There is a lot to explore in the eastern region of the canal, which begins in the urban Georgetown in Washington DC (mile marker 0.0) and runs through the suburbs of Montgomery County. As you move farther west towards Frederick County, the area surrounding the Park becomes more rural. It ends in Brunswick (mile marker 55.0).
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. (Learn more about the canal’s history here.) 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 the Great Falls Area and Ride a Mule-Drawn Canal Boat
Arguably the most popular part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, the Great Falls Area offers hiking trails, scenic overlooks of the powerful Potomac River thundering through the rocky “Great Falls,” a visitor center in a historic tavern, and the opportunity to ride a mule-drawn canal boat through a working lock (returning in 2021).
Stay in an Historic Lockhouse
Six historic lockhouses in the eastern region have 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. A seventh Canal Quarters lockhouse is available in the central region. Learn more and book a stay here.
Hike the Billy Goat Trails
The three Billy Goat Trails are some of the most popular hiking trails in the area. All start and end on the towpath and include rock scrambling and scenic views. As of 2020, Billy Goat Trail B has been closed due to trail damage, but A and C are open for your enjoyment.
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 Alexandria, Seneca, Monocacy, and Catoctin Aqueducts stand in the eastern region of the Park.
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 Heritage Montgomery and Heart of the Civil War Heritage Areas. The eastern region of the C&O Canal runs through Washington DC, Montgomery and Frederick Counties, so be sure to check out these tourism websites for more to do in the area.