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Trails for the Winter Hiker at the C&O Canal

To some of us, winter is a time to stay indoors by the fire. But why would you stay indoors when the C&O Canal National Historical Park offers some of the most scenic areas to explore during the winter months? So put on some warm clothes and come experience the C&O Canal as a winter wonderland!

Lock 10 by Paul Graunke

 But first, don’t forget to plan like a Ranger by checking the Parks current conditions here.

The Great Falls area is breathtaking year-round, but the leafless landscape of winter offers extraordinary views of the Potomac and the falls that are not possible in more verdant seasons. This area of the Park has many wonderful trails to explore, including the the Olmstead Overlook Trail with its awe-inspiring view of Great Falls, and the popular Billy Goat Trails, which are well worth the effort for anyone looking for a winter challenge.

There are three Billy Goat Trails to choose from (A, B, and C) and with each comes a unique adventure. These trails, offering stunning views of the Potomac River and the surrounding forest, are sure to bring out the winter wanderer in all of us.

Another fantastic trail in the Great Falls area is the Gold Mine Trail, which takes you on a trip through the woods to an area that was once home to its own little gold rush. Along this trail, you can see the remnants of gold mines lost to history.  

Sunset at Mary’s Wall by Craig Little

If you find yourself in need of a warm-up, stop by the Historic Great Falls Tavern, which serves as the Visitor Center for the Great Falls area. You can also pick up trail maps there or download them here

In the western part of the Park, the Western Maryland Rail Trail, located at mile marker 136.0, is a paved path over 20 miles long that follows the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. Not only does the rail trail run through incredible natural surroundings, but you can also explore historic sites like the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct and Lock 56 along the way. This popular trail is made better by the winter season, especially when there is a fresh coat of snow to bring a different feel to this old favorite.   

The Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the most popular sites within the Park, and while you are taking in the history and beauty of this historic monument, why not take a hike along the Paw Paw Tunnel Hill Trail? During the winter, this trail offers a glimpse into the past and the conditions that the immigrant workers and their families, many of whom lived in the area, experienced during the 12 year construction of the Paw Paw Tunnel.  

Towpath near mm 42 - Photo by Katie Stansbery

Towpath near mm 42 – Photo by Katie Stansbery

And don’t forget to experience the winter on the C&O Canal’s most treasured path: the towpath! From the towpath, you really get a feel for all that the C&O Canal National Park has to offer. Stretching the length of the canal (184.5 miles), the towpath is very easily accessible and flat, perfect for hikers of all levels looking for a fun way to spend a day. If a day just isn’t enough hiking for you, plan to stay at one of the many campsites that the Park offers or step back in time with an overnight in one of the historic rehabbed lockhouses through our Canal Quarters program!

Hiking is not the only option for those looking to liven up their winter season, C&O Canal National Historical Park provides many exciting opportunities to get out and have some fun! Just check out 10 Things You Can Do on the C&O Canal When It’s Cold Outside.

Visit the C&O Canal’s Hiking page for tips on hiking and a variety of downloadable trail maps