Bicycling the C&O Canal Trail  by Sue Freeman 


A packet boat docked before a lock on the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.


The Erie Canal, which stretched from Albany to Buffalo, was an immediate economic success. It allowed farm produce to flow east from farms to the population centers in Albany and NYC, and pioneers to head west in search of a better life in a wild new land. Other communities were jealous and a canal building boom ensued.

One of these projects was the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, started in 1828 with the intent of running from Washington DC to Pittsburgh, PA. It originally was to connect the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River � a 460-mile-long canal. Construction was estimated at 10 years and $3 million.  But, money problems, labor difficulties, disease epidemics, and competition with a parallel railroad caused delays. The canal construction was finally stopped in 1850 at Cumberland, MD. After 22 years, it covered only 185 miles, and had cost $13 million. The canal was obsolete by this time and a financial disaster. Nonetheless, it operated for 74 year before being shut down in 1924.

Today the towpath of the C&O Canal has been preserved as a bicycle path. Grass camping areas have been added approximately every 5 miles with outhouses, water pumps and picnic tables. The locks, lock tender houses, and aqueducts remain as part of the historical record. The towpath arches northwest on a narrow strip of land between the wild Potomac River and the C&O Canal providing an ever changing scenic vista. It even passes through the 3,118-foot-long Paw Paw Tunnel � a man-made channel dug through the solid rock to bypass an S curve along the Potomac River.  

Full trail map  c&omap.pdf
          Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader- get yours FREE 

Helpful web sites on the C&O Canal Trail 

Biking the trail

Brief History 

National Historic Park  

C&O Canal Association 


The canal towpath makes an easy and scenic bike trail.


Sue Freeman is co-author of two books on bicycle trails of Western & Central NY. 
Take Your Bike! Family Rides in the Rochester Area
Take Your Bike! Family Rides in the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley Region
can be ordered by calling 1-800-431-1579 (Mon-Fri   7am-5:30pm EST)
or through web site


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