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Planning Your Visit

Know Before You Go: Tips for Visiting the C&O Canal

At the C&O Canal Trust, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of providing financial and programmatic support to the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Over the years, we have picked up some tips from our Park Ranger colleagues to make the most of our visits to the Park. Here, we share 10 of our favorite tips with you. Learn and know before you go!

Furry Friends are Welcome. The C&O Canal is a dog-friendly national park. Make sure to keep dogs on a leash at all times and clean up after them. Dogs are not allowed on Billy Goat Trail Section A, or on the overlook trail to Great Falls.

snow dog

Snow Dog on the Towpath – Photo by Chris Solloway

Set up Camp. Pitch a tent, throw down a sleeping bag, and get comfy. Camping is permitted at designated sites in the Park including drive-in, hiker/biker, and group area campsites, on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits are required in some areas and remember — the C&O Canal is a trash-free park.

cacapon junction

Cacapon Junction Campsite – Photo by Alan Taylor

Discover the Canal with Canal Discoveries. The Park is chock full of historic structures, unique geological attractions, and endless flora and fauna. Canal Discoveries touches on 40 hidden gems throughout the Park, and many of the descriptions are first-hand accounts narrated by Park Rangers.

paw paw

Walking through the Paw Paw Tunnel – Photo by Brian Breighner

Free Parking. Although there is a fee at the Great Falls entrance, the 184.5 mile-long Park offers a multitude of access points with free parking options up and down its entire length. Take advantage of one of the smaller lots such as the one at Lock 22 at Swains Lockhouse.

lock 22 parking pennyfield

Lock 22 at Pennyfield parking – Photo by Denise Schleckser

I’m thirsty!  Water pumps that provide drinking water are available all along the length of the Park. However, due to the risk of freezing temperatures, their availability is seasonal and restricted to the warmer months. You can bring your own water when the pumps aren’t in operation. Check for water availability and learn about any other current Park Alerts here.

killiansburg cave campsite

Killiansburg Cave Campsite Hand Pump – Photo by Jon Howard

Stay in a Lockhouse. Did you know that you can stay in an historic lockhouse in the Park? The award-winning Canal Quarters program offers guests overnight stays where you can live as the lockkeepers did in years past. It’s a unique experience that will provide wonderful memories for years to come.

lock house and lock 6

Lockhouse 6 and Lock – Photo by Mike Mitchell

Get wet! Kayaking, canoeing, and fishing are popular water sports in the Park. If you’re more of a spectator, you can watch world-class kayakers practice in the feeder canal near Cabin John or see anglers in action at Fletchers Cove. Click here to learn more about kayaking in the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

taylor's landing

Taylors Landing Bliss – Photo by Jeffery Orner

Eat, shop, and explore in our Canal Towns. There are many unique Canal Towns located along the 184.5 mile towpath. Take a break from the trail and enjoy a meal, do some shopping, and see the sights.

Who’s that in the orange vest? The Park’s Bike Patrol is an all-volunteer group that assists visitors with information, first aid, and directions. Bike patrollers also educate the public on park regulations and assist in identifying towpath hazards. Additional volunteer opportunities are available to the public at the C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Pride events, held every spring, and to corporate groups throughout the year.

Canal Pride

2016 Canal Pride Event at Lockhouse 44 – Photo by the C&O Canal Trust

Where are the Visitor Centers? There are Visitor Centers in several Park locations including Georgetown, Great Falls Tavern, Brunswick, Ferry Hill Plantation, Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland. The Great Falls Tavern and Cumberland Visitor Centers operate year-round while others are open on a seasonal basis. Check here for operating dates and times.

great falls tavern mike mitchell

Great Falls Tavern – Photo by Mike Mitchell


Written by Melanie Draper