Explore Your Canal

There are 184.5 miles of towpath and over 20,000 acres of Park land to explore in the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Use our Plan Your Visit website to explore the canal — soon, this website will also be available on our C&O Canal Explorer mobile app!

You can get started on planning your visit here.

Ideas for You to Explore

A Day in Williamsport, Maryland – An Itinerary

Park: You can get to the towpath from the town by bike or car when you head west on W. Potomac Street until you reach the Cushwa Basin parking lot. The towpath is located approximately 300 ft north west through the RailRoad Lift Bridge.    

River access: There are two entry points for boats along the Potomac River at River Bottom Park. The park can be accessed by bike or on foot from the towpath 0.9-miles. west of Lockhouse 44. For car access to the boat ramp, make a right onto N. Commerce St from W. Potomac St heading east out of the Cushwa Basin parking lot. Then make a right onto W. Salisbury Street to cross the Bollman Bridge. Follow this path down 0.1-miles to reach the boat access point. The second access point is located 600 ft to the right of the bridge overpass.

Stay: Depending on your preference, Williamsport offers a variety of lodging options. If you are interested in staying close to the towpath Bay farms, Bed and Breakfast is two blocks down W. Salisbury Street, totaling 0.5- mi. It offers an ideal stop for overnight travelers, hikers, or cyclists. Red Roof Inn is located a short distance, 1.1-mi from the towpath on E. Potomac Street, and provides affordable economy lodging choices. Another overnight stay option is Elmwood Farm Bed and Breakfast, which showcases cozy rooms and historic barn settings. Two miles up the towpath heading north is Jordan Junction Campground. An excellent place for hikers and bikers on the move; portable water, toilets, picnic tables, and grills are available for use. For extensive overnight camping Safari Campground and Yogi Bears, Jellystone Park Resort reside at the cross-section of Kendle and Lappans Rd. Cabin rentals, tent sites, and water amenities are available at the camp resort. 

Cushwa Basin by Mark Crilley

Williamsport Aqueduct by John Gensor

Don’t Miss: The RailRoad Lift Bridge & Conococheague Aqueduct.

The Conococheague Aqueduct is an exciting access point for canal boat riders interested in the full canal experience. Since the permanent lifting of the RailRoad Lift Bridge in 2016, pedestrians have been given access to cross the canal through the bridge. The restoration allowed for the expansion of the canal boat tour. The launch boat ride now explores the full length, from the Cushwa Basin to Lockhouse 44, with an informative historical tour of the canal. The tour also includes the newly restored Conococheague Aqueduct, which allows for boat operations to continue. This area is the, “Only place in North America where visitors can view, an operational lift lock, railroad lift bridge, lockhouse, turning basin and warehouse. (NPS, Conococheague Aqueduct 2020)”  

Eat: Dessert Rose Cafe 

Desert Rose Cafe is located a convenient two blocks from the towpath, heading east on W. Potomac for 0.3 miles. The restaurant provides a relaxed space for those eating in and hikers, bikers, and pedestrians on the go. Bike racks, outdoor seating, and amenities for trail users are available, such as bike pumps, inner tubes, first aid, and more. 

Chill: Byron Memorial Park

Byron Memorial Park is a brisk 0.8 miles from the towpath and leads into the center of town. This is a multiuse park that is located at the interaction of E Potomac St and Park Rd. Byron Memorial Park is known for its eventful celebrations encompassing car shows, concerts, and elaborate holiday celebrations such as Christmas lights and Fourth of July displays. Besides festivals, the park offers different facility rentals for those interested in using the Williamsport Community Building, pavilions, bandstand, gazebo rentals, and other rentals advertised on the Williamsport Town website.   

If you have time: Visit Lockhouse 44 

Located at mile marker 99.1 on the towpath, Lockhouse 44 stands along the canal. It was built in 1834 out of white and gray limestone; it now serves as a historical exhibit for requested tours. It is one of few surviving Lockhouse’s that initially maintained and operated the boat-locking system along the canal. 

Come back for: Springfield Farm

Springfield Farm is perfect for history fanatics interested in following the rich history of Williamsport. The Springfield farm is one of the largest barns in Maryland built by Otho Holland Williamsport himself in 1755. The estate contains a museum, two four bays, and a participant of the Living Legacy Project, an initiative dedicated to the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the fallen soldiers. Although the property is commemorated for its historical contributions, it is also available for reception, community events, fundraisers, banquets, and more. Questions can be directed to their email springfeildbarnweddings@gmail.com or phone number listed on the website.  

Events: Fourth of July Fireworks Display 

If fun and exciting celebrations are what you are looking for, join Williamsport in celebrating Independence day at Byron Memorial Park. It is a free venue that provides live local music performances, vendors, and a grand firework display.  

Along the Towpath in Williamsport by Ed Crawford

A Day in Poolesville, Maryland – An Itinerary

Parking access: Poolesville is located about five miles from the C&O Canal National Historical Park. To get to the Park from the Old Town Bank Museum located on Fisher Avenue in Poolesville, head west on Fisher Avenue and make a left onto W. Willard Rd. Make a right onto Westerly Road in approximately 1.4 miles. You will then make a left onto Edwards Ferry’s Rd and continue until the end of the road. There is a small parking lot available for day and overnight parking located here. 

River access: Edward’s Ferry boat ramp access is located at the end of Edward’s Ferry Road, past Lockhouse 25. This is a historic Civil War site used by the Union Army for crossing the Potomac River. This area is known for smallmouth bass fishing.

Where to stay: Poolesville is home to Lockhouse 25. A blast from the past, this rustic lockhouse can be reserved through the Canal Quarters program. This historic structure was built in the 1830s and sits at mile marker 30.9 on the towpath. It is available for overnight stays by up to eight guests. 3.7 miles upstream from the towpath, is Turtle Run hiker/biker campsite. It includes a water pump, a portable toilet, and a picnic table & grill.

Sunflower Field located at Sycamore Landing Road (mile marker 27), Poolesville, Maryland. by Nicholas Clements

Civil War Reenactment at Lockhouse 25 by Jan Branscome

Don’t miss: The John Poole House

Originally built in 1793 as a log store, the John Poole House is the oldest building in Poolesville. It served as Poolesville’s first Post Office in the early nineteenth century and is now the Historic Medley District office. This historic building is located behind The Old Bank/ Old City Hall of Poolesville.

Where to eat: Poolesville Athletic Club & Cafe 107

Café 107 is located in the Poolesville Athletic Club and offers a wide selection of both hot and cold drinks, such as blended coffee drinks, smoothies, and food such as grilled chicken wraps, pizza, and even tasty breakfast dishes, which are available all day. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Where to chill: Whalen Commons

Whalen Commons, located in the town center, is a place to meet and greet new and old friends alike. Enjoy outdoor concerts, farmer’s markets, and outdoor movie nights in the open grassy area, . You will also find restrooms, a bandshell and a walking trail here.

If you have time: White’s Ferry

White’s Ferry is the last one hundred cable ferries that used to operate on the Potomac River. Every day, cars, bikes, and pedestrians use the ferry to cross the river between Maryland and the Leesburg, Virginia area. It is located at 24801 Whitess Ferry Rd, Dickerson, MD 20842.

Come back for: Sugarloaf Mountain overlook

This registered National Landmark has a breathtaking view and is accessible for bikers and hikers on the towpath. This is about a 10– mile bike ride from or 15mins by car from White’s Ferry. from Poolesville and 17 mins from Whites Ferry. The park is open 8 a.m to sunset. Gates close one hour before sunset.

Events: Poolesville Day Saturday, September 26, 2020

This is a special day to commemorate Poolesville’s 25 years of community. This is a free day event hosted by the Poolesville Day Committee. That will feature a town parade including a marching band, 5K charity run, arts and crafts, vendors, children’s entertainment, and more. This exciting event is capped off with live music and car shows.

Bassett’s Public Art Mural by Trust Staff

https://www.visitloudoun.org/listing/whites-ferry/56/https://www.poolesvillemd.gov/338/Whites-Ferryhttps://www.canaltrust.org/pyv/whites-ford/http://sugarloafmd.com/https://www.poolesvilleday.com/about-ushttps://www.poolesvillemd.gov/facilities/facility/details/Whalen-Commons-8

A Day In Brunswick, Maryland – An Itinerary

Park: You can get to the towpath from town by a car when you head west on Potomac Street. Make a right onto S. Maple Ave. Head south past the Brunswick Train Station and over the tracks where a small dirt parking lot resides next to the towpath.    

River access: There are two points of access for boats along the Potomac River. Larger boats can access the river by making a right through the railroad parking lot. Follow this to reach the river access point. The second access point is located at Brunswick Family Campground. Make a left onto the towpath from S. Maple Ave. Follow the towpath for 0.4 miles to arrive at the campground and access point. 

Stay: Visitors can find a cozy room at the Travel Lodge or the Holiday Inn. They offer rooms for leisure, adventures, and business space. 0.6 miles on the towpath is the Brunswick Family Campground. This campsite includes tent sites, dumping stations, full hook-up sites, limited wifi, and other amenities. 

 Brunswick, C&O Canal Park Sign by Paulie Ward

Towpath in Brunswick, MD by Jerry Knight

Don’t Miss: The Visitor Center & Brunswick Heritage Museum 

The Heritage Museum doubles as two museums in one, while also sharing a building with the Brunswick Visitor Center. The second floor tells of how the town was shaped by the railroad, and the third floor depicts a 1700 square HO scale model of the B&O Metropolitan Subdivision. In 1890, the Baltimore &Ohio Railroad came to Brunswick, increasing travel to and from Brunswick. Remains of the railroad yard are still visible to this day and were known as the longest railroad yard owned by a single company, totaling 5 miles of the rail yard. 

Eat: Beans & the Belfry

Beans & the Belfry is a cozy, hiker, biker, friends, and family cafe located just .4 miles from the towpath on W. Potomac St. They offer indoor and outdoor seating with complimentary bike racks. Beans & Belfry has what you need to stay refreshed. They serve hot dishes, sweet desserts, refreshing snacks, all-day breakfast, and more. Live entertainment can be found Friday and Saturday from 7-9:30 pm, and live Jazz brunch on Sunday at 11 am-2 pm.

Chill: The City Park Building & Parks 

The City Park Building is located at 655 East Potomac Street, which is open for public access and private rentals. Amenities include a small kitchen, tables chairs, and restrooms. Other recreational spaces include the Corner Park located on Maple Ave and W. Potomac St., three minutes from the towpath, and a Brunswick dog park located .6 miles from the towpath on E. Potomac St. 

If you have time: Visit Remains of Lock 30 or the Rivers Edge Trials

Located at mile marker 55 on the towpath, the red Seneca sandstone and Patapsco granite rubble of the Lockhouse are still visible today. Next to the remains of Lock 30, a bridge carries Route 17 over the Potomac, replacing previous ferries and a wooden bridge that burned down by the Confederacy early in the Civil War. The Rivers Edge Trails are 2.9 miles from the towpath located on 13th Avenue and great for bikers looking for intermediate trails. The path consists of a single rolling track six miles in length with four route options. Natural cuts, berms, and switchbacks are an added plus to increase momentum and intensity. 

Come back for: Boxcar Burgers & Towpath Creamery 

This two-in-one unique restaurant deserves a stop, especially if you are looking for burgers and ice cream to fill you up and cool you down. They share the same building, only a brisk five-minute walk from the towpath. Boxcar Burgers serves “ simple food, done well made from the best local ingredients,” while the Towpath Creamery “offers healthy, all-natural farm-fresh ice cream from both Cold Run Creamery and South Mountain Creamery.”

Events: Fun Runs, Bike rides & Wine and Chocolate Walks

If running is your thing, sign up for the Potomac Street Mile. It will be taking place from August 1st through the 15th. Be sure to sign up before the close of registration on July 31st, 2020.

If biking is more your style, support Brunswick on August, 2nd 2020, and join Throwback on the Towpath. A physical distanced ride dedicated to celebrating the history of penny farthings, welcoming all riders.  

Further down the calendar, Saturday, September 5th, Brunswick will be hosting wine and luxury chocolates. Local venues gather to offer delicious samples, food selections, while live music cascades through the streets. 

Smoketown Brewing by Esther Herbers

Brunswick

  1. About Boxcar. (2020). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from http://www.boxcarcatering.com/about-boxcar/
  2. City Hall. (2020, July). Parks, Recreation, and Pool. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://brunswickmd.gov/?SEC=CF1E2F23-FC1F-4F29-870E-35A7D96F5FB7
  3. Creamery, T. (2020). Towpath Creamery. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from http://www.towpathcreamery.com/
  4. Heritage Museum, B. (2020, July). About. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from http://brunswickmuseum.org/about/
  5. High, M. (2000). The C & O Canal companion. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  6. N. (2020). Brunswick Visitor Center. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/brunswickvisitorcenter.htm
C&O Canal 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. 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. (more…)

Places for History Buffs Not to Miss
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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Remote Places Along the C&O Canal to Explore While Socially Distancing

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
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
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.  (more…)

Nature in January on the 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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Our Most Popular Blog Posts of 2019
A lot happened in 2019 and that meant a lot of blog posts! Here is the round up of the 10 most popular blogs of the past year. (more…)

5 Things to Do on the C&O Canal in the Winter
To some of us, winter is a time to stay indoors by the fire. But why would you stay indoors when the C&O Canal National Historical Park offers some of the most scenic areas to explore during the winter months? So put on some warm clothes and come experience the C&O Canal as a winter wonderland!

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How to Spend Autumn on the C&O Canal

The air is crisp and cool, and pumpkin spice is on every menu – fall is here! We are particularly partial to autumn along the C&O Canal, and we have assembled a list of things you can do to enjoy the season:

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Towpath Resurfacing Has Begun!

If you’re planning on heading out to hike or bike along the towpath in the next couple of weeks, you might want to try out the five-mile section between Edwards Ferry and Whites Ferry (Mile 30.8 – Mile 35.5). This is the first stretch of the towpath to undergo a complete “makeover” as part of the Park’s multiyear, 80-mile towpath resurfacing project. The towpath has been graded to facilitate water drainage, and resurfaced with the same durable material that bikers enjoy on the Great Allegheny Passage (Trail) from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. (more…)

In Winter There is Beauty to Be Found Along the C&O Canal

The C&O Canal National Historical Park has much to offer during the winter months to park visitors who enjoy the colder temperatures. Snow on the ground provides the opportunity for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and offers a beautiful backdrop for hiking, dog walking, bird watching, and photography. Frigid temperatures usually find folks taking to the ice for a solitary skate or a pickup game of ice hockey. Enjoy winter photos of the C&O Canal National Park, courtesy of our monthly Facebook photo contest entrants. (more…)

Need Last Minute Gift Ideas? The C&O Trust Can Help!

Life can be hectic, especially during the holidays. If you’re still searching for last-minute gift ideas for that special someone, we can help. We’ve compiled a list of affordable items sure to please everyone. (more…)

Need Last Minute Gift Ideas? The C&O Trust Can Help!

Life can be hectic, especially during the holidays. If you’re still searching for last-minute gift ideas for that special someone, we can help. We’ve compiled a list of affordable items sure to please everyone. (more…)

Winter Events & Programs at C&O Canal National Historical Park

Winter is a wonderful time to experience the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (C&O Canal) on your own, with a friend, or by attending a special event or ranger program. The park is open daily and visitors are welcome to join rangers for the following fun and exciting activities, December through February. (more…)

Enjoy Canal Town Shepherdstown during Theatre Festival July 7-30

Interested in a wild and wonderful combo of cutting-edge theater, outdoor adventure, and sight-seeing?  If so, visit Shepherdstown, West Virginia in July! (more…)

C&O Canal Town Events in 2017

The Canal Towns that border the C&O Canal  National Historical Park are home to some of the area’s most unique and exciting annual events. If you haven’t attended these shindigs in the past, make sure to add them to your calendar this year! (more…)

Join us for our Canal Pride events this spring!

We are looking for volunteers to help us in the Park during our 10th annual Canal Pride events, the largest volunteer events in the C&O Canal National Historical Park each year! We hope you will make plans to join us to help spruce up the Park for the upcoming season. (more…)

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C&O Canal Explorer Mobile App

The C&O Canal Trust is proud to release its new C&O Canal Explorer app to help you explore all 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Android and Apple versions are available.

Learn more and download the C&O Canal Explorer Mobile App here!