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5 Things to Do on the C&O Canal in the Winter

By December 17, 2019 April 17th, 2020 No Comments

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!

1. Take a Hike

The C&O Canal has many amazing hiking trails that are accessible during the winter! (Please use caution when using the trails in the winter, as there may be ice and snow.) The Olmstead Overlook Trail offers breath-taking views of the majestic Great Falls of the Potomac that can be enjoyed year-round. 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 a little gold rush. Along this trail, you can see the remnants of gold mines lost to history.

In the western part of the Park, the Western Maryland Rail Trail, beginning at mile 114.4, 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.

And don’t forget to experience the winter on the C&O Canal’s most treasured path: the towpath! You can view and download hiking maps here

2. Enjoy outdoor winter activities along the canal

Besides hiking, there are several other winter activities to enjoy along the canal. Ice skating and sledding are permitted in the park except in the Widewater area, and the towpath offers a great opportunity for cross-country skiing. Ice fishing is also permitted with certain restrictions. 

3. Warm-up and learn about canal history at one of the visitor centers

The are three C&O Canal NHP Visitor Centers that are open year-round; the Brunswick Visitor Center, the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, and the Cumberland Visitor Center

The Brunswick Visitor Center shares the building with the Brunswick Railroad Museum where you can learn about the history of the B&O Railroad and its competition with the C&O Canal. 

After hiking at Great Falls, warm up inside the Great Falls Tavern where you can view exhibits on canal history and interact with friendly, knowledgeable volunteers and rangers. 

Marking the terminus of the canal, the Cumberland Visitor Center has educational displays, a model of the Paw Paw Tunnel, and a life-size section of a canal boat. 

Great Falls Tavern. NPS photo.

4. Experience history with an overnight stay in one of the Canal Quarters Lockhouses

It may be cold outside, but did you know that four of our lockhouses are heated?    Lockhouse 6, 10, 21 and 49 all have heating and electricity, and each interprets a different period of history along the canal. There is typically more availability in the winter so why wait? Reserve your stay today!

Swains Lockhouse 21- Denise Schleckser

5. Experience winter in the Canal Towns

If you still have the shopping bug after the holidays, visit one of the 9 Canal Towns for all your local shopping and dining needs! Each is unique and has its own small-town charm. The C&O Canal Trust maintains a calendar of Canal Town and park events to help you plan your visit.