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.
There are a number of visitor centers along the Canal, they are listed below:
Check the webiste of one of the six visitor centers for specific hours and operations
Some of the park's six visitor centers operate on a seasonal schedule, so make sure you plan accordingly.
(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.
Mule-Drawn Canal Boat Rides at Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center require a fee.
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.
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!