Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Quick Facts

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park


(301) 739-4200

Map Directions

Things To Do


The C&O Canal follows the route of the Potomac River for 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, MD. The canal operated from 1828-1924 as a transportation route, primarily hauling coal from western Maryland to the port of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of original structures, including locks, lockhouses, and aqueducts, serve as reminders of the canal's role as a transportation system during the Canal Era. In addition, the canal's towpath provides a nearly level, continuous trail through the spectacular scenery of the Potomac River Valley. Every year millions of visitors come to hike or bike the C&O Canal in order to enjoy the natural, cultural, and recreational opportunities available.

The abandoned canal was purchased in 1938 by the United States Government and placed under the care of the National Park Service, which planned to restore it as a recreation area. Although the bottom 22 miles of the canal were repaired and rewatered, the project was halted when the United States entered World War II and resources were needed elsewhere. After the war, Congress expressed interest in developing the canal and towpath as a parkway. However, the idea of turning the canal over to automobiles was opposed by some, including United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas. In March 1954, Douglas led an eight-day hike of the towpath from Cumberland to D.C. Although 58 people participated in one part of the hike or another, only nine men, including Douglas, hiked the full 182 miles. Popular response to and press coverage of the hike turned the tide against the parkway idea and, on January 8, 1971, the canal was designated a National Historical Park.

Map of Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

Latitude, Longitude: 39.001410, -77.246550



  • Boating

    Several short and widely separated sections of the canal have been rewatered and offer boating opportunities. Boats need to be carried around lift locks.

    Mile 0 to 22 Georgetown to Violettes Lock Mile 99.8 to 99.30 Williamsport to Lock 44 Mile 112 to 113 Big Pool Mile 120 to 121 Little Pool Mile 124.1 to 124.7 Hancock Mile 162- to 167 Oldtown to Town Creek

    Use of electric motorized vessels is allowed only at Big Pool, Little Pool, and canal waters from Lock 68 to Town Creek Aqueduct. Gasoline and propane motorized vessels are prohibited within the park. Personal floatation devices should be used as required by the state of Maryland. Use special care if boating on the Potomac River. Canoeing on the Potomac should be done under the direct supervision of an experienced adult canoeist. The U.S. Weather Bureau provides a taped message on river conditions in the lower Potomac Valley at (703)260-0305.

  • Bicycling

    Biking trails are shared with hikers. Biking along the towpath are excellent ways to see the park. Hiker-Biker Campsites are located from Swain's Lock to Seneca. Several park areas have interpretive trails and other hiking opportunities.

    Bicycle riding is permitted only on the towpath. The surface of the towpath is for the most part an even hard-packed dirt trail. The towpath can be very muddy following heavy rain. Bicyclists should carry tools for repairs.

    Please follow these basic biking regulations:

    * 15 MPH maximum speed limit on towpath * Ride single file * Stay to the right except when passing * Yield right of way to all pedestrians, horses and mules * Walk bikes over aqueducts * Sound devices (bell, horn, etc.) are required and should be sounded within 100' of approaching others

    Helmets required in accordance with county ordinances. Children under the age of 16 required to wear helmets. Please note: Potable water may not be available at each hiker/biker campsite. Please plan to bring water purification tablets with you.

  • Camping

    Camping is allowed only in designated sites. All of the campgrounds are on a first-come, first-served basis, except for Marsden Tract Camping, which is a reservation only group campsite. One family or camping unit is allowed for each site. The park defines family as one head of household and immediate family. A camping unit consists of a non-family group of up to eight people. Campsites (except Marsden Tract) may not be reserved in any manner. Abandoned or unattended personal property may be impounded. Campsites and/or camping facilities may not be transferred to another person or group. When a camper or group leaves the camping area, all equipment must be removed. Parking trailers and pitching tents or other equipment are permitted only at designated sites. Trailer length in drive-in campgrounds may not exceed 20 feet. All wheeled vehicles, except wheelchairs and bikes, must be kept off the grass. As in all park areas, pets at campsites must be on a leash or under other physical control at all times.

  • Climbing

    Climbing is allowed throughout the park, but ask the Visitor Center for more information on seasonal conditions.

  • Fishing

    Fishing regulations conform to the license requirements of the respective state where the canal and Potomac River are located. The District of Columbia requires a license for persons 16-65. In Maryland, a person 16 years of age or older must have a valid license to fish that state's non-tidal waters. Virginia requires a license for persons 16 and older. West Virginia requires a license for ages 15-65. For detailed information on state regulations, contact the following:

    District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs 202-404-1155

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources 301-974-3365

    Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries 804-367-9369

    West Virginia Department of Natural Resources 304-348-2771

  • Hiking

    Trails are shared with bikers. Hiking along the towpath are excellent ways to see the park. Hiker-Biker Campsites are located from Swain's Lock to Seneca. Several park areas have interpretive trails and other hiking opportunities.

  • Horseback Riding

    Horseback riding is a unique way to enjoy the canal. Groups must obtain approval in writing for all club rides and trips lasting more than one day. Write to the park Superintendent and include an itinerary with dates and locations.

    Please follow these regulations:

    Horseback riding is not allowed between Georgetown (mile 0) and Swains Lock (mile 16.6) or from Offutt Street (mile 181.8) to the canal terminus (mile 184.5). Horses are not allowed in the Paw Paw Tunnel. Riders must take the tunnel hill trail that goes over the tunnel instead.

    Riders may not exceed the speed of a slow trot.

    Riders must dismount and walk their horses across aqueducts. Horses may not cross wooden footbridges, which are not designed to carry their weight.

    Trail riders are responsible for hauling manure away. No grazing is permitted in the park. Bring in feed for horses. Do not water, clean, or tether horses near park wells. Hikers and bikers must yield the right of way on the towpath to horses. Access from private property is prohibited. Horses are not allowed in drive-in campgrounds, picnic areas, or adjacent parking lots. Riders may camp at hiker-biker campgrounds but must tether horses at least 50 feet from the area's boundaries for sanitary and safety reasons. Owners must prevent horses from damaging trees or undergrowth.

  • Picnicking

    Picnicking is located at campsites and in various other locations throughout the park.

  • Water Sports

    Swimming is permitted.

  • Winter Sports

    Ice conditions at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park are not monitored by park staff. Ice skating and sledding are not permitted in the widewater area of the park. In other areas of the park, ice skating and sledding are permitted at your own risk. In most watered areas of the park, the canal ranges in depth from six feet to 15 feet and the canal maintains a constant flow of water beneath the ice. Please use extreme caution. For ice skating information, please call the C&O Canal Ice Information Line at 301-767-3707.

    The towpath can be an excellent place to cross-country ski and and enjoy winter at the canal. The C&O Canal has 184.5 miles of towpath for visitors to enjoy during the winter. When the canal is covered in snow, it offers a beautiful winter landscape for hikers and cross-country skiers.


The park is open during daylight hours. Some of the park's six visitor centers operate on a seasonal schedule. Contact one of the visitor centers for current hours of operation. * Georgetown: 202-653-5190 * Great Falls Tavern: 301-767-3714 * Brunswick: 301-834-7100 * Williamsport: 301-582-0813 * Hancock: 301-678-5463 * Cumberland: 301-722-8226

Park Partners

C&O Canal Trust

The C&O Canal Trust is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to work in partnership with the National Park Service to protect, restore, and promote the C&O Canal National Historical Park. It seeks to ensure that the park's natural, historical, and recreational potential is fully realized. The Trust actively works with park visitors, schools, local organizations, gateway communities, and other to build an active and informed constituency for the C&O Canal NHP.

(301) 714-2233



Car - Various sections of the canal can be reached via Routes I-495, I-70, and I-68. Please see a park map or contact a visitor center for specific directions.

Public Transportation

Amtrak's Capital Limited services the following points along the canal-Washington, D.C., Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Cumberland, Maryland

Phone Numbers


(301) 739-4200