The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was supposed to connect ports in Washington, D.C. with the Ohio River, but it never reached its destination before the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad rendered it obsolete in 1850. It employed 35,000 laborers (mostly European immigrants) during its 22 years of construction and eventually carried coal out of the Appalachian Mountains for decades. The canal closed in 1924, but it left behind indelible historic landmarks like locks, dams, aqueducts, historic hotels, and a 3,118-foot long tunnel.
Historic locks, boat tours, Great Falls Tavern, boating
C&O Canal National Historical Park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and offers multiple free visitor centers along the route that are open seasonally. Near Washington, D.C. both the Great Falls Tavern and Georgetown Visitor Centers offer mule-drawn canal boat rides on a first-come, first-served basis April through October. We enjoyed touring the historic locks of the canal in Hancock, Maryland after visiting Catoctin Mountain Park and Antietam National Battlefield.
Today you can walk and bike the graded 184.5-mile towpath that follows the Potomac River, camping at designated sites along the way if you choose.
The canal locks at Hancock, Maryland became part of the park that was created in 1971. The boarding house located there now serves as an NPS visitor center.
Summer, as most of the visitor centers are closed seasonally
None, except at Great Falls Tavern
All roads paved
There are primitive drive-in camping areas at five spots along the canal path, as well as 30 backpacking campsites spaced approximately five miles apart. There is also a nice NPS campground at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.
George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia-Maryland)
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)
Explore More – At its peak of operation, how many mule-drawn boats were in service on the C&O Canal?