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Canal Pride volunteers in Williamsport

Keeping the C&O Canal Beautiful: Volunteer Programs

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Canal Pride volunteers in WilliamsportSpanning 184.5 miles and 20,000 acres, the C&O Canal National Historical Park welcomes nearly 5 million visitors each year. That’s a lot of land for the National Park Service to maintain! As the official nonprofit partner of the Park, the C&O Canal Trust is happy to help out, assisting Park staff in preservation and maintenance projects year-round to keep the C&O Canal clean and beautiful.

Each spring, community members join together during a series of public Canal Pride clean-up events hosted by the Trust that ready the Park for the busy summer season. Volunteers gather at sites up and down the canal to remove trash, spread mulch, rake leaves, pull invasive species, plant gardens, and paint picnic benches, fire rings, and historic buildings. Their efforts save the National Park Service hundreds of thousands of dollars on labor.

Corporate and community groups can partner with the C&O Canal Trust throughout the year on clean-up projects at a favorite area of the Park. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also encouraging families and small groups of friends to hold small Personal Canal Pride Day events focused on cleaning up trash.

You can learn more about volunteering for one of the Trust’s clean-up events or make a donation to support our work in the Park. We thank you for your support!

Lockhouse 22

Spend the Night in a Historic Lockhouse: The Canal Quarters Program

By Planning Your Visit
Lockhouse 22

Lockhouse 22

Ever wondered what it was like to live in the past? Stay in a Canal Quarters lockhouse and find out firsthand! You’ll get a much better night’s sleep than your historic counterparts, who had to spring from their beds at all hours of the night as canal boats approached their locks.

Each of the seven lockhouses in the program have been rehabilitated and depict a different time period in the canal’s history. Authentic period furnishings add a quaint vibe, and interpretative materials that teach about the canal enrich your stay. The lockhouses all sleep up to eight people and are surrounded by the beautiful C&O Canal National Historical Park. Spend the day on the trail and your evenings around the campfire, under the stars.

Past guests have celebrated all types of occasions at the lockhouses, from birthdays to anniversaries, and holiday parties. But since the pandemic began in 2020, the lockhouses have become a popular spot for families to have a socially-distant vacation. Your group will have the lockhouse to yourself for the duration of your stay, and you can recreate in the safety of the great outdoors.

There are three lockhouses with full amenities, including electricity, heat, A/C, running water, and full bathrooms and kitchens (Lockhouses 6, 10, and 21.) Three lockhouses are rustic, without these amenities, but with a portable toilet and water pump nearby. These lockhouses provide guests with a truly authentic historic experience (Lockhouses 22, 25, and 28). Lockhouse 49 has electricity, but no running water.

Visit our website to book your stay back in time!

Hancock Bikers by Sam Judge

Day Trip Jumping Off Points

By Blog
Cyclists on the towpath in Hancock

Cyclists on the towpath in Hancock by Sam Judge

At first glance, it may seem overwhelming to choose where to begin your adventure on the C&O Canal. There are over 80 access points to the canal with ample parking. Begin your day trip adventures on the canal by checking out these suggested points of interest below! Continue reading or view by region: EastCentralWest

You can also copy this itinerary into our C&O Canal Itinerary Builder here.

East: DC to Brunswick

Mile Marker 0.0 – Georgetown

The C&O Canal begins in Georgetown, and there are many ways to access the canal in this area. Canal users can explore Locks 1, 2, 3, and 4, a picturesque series of four locks very close together, separated by boat basins. A bust of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas is placed at Lock 3, in honor of’ Douglas, who raised awareness of a 1950s plan to turn the canal into a parkway. Tucked along M Street in Georgetown, just east of the towpath, is the Old Stone House. It is the oldest structure on its original foundation in the nation’s capital. The Abner Cloud House is one of the oldest existing structures on the canal. Here, The Colonial Dames of America, Chapter III, offer interpretive programs. Continuing upstream from Georgetown, canal users can see Fletchers Cove and Carderock Recreation Area, which is the Park’s premiere rock climbing area.

Mile Marker 3.2 – Fletchers Cove
A large parking lot off of Canal Road NW, near Fletchers Boathouse and the Abner Cloud House makes for easy access to the Canal at Fletchers Cove. The area is popular for fishing and boating, biking, hiking, and picnicking. You can rent rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and bikes at the concession stand or grab a hot dog and snacks. The slow waters make it an ideal location for fishing and bird watching. The Capital Crescent Trail crosses and parallels the towpath at Fletchers Cove. Built upon the abandoned rail bed of the 11-mile Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad, the trail is one of the most popular of more than 700 rails-to-trails projects nationwide. Downstream, canal users will find the Abner Cloud House and Georgetown. Heading upstream, canal users will find Lockhouse 6, part of the Canal Quarters program, the Cabin John Bridge, a National Historic Civil War Landmark, Seven Locks, Lockhouse 10, also part of the Canal Quarters program, and Carderock Recreation Area, the Park’s premiere rock climbing area. 

Mile Marker 10.8 – Carderock

Carderock is accessible from the Clara Barton Parkway with lots of parking. It’s a great location for those who enjoy outdoor recreation and picnicking. The western end of Carderock is the Park’s premiere rock climbing area, with routes ranging from easy to extremely technical. Billy Goat Trail C surrounds the entire area and offers a beautiful 1.6-mile hike along the Potomac River. Canal users traveling downstream will find Lockhouse 10, part of the Canal Quarters program where guests can spend the night living as the lock keepers once did, Seven Locks, the Cabin John Bridge, a National Historic Civil War Landmark, Lockhouse 6, also part of the Canal Quarters program, Fletchers Cove, the Abner Cloud House, and Georgetown. Upstream, canal users will come to Great Falls, where the historic Great Falls Tavern serves as a visitor center, and Lockhouse 22,

Mile Marker 22.7 – Riley’s Lock and Seneca Aqueduct
Riley’s Lock offers lots of parking for easy access to this section of the C&O Canal. Riley’s Lockhouse is well restored and local Girl Scouts dressed in period clothing provide interpretation and guide visitors here on Saturdays during the spring and fall. This is also the location of an engineering marvel on the canal. Of the canal’s 11 aqueducts and 74 lift locks, this is the only one that was both a lift lock and an aqueduct. Canal users heading downstream will find Lockhouse 22, part of the Canal Quarters program, and Great Falls, where the historic Great Falls Tavern serves as a visitor center. Upstream, canal users will find the remains of Goose Creek River Lock, Edwards Ferry and Lockhouse 25, another lockhouse in the Canal Quarters program.

Mile Marker 35.5 – Whites Ferry
Whites Ferry is the last of 100 ferries that operated on the Potomac River, transporting automobiles, cyclists, and pedestrians across the river from Montgomery County, Md., to Loudoun County, Va. This canal access point offers ample parking for access to the ferry, the canal, the boat ramp, and Whites Ferry Store. Canal users heading downstream will find access to Edwards Ferry, Lock 25 and Lockhouse 25, part of the Canal Quarters program. Canal users heading upstream from Whites Ferry will find the Monocacy Aqueduct, and Nolands Ferry.

Mile Marker 48.2 – Point of Rocks
Point of Rocks has been a longtime transportation crossroads, beginning with the Native Americans, then European traders and settlers, until the arrival of the railroad led to rapid growth. During the heyday of the canal, the town was booming with businesses, hotels, restaurants, and more! The canal terminated operations in 1924, leading to the decline of Point of Rocks. The original village is a county park and a parking lot for railroad commuters, however there is a deli, convenience and gas station store, restaurant, library, church, and the picturesque Point of Rocks Train Station. Downstream, canal users can travel to Nolands Ferry, one of the earliest crossings on the Potomac during Native American times, and the Monocacy Aqueduct. Heading upstream, canal users will find Lander, with access to the Catoctin Aqueduct, and Brunswick.

Mile Marker 55.0 – Brunswick
Brunswick was a small community of several hundred people when the C&O Canal reached the area. When the railroad came through in the late 1800s it was transformed and grew to nearly 2,500 people almost overnight. Today Brunswick is on the MARC commuter train line to Washington, D.C. Brunswick’s downtown has restaurants, specialty shops, and antiques stores as well as the C&O Canal Visitor Center and the Brunswick Heritage Museum. Downstream, canal users can visit Lander, with access to the Catoctin Aqueduct, Point of Rocks, and Nolands Ferry, one of the most ancient crossings of the Potomac. Upstream, canal users can access Weverton, Harpers Ferry and Dargan Bend Recreation Area.

Central: Brunswick to Hancock

Mile Marker 60.7 – Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
The town of Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers and is rich in history. It was designated a National Monument in 1944, and later a National Historical Park in 1953. Harpers Ferry is an ideal day trip with all the things to see and do at the park, which covers a multitude of interpretive themes from the Industrial Revolution to the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement. From Harpers Ferry, canal users can travel downstream parallel to the Appalachian Trail for three miles to Weverton, as well as Brunswick, and Lander, with access to the Catoctin Aqueduct. Upstream from Harpers Ferry, canal users can see a dry dock at Lock 35, Dargan Bend Recreation Area, the lime kiln ruins at Antietam Ironworks, and Antietam Aqueduct.

Mile Marker 72.8 – Railroad Bridge/Canal Road
The Railroad Bridge/Canal Road lot provides ample parking and access to some well-known locations along this stretch of canal. The remains of Lock 38, also known as the Shepherdstown River Lock, are located here. It is one of only three river locks on the canal and was used most often by Boteler’s Mill, shipping and receiving cement and coal materials via canal boat. Downstream, canal users will find Antietam Aqueduct, the ruins of Antietam Ironworks, and Dargan Bend Recreation Area . Upstream, canal users can see Ferry Hill Plantation, the Killiansburg Cave and Snyders Landing.

Mile Marker 84.0 – Big Slackwater
The Big Slackwater section of the C&O Canal is a modern-day engineering marvel. The reconstruction of a 2.7-mile section of towpath here had been closed for more than a decade due to flood damage. It reopened in 2012 and features a suspended, 10-foot-wide concrete walkway, anchored in the stone of the cliff embankment. Downstream, canal users can enjoy the impressive roaring power of Dam 4. There are lots of cave features along this section of the canal including Bergen Cave at Dam 4, Snyders Landing and the Killiansburg Cave, which is where a group of Sharpsburg residents took shelter during the Battle of Antietam. Upstream, canal users can enjoy McMahon’s Mill, which has more cave features. The towpath then becomes quiet as it leads into the 10-mile stretch with no access points.

Mile Marker 99.8 – Williamsport/Cushwa 

Williamsport is a bustling hub of activity on the C&O Canal. It is the only place in North America where visitors can see a lift lock and refurbished lockhouse, a railroad lift bridge, a canal turning basin and a re-watered aqueduct with seasonal boat rides available. Lock 44 is furnished and is open to the public seasonally and canal boat rides are offered from Cushwa Basin over the re-watered aqueduct. Downstream, canal users can enjoy a quiet 10-mile stretch of the canal with no access points. This section follows close to the river and is exceptional for wildlife viewing opportunities and wildflowers in the spring. A historical marker at Falling Waters explains the area’s significance during the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in 1863. Upstream, canal users can see Dam 5 and Four Locks, including Lockhouse 49, part of the Canal Quarters program, where guests can spend the night in a lockhouse.

Mile Marker 108.0 – Four Locks
Four Locks (Locks 47, 48, 49, and 50) was a thriving community when the canal was operational. Today, several of the historic buildings remain, including Lockhouse 49, also a part of the Canal Quarters program. The area is now popular for recreation, from fishing and boating to bicycling and hiking. Downstream, canal users can access Dam 5 and Williamsport/Cushwa Basin. Williamsport is the only place in North America where visitors can see a lift lock and refurbished lockhouse, a railroad lift bridge, a canal turning basin and a re-watered aqueduct with seasonal boat rides available. Upstream, canal users can enjoy McCoys Ferry, with its Civil War history and beautiful views, as well as Fort Frederick State Park, which offers both historical interpretation and opportunities to enjoy nature, Big Pool, a popular fishing and boating site, and Licking Creek Aqueduct

West: Hancock to Cumberland

Mile Marker 124.1 – Bowles House/Hancock Visitor Center Parking

The Bowles House Visitor Center, at mile marker 123, is open five days a week from Memorial Day through October. Visitors can enjoy sitting on the front porch and, on occasion, may hear a ranger or local resident playing banjo or acoustic guitar. Downstream, canal users can view Licking Creek Aqueduct, Big Pool, which is a popular fishing and boating site, and Fort Frederick State Park, which borders the canal. Upstream, canal users can enjoy Little Tonoloway Recreation Area, with beautiful picnic views of the Potomac River, and Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct

Mile Marker 136.0 – Western MD Rail Trail
The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) runs parallel to the C&O Canal from Big Pool to Little Orleans. This parking lot at Pearre allows for easy access to the WMRT, and canal users can connect to the towpath less than a mile away at Lock 56. Downstream from here, many locals bike what they call the “bow-tie,” which utilizes both the WMRT and the towpath for 40+ miles round-trip. Bikers can experience the history and terrain of both the towpath and the restored railroad bed. Upstream, canoe rentals are available at Little Orleans Grocery Store/Bill’s Place by the Fifteenmile Creek Drive-In Campground. This is the canoe and float take-out point for the 21-mile trip through the Paw Paw Bends. The Fifteenmile Creek Aqueduct is also accessible from the campground. The rail trail now continues westward to Little Orleans, which includes the Indigo Tunnel Bypass, which utilizes ramps to the canal. 

Mile Marker 184.5 – Cumberland 

This terminus of the C&O Canal offers easy access to the C&O Canal Visitors Museum, housed in the historic 1913 Western Maryland Railway Station. The museum offers interactive exhibits and educational displays. Cumberland is where the terminus meets up with the B&O Railroad and the National Road. It’s also where the canal connected to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail which continues on to Pittsburgh. Downstream from Cumberland you can access the smallest and the last of the aqueducts along the canal, Evitts Creek Aqueduct, and the last lift lock on the canal, Lock 75. There are wonderful bird watching opportunities on this section of the canal, particularly at mile marker 176.87 where a marsh that was formerly a basin attracts marsh birds and other wildlife. Similar wildlife can be viewed at mile marker 180.35 where the berm is a marsh. 

Written by: Charissa Hipp

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Paw Paw Tunnel

C&O Canal: Western Region Highlights

By Uncategorized
Paw Paw Tunnel by Garner Woodall

Paw Paw Tunnel by Garner Woodall

The western section of the C&O Canal National Historical Park begins in Hancock (mile marker 124.0) and travels through the mountains of Maryland in Washington and Allegany Counties to Cumberland (mile marker 184.5). This section of the park is very rural, with beautiful vistas and a woody retreats. In Cumberland, the C&O Canal ends, but joins the Great Allegheny Passage, which travels to Pittsburgh, PA. View a video about the western end of the C&O Canal, part of the C&O Canal Scenic Byway, here.

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 Paw Paw Tunnel

One of the engineering marvels of the C&O Canal, the Paw Paw Tunnel is almost exactly 6/10ths of a mile long and is constructed of almost 6 million bricks. It cut 6 miles off the length of the Canal, by tunneling through a mountain. The alternative to building the Tunnel was to make the Canal follow two of the Paw Paw Bends, a twisting 6-mile long section of the Potomac River. Be sure to take a flashlight if you journey through the tunnel — it’s dark in there!

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 Sideling Hill, Fifteenmile Creek, Town Creek, and Evitts Creek Aqueducts stand in the western region of the Park.

Visit the C&O Canal Museum at Cumberland

Housed in the historic 1913 Western Maryland Railway Station, the C&O Canal Visitors Museum provides a hands-on way to experience the history of C&O Canal. Featuring an exhibit area with interactive and educational displays about the history of the C&O Canal and Cumberland, visitors can explore a model of the Paw Paw Tunnel to learn about the day-to-day life of the canal families and glimpse the entrance of a coal mine to learn about the main product shipped along the canal. Exhibits are on view of a model lock, boatbuilding, and Cumberland as a transportation crossroads. Children will enjoy several interactive exhibits – most notably Mutt the mule.

Explore Canal Towns

The western section features two 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 Hancock (mile marker 124.0) and Cumberland (mile marker 184.5).

Visit the Green Ridge State Forest

Directly adjacent to the canal for nearly 18 miles is Green Ridge State Forest. At 47,560 acres, Green Ridge is the largest contiguous block of public land in Maryland – offering 50 miles of hiking trails and 200 miles of both dirt and gravel roads through the forest. Today, visitors have an array of entertainment options: hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, paddling, etc. Abundant wildlife in the state forest include deer, turkey, black bear, and unusual plants.

Get Active

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. Ride bikes on the smooth surface of the Western Maryland Rail Trail or ride all the way to Pittsburgh on the Great Allegheny Passage.

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 Passages of the Western Potomac Heritage Area. The western region of the C&O Canal runs through Washington and Allegany Counties, so be sure to check out these tourism websites for more to do in the area.

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Cushwa Basin

C&O Canal: Central Region Highlights

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Cushwa Basin in Williamsport

Cushwa Basin in Williamsport by John Gensor

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.

Get Active

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.

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Regulations and Response to COVID-19

By Content

‘Lockhouse 44 Parking Lot Looking Into the Canal’ by Ellen Kinzer

Daily life has changed in drastic ways over the past months. But what has rapidly become apparent is how much the local community loves the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders are keeping us cloistered, but allowances for exercise have sent thousands of people to the towpath for hiking, biking, stress relief, and an escape from the tedium of quarantine. Read More

Great Falls Tavern

C&O Canal: Eastern Region Highlights

By Uncategorized
Great Falls Tavern

Great Falls Tavern by Michael C. Mitchell

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.

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Trust Board Approves Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Resolution

By News
The C&O Canal Trust Board of Directors approved a Board Resolution at their June meeting affirming the Trust’s commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although the statement had been in the works for months, its passage now – as the nation reckons with its history of racial inequity – underscores how imperative it is that we continue to integrate these important principles into all facets of our organization. Read More

C&O Canal Trust To Fund Comprehensive Survey Ahead of Rehabilitation of Billy Goat Trail System

By News
The C&O Canal Trust will help fund a comprehensive survey of rare, threatened, and endangered plant species along the trails in the Great Falls area of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, recognized as one of the most biologically diverse parks in the entire national park system. A $64,757 grant will be used by the Park to hire a one-year botany fellow and a four-month botany intern. Read More

Books for the C&O Canal Lover

By Blog

Photo: Old Railroad Bridge Pier between MM 97 and 98 by MJ Clingan

You may already be deep into your summer reading list, but you may want to add some of these popular books featuring the C&O Canal. Whether you’re interested in historical fiction, nonfiction, or books for children, this list has something for everyone who loves the canal! This list is not exhaustive; books were selected based on popularity, quality, and availability on major book-selling websites.

Historical Fiction

River, Cross My Heart: A Novel by Breena Clarke
An Oprah’s Book Club selection, this novel is set in 1920’s Washington, DC, and tells the story of young girl’s tragic drowning in the Potomac River, and the subsequent fallout in her Georgetown neighborhood. 

Canawlers by James Rada, Jr.
Set on the C&O Canal during the Civil War, Canawlers is the first book in a series about the Fitzgeralds, a fictional family of canal boaters who are also part of the Underground Railroad. This book is perfect for both C&O Canal and Civil War history buffs!

Historical Non-Fiction

The Grand Idea: George Washington’s Potomac and the Race to the West by Joel Achenbach
This book follows George Washington in his attempt to connect the East Coast to the Western territories by constructing the C&O Canal. This is an excellent read for fans of George Washington, the history of early America, and of course, the C&O Canal. 

Home on the Canal by Elizabeth Kytle
This illustrated book provides a thorough and comprehensive history of the canal from its origins and construction in the early 19th century to the effort to preserve it as a national park that culminated in 1971. The book also includes first-hand accounts from several men and women who worked and lived on the canal, providing rare insight into their daily lives and experiences. 

Children’s Books

Captain Kate by Carolyn Reeder
The story of Captain Kate follows a young girl whose family hauls coal on the C&O Canal during the Civil War. With her stepfather off fighting in the war, Kate must step up and provide for the family by making the difficult 184.5-mile journey down the canal. This historical fiction book for young readers is a great way to introduce your kids to the history of the C&O Canal. 

Guidebooks

The C&O Canal Companion (2nd ed.) by Mike High
This book offers a comprehensive mile-by-mile guide to the history and features of the C&O Canal with accompanying photographs and illustrations. The book also includes practical information about biking, boating, and other popular recreational activities in the Park. The second edition delves deeper into the history, featuring more information on the Native Americans and African Americans who lived in the region, as well as updated information on recreational facilities. 

Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal by Thomas F. Hahn
Another excellent and comprehensive guidebook, the Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal, also provides a detailed mile-by-mile guide with modern and historic photographs, and detailed maps of specific sections of the canal. The book also includes information about Canal Towns and the Canal Quarters program.

The C&O Canal Trust also offers a diverse selection of books about the canal at our online store, including guidebooks to the C&O Canal and GAP Trail, and local history books that feature stunning scenic photography of the most beautiful places in the Park. Browse the selection here

Park Sees 49 Percent Surge in Park Visitation

By News
In March and April of this year, the C&O Canal National Historical Park experienced a 49 percent increase in visitation over the same period in 2019, with 1.07 million visits logged by automatic counters at key access points in the Park — 352,700 more visits than in March and April 2019. But even as people have flocked to the Park for respite, they have also placed a great deal of stress on its infrastructure. Trash has accumulated, assets have been damaged, new graffiti defaces several historic structures, and regular spring maintenance has been deferred.  Read More

15 Most Instagrammable Places Along the Canal

By Blog, Photography

As many visitors of the C&O National Historical Park will tell you, the canal is a very photogenic place. From birds to flowers to landmarks, the canal serves as not only a place to escape from our busy lives, but a picturesque landscape for photographers to create art.

Below we have listed the 15 most instagrammable spots in the canal. We hope this will urge you to get out and explore the beauty of the Park. Share your photos with us by tagging the C&O Canal on Facebook or Instagram!

You can also enter your photos in our monthly Photo Contest.

Towpath From Swains Lock to Edwards Ferry to be Resurfaced in 2020

By Uncategorized

‘Resurfaced Towpath’ by Simon Barber

Thanks to the funding support of private donors to the C&O Canal Trust, along with funds from the National Park Service and the State of Maryland, resurfacing crews continue their march up the towpath. As of this spring, 42 miles of the C&O Canal’s towpath between Edwards Ferry and Lock 38/Shepherdstown Bridge have been graded and resurfaced. The Park anticipates a further 14 miles from Swains Lock to Edwards Ferry to be completed by the end of 2020.

The work is part of the “Towpath Rehabilitation: A Safe Towpath” project, aimed at improving more than 80 miles of the 184.5 mile-long towpath by removing the rocks, roots, and ruts in the towpath surface that can be dangerous to cyclists and hikers. “Nearly 5 million visitors recreate along the C&O Canal each year and nearly all of them use the towpath for a variety of activities,” Superintendent Tina Cappetta said. “We want to ensure that our visitors have a safe, durable towpath for years to come.”

Besides removing obstacles from the towpath, the resurfacing work is also removing the grassy median strip that contributes to puddling. Crews are then grading the towpath to facilitate water runoff and resurfacing it with the same crushed stone dust that is used on the Great Allegheny Passage, the rail trail that connects to the C&O Canal towpath in Cumberland, MD, and runs to Pittsburgh, PA.

The current towpath surface is gravel over clay, which holds water and is prone to muddiness when wet. The new crushed stone dust does not retain water when applied to a properly graded surface and hardens with use, making it less likely to erode and rut. It is also easier to maintain over time.

The C&O Canal Trust has raised funds to support this work and engage an engineering consultant to provide technical expertise to the National Park Service for this project. We have also assisted with advocacy work to secure $1.14 million as of 2019 from Maryland’s Transportation Alternatives Program.

REI Funds Up to $90,000 for Canal Pride

By Uncategorized

REI Group Shot by Trust Staff

REI is well known as a retailer that sells quality gear to outdoor enthusiasts. What is less well known is that the Seattle-based co-op is also an industry leader in supporting organizations that provide stewardship for parks and public lands around the nation. Since 2012, as our premier Canal Pride sponsor, REI has contributed close to $90,000 to fund the work our Canal Pride volunteers do to improve access to the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s recreational assets. This generous support is driven by REI’s philosophy that a life outdoors is a life well-lived. For folks to enjoy that experience, they need places in nature that are welcoming and accessible, be they residents of city, suburbs, or country.

The C&O Canal Trust is the recipient of an REI “Place Grant” that funds projects to improve access to the Park’s great recreational assets.  With REI’s support, the Trust’s Canal Pride volunteers work each year to repair the towpath, provide paddlers with access to the Potomac River, improve popular trails like the Billy Goat Trail, and spruce up campgrounds and picnic areas. 

“With the 2019 visitation to the Park at a 30-year high of 5.1 million, this work is increasingly important,” said Trust President Robin Zanotti. “REI’s support helps ensure that today’s visitors have a great experience and choose to come back again and again.”

The co-op’s engagement in the Park extends beyond grant-making. Employees from REI’s local stores volunteer for Canal Pride and run a variety of programs in the Park such as climbing classes at Carderock and sunset hikes along the towpath and other trails. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, REI believes that getting people outdoors is an important part of the solution. Since 2014, the co-op has closed its stores nationwide on Black Friday to encourage Americans to use that day to enjoy nature rather than hit the shopping mall. “On average, people spend 95 percent of their time indoors,” said Naz Ahmed, Experiences and Philanthropy Manager for REI Mid-Atlantic. “They are facing a nature deficit and that impacts our ability to combat climate change. As the naturalist David Attenborough once said, ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they haven’t experienced.'” In partnership with REI, the Trust is working to overcome that deficit.

Canal For All Partner Identity Responds to COVID-19

By Blog, Canal For All, Content

The C&O Canal Trust’s Canal For All program seeks to engage traditionally underrepresented audiences with the canal through education, recreation, and service. The Trust works with several partners in Montgomery County to bring groups of youth out to the C&O Canal National Historical Park for unique experiences, and one of those partners is Identity. 

Identity was founded in 1998 to serve Latino youth and their families. Today, they provide a variety of programs to the Latino communities of Montgomery County including after school and workforce development programs, a parent leadership academy, recreation activities, and more.

Identity has been a part of the Canal for All program since 2016. They have participated in a variety of activities with the Trust, including Canal Pride Days and Latino Conservation Week, which brings youth out to the C&O Canal and exposes them to nature through hiking, biking, rock climbing, and service activities.

“The environment and climate change are such important topics right now, and teaching youth the importance of nature and our parks is critical,” said Identity’s Program Director Nora Morales. “The only way to instill that is through experience. If you can create a connection to a place for a child, you’re instilling in them the value of protecting their environment. They get to pass that love of nature down to their children.” 

During the COVID-19 health crisis, Identity has been working hard to provide essential services to their community. Many Latino families cannot get to supply distribution sites so Identity has delivered food, medical supplies, toilet paper, and Chromebooks (to facilitate distance learning for children) directly to them. They have also been helping families navigate rental and utility assistance programs, and the unemployment process. In addition, they are providing critical health education about COVID-19 and ways to prevent its spread. 

Like many organizations, Identity has had to adapt and move much of its programming online. They are currently offering virtual after-school programs, one-on-one tutoring, and YouTube programs to their communities. Learn more about Identity and all the great work they are doing to support Latino families in Montgomery County here

“Our mission is to help Latino and other marginalized communities in Montgomery County thrive,” said Program Director, Nora Morales. “Families are usually economically isolated and children tend to miss out on recreational and cultural activities. We are constantly looking for new partners to provide new and unique experiences.”

Read more about the Canal for All program here

Go Back in Time with Canal Quarters

By Blog, Canal Quarters

Image: Lockhouse 6 by Kenneth Lyons

The Canal lockhouses are known for their proximity to the Potomac River, suspended in nature, providing a time capsule into the past.

The C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Quarters program enables visitors from all over a chance to experience a time in history when the canal was flourishing, transporting goods and services across hundreds of miles. The lock keepers that lived in these stone houses were the managers of the locks, ensuring travel across the canal ran smoothly between the various locks.

The lockhouses are not just a place where history is preserved but where the present comes alive. The guest books left in each lockhouse tell stories of the visitors who stayed there, breathing life into the homes that still hold the stories of the lock keepers.

From birthdays, inauguration or Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations, intimate, private weddings and Girl Scout troop adventures, the lockhouses have kept guests’ memories preserved within its walls. They continue to keep history alive just as the world marches on. If you are interested in planning a stay with Canal Quarters to make your own memories, please visit https://www.canaltrust.org/programs/canal-quarters/ to learn more!

“Once upon a time, there was a lovely girl from the wooded hills of PA and a quiet boy from a hi-tech computer town. Life was good, but something was missing. Then, one day, their youthful souls met, but they didn’t fall fast in love. Instead, they spent the next few years laughing ans sharing and they learned from each other. They slowly fell into a wonderful happiness. The boy [unintelligible] so quiet and the girl no longer [unintelligible] together they lived and laughed and shared many adventures: camping, hiking, biking, finding peace of mind in the great outdoors… fresh air, warm fire, smells and sounds of the wilderness.

The girl – a proud descendant of the unrefined, adventurous, and hard-working, Wiley Pennsylvaninans & Pittsburgh Steelers fans – was always searching for her next quest. So she rode her bike from Pittsburgh to Washington DC 318 miles!! From the Allegheny Passage across the Continental Divide to Cumberland where C&O Canal guided here through MD, WV, and VA into the nation’s great capital. She biked and biked. It rained and shined. She slept in a tent and bathed in the river. The boy bough her [unintelligible] when it was all over. Covered in mud, she met him in Georgetown on a Friday night, and as he loaded her bike and gear onto the back of his Toyota, Georgetown’s finest — dressed in high heels and suit coats — gawked to see the dirty girl covered from head to toe in mud!!! It was a great adventure!!!

Only last year did the fine couple learn of the lockhouse rentals, and wow what a wonderful surprise! And so here they are – 7 years after they met, many adventures later and preparing for their coolest adventure yet!!

There’s a bun in the oven 13 weeks 4 days

Sarah  & Chris 

Enjoying lockhouse 6 with one of their favorite people in the world Papa Joey & Navi”

“Happy Inauguration Day, Mr. President! Brookmont’s own Innaugural Ball was held right here at historic Lockhouse 6. It was a night of great rejoicing and celebration, with live music, singing… dancing, and of course lots of awesome food. We were doubly fortunate tonight to be honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his legacy of Freedom and equality for all of us – as President Obama so eloquently emphasized in his speech today. Four more years.

Jennifer, our beloved hostess, organizer and quartermaster, asked us to bring our own personal time capsules to Lockhouse 6, in the form of photos of our childhoods and young adulthoods – a record of a time before we knew each other as Brookmonters. It was amazing to hear all there stories, and to see all that hair. Lots and lots of hair! We’ve all done such cool things in our lives. Our own bit of history here in Lockhouse 6 was a great place to share them.

Here tonight were: Jennifer, Davey,and Jesse 

Jeff & Julie 

Alice 

Jane  & Harry 

Leslie 

Paul  & Ginny 

Alan 

Dan & Janet 

Jamie 

Mary  & Joe”

“Leaders and girl scouts of Troop 2518 had a wonderful time. We walked from Lockhouse 6 to Lockhouse 10 and had dinner with the rest of our troop. On the way we saw ducks, turtles and [unintelligible] along with lots of people enjoying the path. After we had dinner at Lockhouse 10 the girls shared skits by a fire. Each skit incorporated a fact about the lockhouses. We came back to Lockhouse 6 for the night and had a lovely breakfast. What a beautiful spot – perfect get away for our troop. Thank you for sharing it with us!

Thank you so much!

Leaders of Troop 2518″

March 23, 2014

“I am currently in my 60th year and decided that every day this year I would do something I’ve never done before. So today was staying in one of the C&O Lockhouses. It was wonderful. We are local. So last night we had a few friends over for dinner & had a fabulous night. I could stay another week if I could.

Marilyn

Germantown, MD”

June 24, 2017

“We had a great day here for Shawn’s birthday. Both the house and the scenery are beautiful. It was fun to step back in time playing jacks and pick up sticks, cooking in the period kitchen, and relaxing by the outdoor fire. What a great little gem in DC! Laura, Shawn, Anna, Josh”

Sep 2, 2012

“We ‘locked it in’ at the lockhouse! We got married on the porch at sundown, just the 2 of us & a celebrant under a clear, crisp, clean December night with a full-moon smiling down on us! A small gathering of friends & family joined us later in the evening to celebrate. We toasted with sparkling cider & ate yummy goodies! A midnight walk on the canal 23 degrees, under silvery light. It was a unique and extraordinary adventure & will start off our lives together with a blessing!

 

Keith & Debra

(Kensington, MD)”

Book your stay at one of the lockhouses and make you own memories!

Book Now

Show Your Canal Pride From Home

By Blog, Canal Pride, Content

The C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Pride Days events bring hundreds of volunteers to the Park to perform maintenance and preservation tasks aimed at readying the Park for the busy season.

Last year, Canal Pride Days kicked off on April 27 at Paw Paw, where over 30 volunteers came out to work on several projects, including adding stone dust to the Paw Paw Tunnel, beautifying 11 campsites, and filling in potholes.

The following week, on May 4, over 80 volunteers converged on Great Falls. Volunteers worked on repainting the mule shed, painting picnic tables, cleaning the fee booth area, and spreading over 40 cubic yards of mulch. Volunteers from the Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern worked on cleaning the tavern and the Charles F. Mercer canal boat.

The final event was held on May 18 at Cushwa Basin in Williamsport with 56 volunteers picking up trash, cleaning exhibits in the trolley barn, and planting native plants in front of Lockhouse 44.

Canal Pride 2019 at Great Falls by Simon Barber

This year, our 13th annual Canal Pride Days events have been postponed due to COVID-19. When stay-at-home restrictions lift, we will be ready to hit the ground running with our Canal Pride activities, working in small teams to beautify the Park and return it to its pre-COVID levels of maintenance.

However, there are several ways you can safely show your Canal Pride by caring for the environment in your own neighborhood. Take a walk outside if you are able to and pick up trash along the way. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also pick up any pet waste that you see to prevent it from ending up in waterways.

Another way to show your pride is in your own backyard! Cultivate native plants in your garden and help them thrive by removing any invasive plant species. Native plants provide forage for pollinators like butterflies and honeybees and support greater biodiversity than invasives. For resources on native and invasive plants, visit the Maryland Native Plant Society and the Maryland Invasive Species Council.

 

Drawn by Sweet Nectar by MJ Clingan

Additionally, the Park’s volunteer office has put together some resources for staying engaged:

City Nature Challenge – creating an inventory of the flora and fauna in your own communities through iNaturalist. For more information, please visit: https://citynaturechallenge.org/

Zooniverse – virtual citizen science projects for almost any interest. https://www.zooniverse.org/

Smithsonian citizen science projects:  https://www.si.edu/volunteer/citizenscience

Maryland Department of Natural Resources projects: https://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/Community_Science_Resources.aspx

Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative – supports local organizations in water quality monitoring efforts and provides opportunities for people and organizations to get involved. For more information and a list of partnering organizations offering citizen science projects, please read on here.

Stay engaged with the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the C&O Canal Trust through social media! Follow the Park on Facebook and Instagram, and follow the Trust on Facebook and Instagram for COVID-19 updates, information about the Park, and cool photos. Finally, you can also show your Canal Pride by supporting the Canal Towns! Read about three ways you can do this here.

We look forward to welcoming all of our Canal Pride volunteers back to the park soon, but until then, stay safe and healthy!

5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day From Home

By Blog, Nature, Things to Do

Happy Earth Day! We may all be stuck at home, but that will not stop us from celebrating this holiday. Find out how you can make a difference this Earth Day by implementing the five tips below!

1. Give Extra Love to Your House Plants
Got plants? Give them some extra attention by watering them and singing to them. Do some transplanting for those plants that have gotten too big for their pot.

Don’t have plants? You can find seeds without leaving your home! Save those cores from consumed fruits and veggies and plant them in small containers. You will be amazed at how quickly the ends of lettuce or an apple or lemon seed will grow.

Read More

C&O Canal Crossword Solution

By Uncategorized

Take the C&O Canal crossword puzzle here or download a PDF.

Read on when you are ready to read the solutions.

    1. The C&O Canal is run by the ______

Answer: National Park Service

The National Park Service runs 419 units including battlefields, monuments, historical parks, parkways, scenic trails and more.

2. A National Scenic Trail that intersects with the C&O Canal (abbreviation)

Answer: AT

The Appalachian Trail or AT, is a National Scenic Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. Harpers Ferry is considered the midpoint of the trail. The AT intersects with the C&O Canal outside of Harpers Ferry, runs for 2.6 miles along the towpath and diverges at Lock 31.

  1. Animal seen sunning on a rock

Answer: Turtle

  1. Something canal boats transported

Answer: Coal

The canal transported coal, flour, iron, and limestone products. Learn more about what the canal and railroad transported here.

  1. Where a lock keeper lived

Answer: Lockhouse

The men, women, and families that operated the locks lived in nearby lockhouses.

  1. River that runs alongside the Canal

Answer: Potomac

  1. National Historical Park that intersects with the C&O Canal

Answer: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Canal visitors can access Harpers Ferry at mile marker 60.7. Harpers Ferry NHP interprets the story of John Brown’s Raid, an unsuccessful attempt to start a slave revolt in 1859 that was a precursor to the Civil War.

  1. Transportation system that raced to be completed before the canal

Answer: Railroad

Learn more about the race between the C&O Canal and the B&O railroad here.

  1. Animals pulling canal boats walked on the ______

Answer: Towpath

Mules towed canal boats on the path next to the canal, giving it the name “towpath”.

  1. A tunnel and fruit found in the Park

Answer: Paw Paw

The Paw Paw Tunnel is located near Oldtown Maryland. Pawpaw is a native tree in the Park that produces the pawpaw fruit.

  1. Supreme Court Justice who walked to help save the canal

Answer: Douglas

Justice William O Douglas advocated for preserving the canal instead of turning it into a parkway. He walked the length of the canal with nine editors from the Washington Post.

  1. Animal used to move canal boats

Answer: Mule

Today you can meet the mules of the C&O Canal.

  1. Family that lived in Lockhouse 21

Answer: Swain

Lockhouse 21 or ‘Swains’ was rehabilitated in 2019 and is available for overnight stays. Generations of Swains lived in Lockhouse 21 for 99 years, including current C&O Canal Trust board member Bert Swain.

  1. There are 36 ______ sites along the C&O Canal

Answer: Camp

There are 31 rustics hiker-biker campsites and five drive-in campsites in the Park.

  1. Terminus of the C&O Canal

Answer: Cumberland

Although the Canal Company planned to continue on to Pittsburgh, financial troubles and the superiority of the railroad contributed to the canal ending in Cumberland. Cumberland is now a member of the Canal Town Partnership and is where the C&O Canal meets the Great Allegheny Passage.

C&O Canal Activities to do at Home

By Blog, Content, Things to Do

Great Falls Canal View Credit: Sean Matthews

Stuck at home? You can still engage with the C&O Canal! The C&O Canal Trust has developed several fun activities that you and your family can do to keep engaged and learn new things, all from the comfort of your home! Interested in word puzzles? Complete our canal-themed word search and crossword puzzle. The park also has some cool coloring pages on their Facebook page and a Canal Kids Online Portal with information and activities.

Explore the canal from home by browsing the C&O Canal Trust website, including our Canal Discoveries page which has information about several of the canal’s hidden gems.

Word Search

Download PDF

 

Crossword Puzzle

Test your C&O Canal knowledge with our crossword puzzle. You can complete it below, complete it online, or download and print a PDF.

If you get stumped visit this page to see the solution.

 

Written by Callie Fishburn and Esther Herbers

Women on the C&O Canal

By Blog, Content, History, Stories

Maryland is celebrating the year of the woman in 2021. To celebrate, we are taking a look at the roles women played on the C&O Canal. Much of the canal’s history focuses on men, but Karen Gray, the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s volunteer historian, pieced together information on the canal’s women. Read More

Charles F. Mercer Canal Boat

Experience the Authentic C&O Canal

By Blog
Charles F. Mercer Canal Boat

Mules pull visitors up the canal on the Charles F. Mercer canal boat. Photo by Roy Sewall

Although the canal stopped operating one hundred years ago, you can still step back in time and experience what life was like on the C&O Canal during its heyday. You’ll find a multitude of authentic canal experiences, historic structures you can visit or book a night’s stay in, and even canal boat rides, with and without mules.

You can also copy this itinerary into our C&O Canal Itinerary Builder here.

Canal Quarters Lockhouses

Arguably the most unique experience you can have is to stay in an historic lockhouse! The Canal Quarters program features seven authentic lockhouses along the C&O Canal that have been preserved and are available to guests for overnight stays. Step back in time and experience what life was like during the heyday of the canal. Each lockhouse has been furnished with furniture and accessories from a different time period and each tells a different story about the development of the C&O Canal. Each lockhouse can sleep up to eight people. Visit www.canalquarters.org for more information and to book your stay!

Aqueducts
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. Several have been rebuilt, including the Conococheague Aqueduct in Williamsport, which is watered and is one of the only places in the country where you can ride a boat over an aqueduct. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Other Experiences

The C&O Canal National Historical Park offers a variety of other authentic canal experiences, including boat rides and historic canal structures you can visit. Read on for more, or view by region: East | Central | West

East: DC to Brunswick

Mile Marker 1.0                      Alexandria Aqueduct
An earlier attempt to relieve the congestion of canal boats unloading cargo in Georgetown, the Potomac Aqueduct allowed canal boats to cross over the Potomac River, connect with the Alexandria Canal, and deliver goods to the wharves at Alexandria, Virginia. This structure was built between 1833 and 1843. Only two of the aqueduct’s abutments and one pier near the Virginia shore remain today.

Mile Marker 3.1                      The Abner Cloud House

One of the oldest existing structures on the Canal, the Abner Cloud House and nearby mill date back to 1801. The site provided grain and excellent quality flour called “Evermay” to Washington, D.C. for nearly 70 years. Only ruins of the mill remain, but the house was restored in the 1970s. Today, the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter III, periodically offers interpretive programs in the house.

Mile Marker 5.4                      Lockhouse 6
Experience life on the canal with an overnight stay at Lockhouse 6, part of the Canal Quarters program. Lockhouse 6 is furnished in the 1950s time period and tells the story of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas’s walk of the entire 184.5-mile long towpath to help save the canal. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 8.8                      Lockhouse 10

Lockhouse 10 is also a part of the Canal Quarters program. Like Lockhouse 6, it provides a unique lodging option for your canal visit. It is furnished in the 1930s time period and tells the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) efforts to preserve the canal. With a screened-in porch overlooking the canal and full amenities, this lockhouse provides a restful spot to recharge from your canal explorations. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 14.4                    Historic Great Falls Tavern and Canal Boat Program

Today, Great Falls Tavern, once known as the Crommelin House, is a visitor center for the C&O Canal National Historical Park, offering visitor services, exhibits, interpretive programs, and more. This grand two-story historic structure, completed in 1829, served a number of purposes through the years as a locktender’s house, a tavern, a hotel, and even a private club.

One of the most authentic experiences available on the C&O Canal is a canal boat ride. Experience life in the 1870s, a history lesson and a unique boat ride that includes a ride through a 19th century lock, complete with canal mules and costumed guides. You’ll get all this and more during an hour-long ride aboard the replica Charles F. Mercer canal boat at the Historic Great Falls Tavern. (Check www.nps.gov/choh for the schedule of boat rides. Rides are closed for 2020 and will resume in 2021.)

Mile Marker 16.7                    Lockhouse 21 “Swains Lockhouse”

Also a part of the Canal Quarters program, Lockhouse 21 is also known as “Swains Lockhouse” after the family who lived there for over a century. This lockhouse interprets 1916, the year the National Park Service was formed and the date when the C&O Canal was beginning to transition from a working canal to a recreational space. The lockhouse has been completely modernized with full amenities, including an ADA-accessible bathroom and a Murphy bed on the first floor, ramps into the house, and hallways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 19.6                    Lockhouse 22
Experience life on the canal with an overnight stay at Lockhouse 22, part of the Canal Quarters program. Lockhouse 22 is furnished in the 1830s time period, reflecting on the early phase of canal construction and the architectural marvels that were necessary to make it functional. Step back in time and experience life as the lock keepers truly lived. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 22.7                    Seneca Aqueduct
Seneca Aqueduct and Lock 24 are combined into a single structure here, the only place along the canal that this was necessary. This is one of 11 aqueducts that carried the canal over major tributaries of the Potomac.

Mile Marker 22.7                    Lockhouse 24 “Riley’s Lockhouse”
Riley’s Lockhouse is very well restored, with one-and-a-half stories over a full basement. Local Girl Scouts dressed in period clothing periodically provide interpretation and guide visitors through the historic home.

Mile Marker 30.9                    Lockhouse 25
Experience life on the Canal with an overnight stay at Lockhouse 25, part of the Canal Quarters program. Lockhouse 25 is nestled in the sleepy town of Edwards Ferry and is furnished in the 1860s time period, telling the story of the Civil War’s impact on the Canal. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 35.5                    White’s Ferry
White’s Ferry is a one-of-a-kind on the Potomac River. Until it closed in 2020, it was the last operating ferry on the river, transporting vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians from Maryland across to the Leesburg area of Virginia.

Mile Marker 42.2                    Monocacy Aqueduct
The Monocacy Aqueduct is the largest of the canal’s 11 stone aqueducts. It is often considered one of the two finest features of the C&O Canal. It was built from 1829-1833.

Mile Marker 49.0                    Lockhouse 28 
Lockhouse 28 is the most remote of all the Canal Quarters lockhouses, located nearly a half mile from the nearest parking. This rustic retreat was completed in 1837 and is a reminder of the fierce competitive race between the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the race to reach the Ohio River Valley. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 51.5                    Catoctin Aqueduct
The Catoctin Aqueduct is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built with two semi-circle arches on either side of an elliptical arch. The elliptical arch was not structurally strong and began to sag, leading to structural failure. In 1973 two arches collapsed leaving only a remnant of the eastern arch standing. The Park Service buried the original stones to help preserve them in case the aqueduct was ever restored, which began in 2007. The restored aqueduct was dedicated and re-opened in 2011.

Central: Brunswick to Hancock

Mile Marker 69.4                    Antietam Aqueduct
The Antietam Aqueduct is the fourth of 11 stone aqueducts in the Park. The 140-foot structure is built of limestone from a nearby quarry and has three elliptical arches. It’s located near Antietam Battlefield but actually sustained extensive damage by the Confederates during General Jubal Early’s invasion of Maryland in 1864. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Mile Marker 99.2-99.8                        Williamsport Visitor Center/Cushwa Basin
The historic Cushwa Basin warehouse is open seasonally as the C&O Canal Visitor Center in Williamsport, interpreting the 1920s time period on the canal. The Park staff offer boat tours at Williamsport/Cushwa Basin on a replica launch boat that passes over the refurbished Conococheague Aqueduct. It’s the only place in North America where visitors can see a lift lock and refurbished lockhouse, a railroad lift bridge, a canal turning basin, and a re-watered aqueduct. Lockhouse 44 is fully furnished on the lower level and is open to visitors periodically throughout the spring and summer. Visitors can step back in time to learn about what lock keepers did and how they lived. Inside the Cushwa Basin warehouse visitors will find interpretive exhibits and visitor information. The Trolley Barn at Cushwa Basin features hands-on activities for children and replica historic toys. Days and times may vary for boat tours and visitation to Lockhouse 44 and the Trolley Barn. Visit the Park’s website for more information.

Mile Marker 99.6                    Conococheague Aqueduct

Completed in 1834, the Conococheague Aqueduct was built of limestone from nearby quarries. The aqueduct has three equal arch spans. Both armies launched raids against the aqueduct during the Civil War. Years later, the berm wall collapsed early on the morning of April 20, 1920. The boat traveling across the aqueduct fell into the Conococheague Creek and remained there until the 1936 flood carried it down the Potomac. A full restoration of the aqueduct was completed in 2019. Canal launch boat rides across the re-watered aqueduct are offered seasonally. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Mile Marker 108.9                  Lockhouse 49
Experience life on the Canal with an overnight stay at Lockhouse 49, part of the Canal Quarters program. Lockhouse 49 is a two-story lockhouse furnished in the 1920s time period that tells the story of the canal community at Four Locks. With four canal locks located so closely together, the community was truly a canal community with stores, warehouses, a dry dock for boat repair, a school, a post office and a dozen houses. Learn how you can spend the night in this lockhouse here.

Mile Marker 116.1                  Licking Creek Aqueduct
The 90-foot, single-span aqueduct was described by the C&O Canal Company in 1839 as “one of the longest, if not the longest, aqueduct arch which has been constructed in the United States.” Constructed between 1836 and 1838, the structure is largely built of limestone and cement transported from nearby Hook’s mill, just across the river from Hancock. The aqueduct was first used in 1839 when the canal was watered from Dam no. 6 down to Dam no. 5. This was the same year canal operations began in the town of Hancock. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Mile Marker 122.8                  Bowles House/Hancock Visitor Center

The historic Bowles House is open seasonally as the C&O Canal Visitor Center in Hancock. The house was built in the 1780s as a one-story structure overlooking the Potomac. The parcel of land, known as “Sarah’s Fancy,” was transferred from Lord Baltimore to William Yates around 1775. The Yates family occupied the house during canal construction until 1875, when it was acquired by the Bowles family. They remained in the house until 1905. Visitors can enjoy sitting on the front porch and, on occasion, may have the treat of hearing a ranger or local resident play banjo or acoustic guitar. Visit the Park’s website for more information and hours.

Mile Marker 123.0                  Tonoloway Aqueduct
Constructed between 1835 and 1839 of limestone extracted upstream on Tonoloway Creek, Tonoloway Aqueduct carried canal boats across Tonoloway Creek, a 31-mile tributary of the Potomac River. Cement for the aqueduct came from Captain Hook’s mill but during a water shortage in the summer of 1837, cement was imported from Boteler’s Mill and Baltimore. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

West: Hancock to Cumberland

Mile Marker 136.6                  Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct
The Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct was built between 1837 and 1840, primarily using Tonoloway Limestone from the quarry at the mouth of the Cacapon River, as well as Pocono sandstone rubble from Sideling Hill. The aqueduct has a single arch with a 70-foot span. The creek marks the boundary between Washington and Allegany Counties. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Mile Marker 140.9                  Fifteenmile Creek Aqueduct
The Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct is a small, single-arch aqueduct. Built between 1838 and 1850, it is in excellent condition for a century and a half old structure. It was constructed with hard flint stone quarried at Sideling Hill on the West Virginia side of the river. In 1842, during construction, the canal company ran out of funds and work was suspended for a time, but finally, work was completed and the aqueduct began service in 1850. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Mile Marker 155.0                  Paw Paw Tunnel
It took 12 years and nearly all of the Canal Company’s funds to complete the Paw Paw Tunnel, but it opened to traffic on October 10, 1850. The tunnel was built to save five miles of construction by cutting across a neck of land formed by the Paw Paw bends. What resulted was the most notable landmark on the Canal—at three-fifths of a mile and 5,800,000 bricks in all.

Mile Marker 162.4                  Town Creek Aqueduct
Town Creek Aqueduct is a single-span aqueduct. Construction began in 1837 and was abandoned in 1838 when the contractor quit during the Canal company’s financial crisis. It was completed during the final phase of C&O Canal construction (1848-1850) by Michael Byrne. It is the tenth of eleven aqueducts on the Canal and, like many of the other eleven, is missing its upstream wall. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

Mile Marker 180.7                  Evitts Creek Aqueduct
The Evitts Creek Aqueduct is the last of the 11 aqueducts on the Canal, and is made of “Fossilferous Tonoloway Limestone” quarried upstream and shipped to the aqueduct via a 1.5 mile railroad. Work began in 1839 and was completed in 1841 when the Canal Company ran out of funds, with final touches and service beginning in 1850. Learn more about the C&O Canal’s aqueducts here.

13 Canal St., Cumberland       “The Cumberland” Canal Boat Replica
Visitors can tour “The Cumberland,” a full-sized replica canal boat constructed in 1976. Guides in period clothing interpret the history of the canal and daily life aboard a canal boat. Visitors can also tour the mule shed, hay house and furnished Captain’s cabin. Visit the Park’s website for more information and hours.

Written by: Charissa Hipp

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C&O Canal Aqueducts

By Blog, Content, Explore Your Canal, History, Landmarks, Planning Your Visit

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. Several have been rebuilt, including the Conococheague Aqueduct in Williamsport, which is watered and is one of the only places in the country where you can ride a boat over an aqueduct. The eleven aqueducts are all different – the stone they were constructed with varies, including red sandstone, grey limestone, white granite, white and pink quartzite. Some have fallen apart and exist only as ruins, while others have been lovingly restored by the National Park Service to their former glory. All stand testament to the engineering ingenuity and devoted labor that went into their construction and the important role they played in the growth of our country. Read More

Canal for All: A Reflection Four Years In

By Blog, Canal For All, Content

In October of 2016, almost four years ago, the Canal for All Pilot Phase was launched thanks to a grant provided by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and the Kendeda Fund. The two-year pilot initiative focused on connecting African-American and Latinx communities in Montgomery County with the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) through the themes of work, play, learn and serve. 

Throughout those two years, the C&O Canal Trust formed ten new partnerships with local government, nonprofits, and businesses, and provided access to the park through fee-free overnight experiences and recreational programming. Read more about the launch of Canal for All and its efforts to engage underrepresented audiences here and here

In 2018 the Trust received a $19,000 grant from the Montgomery County Council to launch a Conservation Jobs Corps (CJC) program. The program was implemented in the spring of 2019 in partnership with the Montgomery County Department of Recreation’s TeenWorks program and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The season began with crew of youth volunteering in the park on select Saturdays to work on maintenance and beautification projects. Then, from July of 2019 to early August, CJC crews were employed to provide valuable help with park maintenance projects, and were instrumental in helping the park recover from severe flooding events in Great Falls and the surrounding area. Program participants were exposed to a variety of projects, while also having the opportunity to engage in recreation throughout the park. CJC members also participated in the Trust’s 2019 Canal Pride events. Read more about the CJC here

Teenworks Crew at Great Falls in October 2019

Throughout 2019, the Trust also continued programming with its other partners including Identity Inc. and Community Bridges. Youth from Identity Inc. were able to experience the park through a variety of activities during Latino Conservation Week, and two groups of girls from Community Bridges were given a free overnight stay in Lockhouse 6 accompanied by a mini-lesson from a Canal Classrooms teacher. 

Youth from Identity Inc. on a bike ride during Latino Conservation Week 2019

Looking ahead to the next phase of Canal for All, the Trust plans to continue relevant programming with our partners, foster existing partnerships and seek out new ones, and look for opportunities to expand the Canal for All initiative into other counties and communities. The Trust is also committed to weaving the values of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion into all aspects of our work and increasing the cultural competency of our organization and the C&O Canal NHP. 

3 Ways to Support the Canal Towns

By Blog, News, Towns and Communities
The Canal Towns, ten towns that line the C&O Canal National Historical Park, provide cyclists and tourists with lodging, food, and services that make the thru-ride possible for so many people. However, the merchants in these towns are suffering, as the tourism and hospitality industries are some of the hardest hit due to COVID-19 closures. As we enter what would be the start of the busy outdoor recreation season on the canal, please consider supporting the Canal Town businesses in the following ways: Read More

Georgetown

Places for History Buffs Not to Miss

By Blog, Explore Your Canal, History, Landmarks, Planning Your Visit, Things to Do, Towns and Communities
Georgetown from the Canal

Georgetown from the Canal by Tim Walters

Most people think of the C&O Canal as a place for outdoor recreation, but the park is designated as a national historical park because of its rich history. The canal’s history is multi-faceted—from its use as a transportation route with over 1,000 historic structures to its strategic location along the Potomac during the American Civil War and beyond. Today it’s not only a great place to enjoy the outdoors, but it’s a treasure trove for history enthusiasts. You can explore by region: East | Central | West

You can also copy this itinerary into our C&O Canal Itinerary Builder here.

East: DC to Brunswick

Mile marker 0.0                       Georgetown
Georgetown is situated on the Fall Line and was the farthest point upstream that oceangoing boats could navigate the Potomac River. Established in 1751 as a tobacco port town, Georgetown is where the C&O Canal begins. The creation of the C&O Canal provided an economic boost to the area. Transportation of goods such as tobacco, sugar, and molasses from the West Indies, as well as salt from Europe, passed through Georgetown. These shipping industries were later replaced by coal and flour industries, until they declined in the late 19th century. A flood in 1890, coupled with the expansion of the railroads, brought destitution to the canal, and Georgetown’s waterfront became more industrialized. The shipping trade vanished from Georgetown between the Civil War and World War I. In 1967 the Georgetown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mile marker 0.4                       Douglas Bust
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas played an integral part in saving the canal from being turned into a parkway during the 1950s. His love for the canal led him to challenge editors from The Washington Post to hike the entire 184.5 miles of towpath with him to see why the space should be left untouched. His efforts provided a focal point for media attention and intensified the efforts of conservation groups who sought to preserve the canal. Thanks to his efforts, the National Park Service abandoned the parkway idea.

Mile marker 7.6                       Glen Echo Park and Clara Barton House

The bluffs above Lock 7 were the site of a Chautauqua, an adult education and social movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This one had only one successful season in 1891. Glen Echo Amusement Park then occupied the site, becoming the area’s premier amusement park for many years, until 1968. The National Park Service acquired the site, removed some of the amusement structures, and opened the park to the public in 1970. Since then the park has offered cultural and educational programming, and visitors can ride the historic Dentzel Carousel.

Just upstream from Glen Echo is the Clara Barton House, where Clara Barton spent the last 15 years of her life. Barton, known as the “angel of the battlefield,” was a volunteer nurse and relief worker during the Civil War. She later founded the American chapter of the Red Cross. Barton lived in the house, which served as a working headquarters for her relief operations, until her death in 1912. Today the house is managed by the National Park Service and open to the public for tours.

Mile marker 22.8                     Seneca Stone Cutting Mill
Seneca Stone Cutting Mill operated from 1837 to the early 1900s, milling stone from Seneca Quarry for many structures on the canal and public buildings in Washington, D.C., including the iconic Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall. The mill’s water wheel, and later a turbine, were powered by water from the canal. Seneca Stone Cutting Mill also cut granite and stone shipped from neighboring quarries. Granite and marble used in the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument were cut here.

Mile marker 35.5                     Whites Ferry

White’s Ferry is a one-of-a-kind on the Potomac River. Until it closed in 2020, it was the last operating ferry on the river, transporting vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians from Maryland across to the Leesburg area of Virginia. The ferry dates back to the early 1800s and gets its name from former Confederate Lieutenant Colonel Elijah White, who owned a nearby farm and purchased the ferry after the Civil War.

Mile marker 44.6                     Nolands Ferry

Nolands Ferry was an important crossing on the Potomac River even before the United States was a nation. Native Americans crossed here traveling from the Susquehanna River southward through Maryland to the Carolinas. Licensed ferry operations date back to 1735, with the Noland family operating the ferry here as early as 1758. Thomas Jefferson crossed the Potomac here on May 10, 1776, en route to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence. It was also the site of several Revolutionary War crossings, used by the colonists and the British. The ferry was surrounded by a thriving community but that faded with the construction of the Point of Rocks Bridge across the Potomac.

Mile marker 48.2                     Point of Rocks Railroad Station
The Point of Rocks Railroad Station, considered one of the most picturesque railroad depots in the nation, was built when the B&O’s connector line to Washington was constructed in the late 1860s. Its location, where the two lines meet, is truly unique. The station is unusually sophisticated for its rural setting, done in the Victorian Gothic Revival style. The station is a testament to the significance of the railroad in post-Civil War America. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and is still used by CSX, the successor to the B&O Railroad, as an office.

Mile marker 50.0                     Point of Rocks Trail Tunnel

The rivalry between the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad came to a head in the mid 1800s when continuation of both the Canal and the railroad tracks required passage through the narrow Point of Rocks section of the Potomac River basin. The B&O bought up much of the land in this stretch, but the C&O countered with a claim that it had the rights to the route based on a previous charter. It was eventually ruled the C&O Canal must share the right of way with the railroad as far as Harpers Ferry. To provide a little more breathing room through this very tight squeeze, the railroad built tunnels through two spurs of the Catoctin ridge following the Civil War. Once the Canal was out of business, the B&O ran tracks around the outside of the tunnels as well, and the Canal unfortunately became a dumping ground for the railroad.

Central: Brunswick to Hancock

Mile marker 60.8                     Harpers Ferry

On the night of October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown marched his “army of liberation” down the C&O Canal towpath and crossed the B&O Railroad Bridge into Harpers Ferry to raid the federal armory. The historic town of Harpers Ferry, much of which is part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, is a must-see for history buffs. Several historical eras are interpreted for visitors, from the Industrial Revolution to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement.

Mile marker 69.5                     Antietam Village and Antietam Ironworks

The remnants of the once-thriving village of Antietam and the old limekilns from Antietam Ironworks are just beyond the stone bridge over Antietam Creek. Located at the confluence of Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, this was the site of extensive iron-working facilities for most of the century following 1765. Pig iron was the major product. During the Revolutionary War, craftsmen forged cannons, cast cannon balls, and turned out muskets at Antietam Ironworks. In 1786, metal parts for James Rumsey’s experimental steamboat were forged here. Powered by water from the Antietam Creek, the village had a rolling mill, slitting mill, nail factories, large grist mill, limestone crushing mill, spinning mills, hemp mills, flour mills, sawmill, shingle mill, cooperage factory, woolen mill, and stove works at various times. During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, General Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Army Corps passed through the village on its way to Sharpsburg. The ironworks suffered some damage during the Civil War but was rebuilt and operated until 1882. Antietam Village and Antietam Ironworks are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mile marker 71.4                     Packhorse Ford

Also known as Blackford’s Ford, Boteler’s Ford, and Shepherdstown Ford, this is the site where Stonewall Jackson’s Command crossed en route from Harpers Ferry to Sharpsburg to join Confederate forces on September 17, 1862, during the Battle of Antietam. This is also where the entire Army of Northern withdrew into Virginia on September 18 and 19.

Mile marker 72.6                     James Rumsey Monument and State Park

Just across the Potomac River on top of the cliff is the James Rumsey Monument and State Park. James Rumsey was a pioneer of steam navigation and was the first superintendent of the Patowmack Company, a position that George Washington recommended him for. On December 3, 1787, Rumsey’s steamboat, which used a type of hydraulic jet-propulsion, made its debut in this calm section of the Potomac River. Hundreds of spectators witnessed the craft make its way upstream from the Shepherdstown ferry landing at a rate of four miles per hour. A 75-foot monument sits on the hillside to commemorate Rumsey’s first-in-steam navigation.

Mile marker 72.8                     Ferry Hill Plantation

Ferry Hill sits on the high bluff overlooking the Potomac River and the C&O Canal, opposite Shepherdstown. The property has been a farm, a restaurant, an encampment for Union troops, and, at one time, the headquarters for the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Ferry Hill was built by Col. John Blackford in 1813 and once encompassed 700 acres. Blackford had one of the largest slaveholdings in the area, owning 18 slaves and hiring part-time laborers as well. In 1850 the Douglas family moved into the mansion with their four children, which included Henry Kyd Douglas. Henry enlisted in the Confederate army in 1861 and served as Stonewall Jackson’s youngest staff officer. Maryland was a border state but because Henry enlisted as a Confederate, the Federals kept the Douglases under house arrest for much of the Civil War. Ferry Hill was used by both armies during the war and wounded Confederates were cared for here following the September 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam. Henry’s father Robert was suspected of spying for the Confederates. The Federals arrested him and sent him to Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, for several months.

Antietam National Battlefield

Located approximately 5 miles from the C&O Canal, Antietam National Battlefield is the site of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. After three phases of fighting, more than 23,000 soldiers were dead, missing, or wounded. The September 17, 1862, battle ended in a draw, but was considered a strategic victory for the North, preventing England and France from intervening. Following the battle, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, making slavery an official issue of the war.

Mile marker 75.7                     Killiansburg Cave
After the Battle of South Mountain, as the Confederate army retreated and settled in Sharpsburg, the town residents felt the tension mounting between the Confederates and the Federals. Many families left their homes to go stay with nearby relatives while others found refuge in caves, including the Killiansburg Cave, along the Potomac River. Out of the line of fire, the caves provided a safe haven for residents to gather until the battle ceased.

Mile marker 94.44                   Falling Waters
Following the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee and his troops withdrew into Maryland. Rain and high water levels made a retreat back into Virginia difficult so the army worked on making pontoon boats. Water levels subsided enough for the army to cross over fords at Falling Waters and also Williamsport, under darkness.

Mile marker 99.2-99.8             Williamsport

Williamsport is the only place on the canal where examples of major canal structures can be viewed within a half-mile stretch of the towpath. Visitors can see a refurbished lockhouse and its adjacent lift lock, the only Bollman Iron Truss bridge over the canal, a railroad lift bridge, a canal turning basin and a re-watered aqueduct. The railroad lift bridge is a rare surviving example of a short-span railroad vertical lift bridge. It was built in 1923 by the Potomac Public Service Company, where the Western Maryland Railway spur crosses the canal. Cushwa Basin is the only restored historical basin on the C&O Canal. The basin was excavated and rebuilt in 1994. The Cushwa warehouse was built between 1790 and 1810, predating the canal. It is one of the oldest buildings along the canal. Adjacent to the basin, on its downstream side, was the Cushwa wharf. This, along with the Steffey and Findlay wharf near Lock 44, made Williamsport the most important coal shipment point on the canal above the Federal District. Replica launch boat rides over the re-watered Conococheague Aqueduct are offered seasonally.

Mile marker 110.2                   McCoys Ferry

Union and Confederate troops clashed several times at McCoys Ferry throughout the Civil War, On May 23, 1861, Confederate forces tried to capture the ferry boat but were halted by fire from the Clear Spring Guards. They let the boat drift downstream where Union soldiers later retrieved it. On October 10, 1862, less than one month after the Battle of Antietam, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry crossed the Potomac River at McCoys Ferry on his second ride around McClellan’s army. Part of the Confederate cavalry in the McCausland-Johnson raid crossed the Potomac here on July 24, 1864. The cavalry was on its way to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where it burned the town after residents refused to pay a ransom.Mile Marker 112.4

Fort Frederick

Fort Frederick State Park borders the Potomac River and surrounding parts of the C&O Canal. Within the park is Fort Frederick, built from 1756-57 at the request of Governor Horatio Sharpe to protect the frontier. It is the only remaining stone fort from the French and Indian War. It was also used during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, when Union troops were often stationed at the fort to guard the canal. Today the fort and surrounding area is a Maryland State Park. Visitors can enjoy tours of the fort, interpretive programs, and living history programming throughout much of the year.


West: Hancock to Cumberland

Mile marker 155                      Paw Paw Tunnel

Made up of six million bricks and at three-fifths of a mile long, the Paw Paw Tunnel is considered the most notable landmark and greatest engineering marvel on the C&O Canal. It took 14 years and cost more than $600,000 to complete, coming in way over budget. The tunnel was built to eliminate six miles of canal and cut across a neck of land formed by the Paw Paw bends. Immigrant laborers worked on the tunnel in difficult conditions. A great deal of labor unrest including riots, strikes, violence, and even arrests, disrupted progress on the tunnel.

Mile marker 166.7                   Oldtown

Oldtown’s history dates back thousands of years to early Native American settlements in the area. Five of their trails passed through Oldtown; in fact, the town’s original name was Shawnee Oldtown. In the early 1740s, frontiersman Thomas Cresap established a fort near the Potomac River. His son, Michael, was the first white male born in Allegany County. Today, one of the oldest structures in Allegany County is the 1764 Michael Cresap House. George Washington crossed the Potomac here in 1748 when he was in his teens, working on a survey mission. The low water crossing of the Potomac River at Oldtown made it a popular spot for troops to cross during the French and Indian War and again later during the Civil War. Several Civil War incidents at Oldtown affected the canal and the B&O Railroad. In August of 1864, after burning Chambersburg and occupying Hancock, Confederate troops threatened Cumberland. Union forces amassed an unsuccessful attempt to trap Brigadier John McCausland’s Confederate raiders behind Union lines in the Battle of Oldtown on August 2.

Mile marker 182.6                   Wiley’s Ford

On the night of February 21-22, 1865, about 65 men known as McNeil’s Rangers crossed the Potomac River near Brady’s Mills and entered Cumberland, while approximately 8,000 Union troops were encamped there. The rangers captured Generals Kelly and Crook while they were sleeping and took them, along with their horses, down the canal to Wiley’s Ford where they crossed into Virginia. The generals were taken to Richmond where they were held in captivity.

Mile marker 184.6                   Cumberland

Cumberland, established as a town in 1787, was once the second largest city in Maryland. During the Industrial Revolution the mountains of the Cumberland region provided coal, iron ore and timber, which turned the city into a key manufacturing center. Other industries took off as well, like glass, breweries, fabrics, and tinplates. Prior to the arrival of the railroad and the canal, the National Road brought travelers to Cumberland. The railroad made it to Cumberland in 1842, followed by the canal in 1850. At that time, use of the National Road began to decline. The last stagecoach line stopped operating in 1853. During much of the Civil War, Union General Benjamin Kelley’s troops, headquartered in Cumberland, were responsible for protecting the B&O Railroad and the canal. Following World War II, industry in Cumberland began to decline, as did the population. Today, Cumberland is a member of the Canal Towns Partnership and features a variety of shopping and history for tourists to discover.

Written by: Charissa Hipp

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My Time as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the C&O Canal Trust

By Blog, News
I’m 10 months into a year-long internship as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) with the C&O Canal Trust. Towards the end of college, I knew I didn’t want to go straight into another degree program. I was interested in program evaluation, policy research, community, and international development. I was keenly aware that there was a disconnect between the theories and case studies I was reading about and the reality of community development and the nonprofit world. I strongly wanted experience in the nonprofit or public sector before I continued my education. For these reasons, I applied to the AmeriCorps VISTA program and accepted a one-year position working with the C&O Canal Trust and the Canal Towns Partnership. Read More

Remote Places Along the C&O Canal to Explore While Socially Distancing

By Blog, Content, Explore Your Canal, Landmarks, Planning Your Visit, Things to Do

Towpath near Shepherdstown by Alma Rebekah Hanna

During this stressful time of social distancing and isolation, it is critically important you take care of your physical and mental health. Fortunately, the C&O Canal National Historical Park can offer you fresh air, relaxation, and a break from the news coverage. The western section of the C&O Canal offers many remote points of interest that are less frequently visited than popular eastern hubs such as Great Falls. Consider visiting some of these western gems along the canal for a stroll or a bike ride along the towpath — but make sure you are following all social distancing guidelines. If you have kids, take our C&O Canal Scavenger Hunt with you!

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Exploring New Routes – On and Off the Towpath

By Blog, Explore Your Canal, Planning Your Visit, Things to Do
One of my favorite things about the resurfaced towpath is how easy it is to go from biking on the towpath to biking on the road. Before the resurfacing, I would never bring a road bike on the towpath, and even a gravel bike would be uncomfortable. So I would have to choose between a road ride and a towpath ride. Now I don’t have to choose. The resurfaced towpath opens up a whole new set of routes that combine the quiet nature of the towpath with nearby state parks, battlefields, and towns. Learn more about towpath resurfacing here.

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African American Heritage Sites Along the C&O Canal

By Blog, Content, Explore Your Canal, History, Landmarks
The C&O Canal is a great place to experience history! Visitors can learn about the construction of the canal in the mid-nineteenth century, the fierce competition between the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad, and even experience life as a lock keeper with an overnight stay in a historic lockhouse through the Canal Quarters Program. But the C&O Canal is also a great place to learn about African American history in the region. There are many historic churches, communities, and heritage sites along the canal that preserve the African American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Read More

New Superintendent Tina Cappetta Previews Her Vision for the C&O Canal

By News

Tina Cappetta took up the position of Superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) in January 2020, following nine years as Superintendent of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Hampton National Historic Site, and Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. Over her 30-year National Park Service career, she has held positions in 10 parks around the nation, including at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in upstate New York, where she was the superintendent. From 2002 to 2004, she was Chief of Resources at the C&O Canal NHP.

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Canal Pride Has Provided $1 Million in Value to C&O Canal

By Canal Pride, News
Entering its thirteenth year, Canal Pride is testament to the value of bringing volunteers, funding partners, and in-kind donors together to ensure that the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) remains a safe and welcoming venue for all those who love the Park. Since 2008, the C&O Canal Trust has recruited over 11,000 Canal Pride volunteers who have given 32,844 hours of service in the park, valued at close to one million dollars. These park beautification projects are a great benefit to the C&O Canal, as the maintenance division often has its hands full caring for the 184.5

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Poolesville Joins the Canal Towns Partnership

By News, Towns and Communities
The Montgomery County town of Poolesville recently joined the Canal Towns Partnership, a community and economic development organization made up of 10 towns along the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP). “We are excited to have our first new canal town come on board since the inception of the partnership in 2011,” said Abbie Ricketts, the chair of the Canal Towns Partnership.

Through tourism marketing and advocacy, the Canal Towns Partnership aims to amplify the voices of its small canal town members so they can fully reap the economic benefits of trail tourism. The C&O Canal NHP hosts 4.5 million visitors a year, many of whom visit the Canal Towns in search of food, drink, shopping, and lodging.

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Nature in January on the Canal

By Blog, Explore Your Canal
January can be such a quiet month. The bustle of the holidays are over, and people are returning to a normal rhythm at work. Things can be similarly quiet within the C&O Canal National Historical Park. With the cooler temperatures and shorter days, fewer people are venturing out to explore. But there is still so much to see in the Park in January. If you have a chance, go for a hike on the towpath and see what you can find while the world is quieter.

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