The central section of the C&O Canal National Historical Park begins in Brunswick (mile marker 55.0) in Frederick County and runs through the beautiful Piedmont portion of Maryland to Washington County‘s Hancock (mile marker 124.0). This area is rich in Civil War history, features several towns that were built around the canal, and offers countless scenic vistas.
You can also copy this itinerary into our C&O Canal Itinerary Builder here.
Walk or Ride the Towpath
The towpath is the spine of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The C&O Canal was built in the mid-nineteenth century as a transportation route to bring goods from the Ohio river valley to eastern markets. The canal boats were towed up and down the canal by mules on a path that ran beside the canal basin — hence the term “towpath.” Today, the towpath is a 184.5 mile long recreational path ideal for bikers and hikers due to its flat nature with very little incline. It is the main path to take while you explore the Park.
Visit Williamsport and the Cushwa Basin
The Cushwa Basin, located in Williamsport, MD, is situated at the confluence of the Conococheague Creek and the Potomac River. A popular entry point to the C&O Canal towpath, there is a National Park Service Visitor Center located here, in the historic Cushwa Warehouse beside the basin. The neighboring Conococheague Aqueduct was rebuilt in 2019, and visitors can take a boat ride over the aqueduct, past Lockhouse 44, through a lock, and under the Railroad Lift Bridge. This historic area was once the home of brick manufacturing and shipment of coal along the Canal — canal boats would use the turning basin to load coal and bricks on their trips between Cumberland and Georgetown.
Stay in an Historic Lockhouse
Lockhouse 49 in Clear Spring has been rehabilitated, furnished with period décor, and opened for overnight stays. The Canal Quarters program, run by the C&O Canal Trust, allows guests the unique opportunity to step back in time and live life as the lock keepers once did. Six more Canal Quarters lockhouses are available in the eastern region. Learn more and book a stay here.
Marvel at Historic Aqueducts
Four of the Park’s eleven aqueducts stand along the C&O Canal – some of the most impressive of the canal structures that stand today. Aqueducts transported the canal over streams and tributaries. The aqueducts are all different – the stone they were constructed with varies, including red sandstone, grey limestone, white granite, white and pink quartzite. They stand testament to the engineering ingenuity and devoted labor that went into the canal’s construction and the important role it played in the growth of our country. The Antietam, Conococheague, Licking Creek, and Tonoloway Aqueducts stand in the central region of the Park.
Walk in the Footsteps of Civil War Soldiers
This section of the canal and the area surrounding it is hallowed ground, having seen multiple Civil War battles. Visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to learn about John Brown’s Raid and Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest day in American history.
Explore Canal Towns
The central section features several Canal Towns, each a unique stop full of quaint shops and eateries, and a storied past with a direct link to the C&O Canal. Don’t miss Brunswick (mile marker 55.0), Harpers Ferry and Bolivar (mile marker 60.7), Shepherdstown (mile marker 72.7), Sharpsburg (mile marker 76.5), Williamsport (mile marker 99.4), and Hancock (mile marker 124.0).
Visit Iconic Canal Landmarks
Besides the Cushwa Basin and Conococheague Aqeuduct in Williamsport, this section features Dam 4 and Dam 5, which harness the Potomac River for its power, the Ferry Hill historic home, and Big Slackwater, a cement portion of towpath that sweeps along the Potomac’s, providing scenic water views.
The C&O Canal National Historical Park offers four seasons of outdoor recreation opportunities! Nestled along the Potomac River, you can hike, bike, fish, climb, camp, paddle, boat, ride horses, and more. The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, intersects with the C&O Canal from Lock 31 a Weverton (mile marker 58.0) to Harpers Ferry (mile marker 60.7).
Have the Full C&O Canal Experience
The C&O Canal is surrounded by dozens of unique heritage, cultural, and recreational opportunities! You can visit one of our ten Canal Towns, drive the C&O Canal Byway, or explore the history that is part of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. The central region of the C&O Canal runs through Frederick and Washington Counties, so be sure to check out these tourism websites for more to do in the area.