.

Beginning in 1828, the C&O Canal brought industry and growth to communities along its route. The canal had a profound impact on the towns’ early culture and architecture that resonates even today. Historical challenges around the Canal also left their mark, through labor conflict, disease, Civil War, and floods. When those floods combined with newer transportation systems to shut down the Canal in the 1920s, Canal Towns suffered decline.

Now with this old transportation system transformed into a National Park and popular trail, Canal Towns are once again thriving and extending a welcome to tourists and trail users alike. Read more about the history of the C&O and its towns in our Towpath to History brochure.

What is the Canal Towns Partnership?

Partnership-canal logo

In 2011, several Canal Towns formed a new alliance to generate mutually beneficial economic activity in the towns. Each town sends representatives to monthly meetings to share information, offer advice and support to the National Park Service, and develop intertown projects.

Throughout the years, we have:

  • Arranged for a free van shuttle service around a temporary towpath washout
  • Established informational kiosks with guides to services at entrances to each town
  • Published and distributed thousands of informational brochures to aid in planning trips along the C&O towpath
  • Lobbied for improvements and repairs along the trail and its access points.

The Canal Town Partnership meets in rotating towns from 10 am-12 pm, on second Wednesdays from September through May. For more information or to get involved, sign up for our email newsletter or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit a Canal Town

Poolesville, MD  – (Mile Marker 30.9, 35.5)

Find small town character and down home charm in Poolesville. Its Historic District contains many historic buildings and is listed on the National Register.

Point of Rocks, MD  –  (Mile Marker 48.2)

A small unincorporated community, Point of Rocks is known for its historic train station and the rock formations on Catoctin Mountain that give Point of Rocks its name.

Brunswick, MD  –  (Mile Marker 55)

Brunswick was shaped by the B&O Railroad as much as the C&O Canal, as depicted in the Brunswick Heritage Museum. Brunswick is now a Main Street community and home to a unique mosaic mural depicting the Potomac River.

Harpers Ferry, WV –  (Mile Marker 60.7)

Harpers Ferry lies at the intersection of the C&O Canal, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail. It is famous for John Brown’s raid in 1859 when he attempted to start a revolt of enslaved people in the South. During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times due to its strategic importance on the B&O Railroad.

Bolivar, WV  –  (Mile Marker 60.7)

Bolivar (rhymes with Oliver) is adjacent to the town of Harpers Ferry and is surrounded by Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The towns’ histories and present activities are interwoven.

Shepherdstown, WV  –  (Mile Marker 72.8)

The oldest town in West Virginia, Shepherdstown was voted one of the top 10 coolest small towns in 2013 by Budget Travel. Shepherdstown offers a unique shopping and dining experience – you will not find a single chain store in town. It is also home to Shepherd University, which each summer hosts the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

Sharpsburg, MD – (Mile Marker 76.8)

Find historical charm in the oldest town in Washington County! Sharpsburg is better known as the location of one of the most famous Civil War battles in American history – the Battle of Antietam. The Killiansburg Cave, located on the C&O Canal towpath, provided shelter for many townspeople during the height of the battle.

Williamsport, MD  –  (Mile Marker 99.4)

Williamsport is the functional mid-way point of the towpath and the only place in North America where you can see a lift bridge, a working aqueduct, a trolley barn, a turning basin, a lockhouse, and a lock in the same place. The Conococheague Aqueduct was restored in 2019 and is the only working aqueduct in the Park.

Hancock, MD  –  (Mile Marker 124.1)

Located in the narrowest part of Maryland, Hancock is home to the Western Maryland Rail Trail, Fort Frederick State Park, and a historic tollhouse on National Road, the county’s first major improved highway.

Paw Paw, WV – (Mile Marker 156.1)

About 15 miles upstream from Hancock, the Potomac River snakes back and forth in what is known as the Paw Paw Bends. In one of those bends lies the town of Paw Paw, West Virginia, named after the native fruit tree common in the area.

Cumberland, MD  –  (Mile Marker 184.5)

Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, Cumberland is home to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, the terminus of the C&O Canal and the start of the Great Allegheny Passage which continues to Pittsburgh.