To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the C&O Canal becoming a National Historical Park, we are featuring 50 Canal Stories throughout 2021. Each story will take a look at a person’s relationship with the C&O Canal. Whether an NPS ranger, a volunteer, or a visitor, everyone has a story to tell about the canal! If you want to share your story, submit it to us at the link here, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory.
Denise Greer, Bike Rider on the C&O Canal National Historical Park & the Great Allegheny Passage
Denise Greer: In September, a friend and I set out to complete the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. I had never bike packed this distance. But the way that the C&O and GAP are organized made the ride the best choice for my longest adventure yet.
We picked an eastern end Georgetown start because logistically it made more sense to drive from my Louisville home to Pittsburgh, hop on the Amtrak, and bike back to Pittsburgh. I had no idea that the decision would turn out to be the best way for us to have experienced the C&O.
Beginning east and heading west was like traveling through history. I had the opportunity to experience the trail from the oldest sections to newer ones.
Each pedal stroke took us forward through the history of the canal. It’s incredible that mules and horses would lead vessels up the canal. And every time we arrived at a lockhouse, I imagined the caretakers and families that lived there doing their part to keep the canal system flowing. The next time I visit the C&O, I will stay at one of the lockhouses.
I fell in love with the C&O. With loaded tour bikes we cycled the trail at a leisurely pace, stopping along the way frequently to take in our surroundings. The sights and landscapes around us changed from urban to rural to remote. We stopped in small towns to enjoy their offerings, delighted to go from immersed in nature to relaxing at a coffee shop in a relatively short amount of time. It’s that balance that makes the C&O such an incredible experience.
We mostly camped along the way. Still mornings were some of my favorite moments on the C&O — the misty postcard views and wildlife abound. The hiker/bike campsites are a true treasure that really enhanced our ride. We literally awoke on the trail.
There was such a sense of accomplishment when we arrived at the C&O terminus in Cumberland. While our journey wasn’t over, I felt a sense of loss leaving the unique canal trail. It hugs you between water and land. As I look back on the trip, my fondest memories happened on the C&O.
I often get asked what my favorite part of the trail was and it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing. The entire experience is magical.
You can follow my journey along the C&O at https://youtube.com/