The C&O Canal follows the route of the Potomac River for 184.5 miles from Washington, DC 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, DC, Hundreds of original structures, including locks, lockhouses, and aqueducts, serve as reminders of the canal's role as a major Chesapeake transportation system during the Canal Era.
The canal's towpath also 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 park is open all 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.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
Entrance fees are only collected at the Great Falls Entrance Station. All other access to the park is free.
Preserving America's early transportation history, the C&O Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth. Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway for discovering historical, natural and recreational treasures!
Hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding (from mile 16.6 to mile 184.5) are the most popular ways to travel through the park. There are many access points to the park. Hiking and bicycling are available along the length of the towpath, which is very close to level.
Canal boat rides: Rides in canal boats are available at Williamsport and Great Falls.
Camping: There are numerous camping sites along the canal. Most are on a first-come, first-served basis. More information is available at the park website.
Water-related activities: Several boat ramps are available along the canal. Canoeing should be undertaken by experience canoeists only. Swimming is not permitted in the canal. Fishing is permitted in the park subject to state fishing regulations. More information is available at the park website.
C&O Canal National Historical Park has six visitor centers:
BRUNSWICK VISITOR CENTER
Open All Year; Hours Vary.
Phone - 301-834-7100
Location - 40 West Potomac Street Brunswick, MD 21716
Exhibits - Exhibit interprets canal and local history. Short films also present canal history.
Available Facilities - Restroom.
CUMBERLAND VISITOR CENTER/WESTERN MARYLAND STATION
Open All Year 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Phone - 301-722-8226
Location - Room 304 13 Canal Street Cumberland, MD 21502
Closures - Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1
Special Programs - Ranger led programs offered on many weekends and some weekdays. Replica canal boat. Excursion steam train nearby. Call ahead.
Exhibits - Displays interpret canal and local history and the geology of the Great Falls of the Potomac.
Available Facilities - Restroom and bookshop.
GREAT FALLS TAVERN VISITOR CENTER
Open All Year 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (extended summer hours)
Phone - 301-767-3714
Location - 11710 MacArthur Boulevard Potomac, MD 20854
Closures - Monday and Tuesday of each week. Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1
Special Programs - Ranger-led walks and talks. Mule-drawn canal boat rides.
Exhibits - Displays and short films interpret canal and local history and the geology of the Great Falls of the Potomac.
Available Facilities - Restrooms, snack bar, bookshop
HANCOCK VISITOR CENTER
Open Open Memorial Day-Labor Day, Friday-Sunday
Phone - 301-582-0813
Location - 439 East Main Street Hancock, MD 21750
Exhibits - Displays and short films interpret canal and local history
Available Facilities - Restroom and bookshop
WILLIAMSPORT VISITOR CENTER
Open March-November, Wed-Sun
Phone - 301-582-0813
Location - 205 West Potomac Street Williamsport, MD 21795
Closures - Mondays and Tuesdays; Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1
Canal Launch Boat program weekends in summer.
Special Programs - Ranger led programs offered on many weekends and some weekdays. Call ahead.
Exhibits - Displays and short films interpret canal and local history.
Available Facilities - Restrooms and bookshop
FERRY HILL PLANTATION
Open Memorial Day-Labor Day Friday-Sunday
Exhibits and bookshop
Please contact one of the park’s visitor centers for more information.