Party Earth Review Parallel to the Potomac River, the C&O Canal provides an almost entirely uninterrupted trail that extends 184.5 miles from upscale Georgetown all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. Constructed in the 1800s primarily as a... ... read full review
Georgetown Visitor Center
1057 Thomas Jefferson Street NW Washington, DC 20007
Trail: Parallels the Potomac River from Georgetown all the way to Cumberland, Maryland
To Georgetown Visitor Center
Blue Line, Orange Line: Foggy Bottom–GWU
Park open year round during daylight hours
Georgetown Visitor Center: Daily 9:30am–4:30pm (mid-April–September), F–Su 9:30am–4:30pm (October–mid-April)
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Georgetown, Washington, DC –
Parallel to the Potomac River, the C&O Canal provides an almost entirely uninterrupted trail that extends 184.5 miles from upscale Georgetown all the way to Cumberland, Maryland.
Constructed in the 1800s primarily as a means to transport coal and lumber, the canal is now part of the long, meandering expanse of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The trail itself – actually a linear sequence of several trails that follow the original towpath – is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts from diehard runners to strolling families.
Many begin their trek at the Georgetown Visitor Center, making their way past historic structures like the old lockhouses and the C&O plaque marking the canal’s start, or from Great Falls Park fourteen miles away, where they can board a reproduction canal boat where rangers dressed in period garb use mules to pull the boats upstream.
Although large sections of C&O have been drained, fishermen still frequent the banks where possible, and kayakers regularly use portions to shuttle their gear upstream before tackling the Potomac’s heady rapids.
The truly dedicated, however, are in for the long haul, as large packs of cyclists and diehard hikers head up past the Great Falls of the Potomac, through lush forests, and along the base of the Appalachian Mountains to Cumberland, most of them stopping to camp at the many free campgrounds along the way.
Whether for passing an afternoon or exploring during a multi-day excursion, the C&O Canal is a true DC gem.
And a Virginia and Maryland one, too.
About 150 miles along your journey, you’ll come to what is maybe the coolest manmade portion of the C&O Canal: the Paw Paw Tunnel. Completed in 1850, the tunnel extends more than 3,000 feet through a small mountain, and is still one of the longest canal tunnels in the world. Bring a flashlight, because you’re going through it and out the other side!
Cyclists, joggers, hikers, walkers, fishermen, fisherwomen, birders, sightseers, kayakers, a few horseback riders, and naturalists of every stripe. All ages.
About 184.5 miles of bliss…and a few blisters.
Although the towpath is close to urban areas, there are no food options directly along the trail itself except for the snacks stocked at the seasonal visitor centers. Water is plentiful, but anyone looking to do large portions of the towpath would be wise to pack plenty of food and a water purifier.
Although the entire towpath is fairly flat, beginning the trek in Cumberland enables a net-downhill journey for those looking to avoid some of the burn.
Other Visitor Center Hours:
Brunswick: F 10am–2pm, Sa 10am–4pm, Su 1–4pm (year round)
Great Falls Tavern: Daily 9am–4:30pm (year round)
Ferry Hill Place: Daily 9am–4:30pm (Memorial Day–September)
Williamsport: W–Su 9am–4:30pm (year round)
Hancock: M, Th–Su 9am–4:30pm (Memorial Day–mid-October)
Cumberland: Daily 9am–5pm (year round)
Mostly free to enter, but visitors planning to do large portions of the trek should get a park pass. Three-day park passes $5/private non-commercial vehicle or $3/person 16 or older when entering on foot or bicycle. Annual pass $20, valid from the month of purchase.
Depends entirely on the activity in mind.
The first twenty miles of the trail out of Georgetown are the most trafficked, with sunny weekends the busiest, while those venturing further will find few crowds to contend with during most of the journey.
Near the start of the trail in Georgetown is the Thompson Boat Center (2900 Virginia Avenue NW), where kayaks, canoes, and bicycles can be rented by the hour or for the day.