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Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath

Easy/Intermediate

Trail

191.9 mile 308.8 kilometer point to point
100% Runnable
Easy/Intermediate

Elevation

Ascent: 952' 290 m
Descent: -361' -110 m
High: 627' 191 m
Low: 28' 9 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 0% (0°)
Max Grade: 8% (4°)

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A nearly 200-mile long path running along side a nearly 200 year old canal.

Brian Smith

Features Birding · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Runner Notes

The C&O Canal towpath makes for a great running trail. Given that it parallels the canal for almost 200 miles, the towpath runs through multiple parks and links to countless trails along the way.

Description

Stretching almost 200 miles alongside the Potomac River between the nation's capital and Cumberland, Maryland, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park preserves remnants of America's transportation history. For nearly a century the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the lifeline for communities and businesses along its route as it floated coal, lumber, grain and other products to market from 1828-1924. Laborers began digging with picks and shovels in 1828. When finished 22 years later, the waterway averaged 40 to 60 feet wide and six feet deep and included handsome stone aqueducts and a remarkable 3,118 foot long brick-lined tunnel. Seventy-four lift locks adjusted water levels for a 605-foot difference in elevation between the western terminus in the mountains and tidewater in the east.

The final section of the canal, which terminated at Cumberland, opened October 10, 1850. A joyful crowd gathered to celebrate the long awaited opening of the C&O. A procession of citizens and officials marched to the locks at the mouth of Wills Creek where five coal boats waited to start the run down to Georgetown. Even during its contruction, the C&O was competing with a powerful new form of transportation--the railroad. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had begun its East-West route on the same day as the canal, but it reached Cumberland eight years earlier. Handicapped by dry spells, floods, and winter freezes, the canal could not match the speed and dependability of its rival. Loss of business to the railroad combined with costly flood damage forced the canal the close in 1924.

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, run or bike the C&O Canal in order to enjoy the natural, cultural, and recreational opportunities available.

Flora & Fauna

Typical Eastern forest flora and fauna. Oaks, maples, beeches and poplars. Deer and many species of birds.

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Trail Ratings

  4.5 from 11 votes

#1

in Georgetown

#723

Overall
  4.5 from 11 votes
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Trail Rankings

#1

in Georgetown

#723

Overall
152 Views Last Month
4,382 Since Dec 26, 2014
Easy/Intermediate

75%
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Photos

The mighty Potomac River.
Feb 9, 2015 near Potomac, MD
Great Falls locks (and fugitive waterfall).
Jun 30, 2016 near Great F…, VA
The ruins of a C&O Canal Lockhouse stand outside of Harper's Ferry.
Jan 7, 2017 near Brunswick, MD
The 3,118-foot Paw Paw Tunnel is lined with 6 million bricks.
Jan 7, 2017 near Bel Air, MD
Great Falls.
Nov 3, 2016 near Brookmont, MD
Dam Number 4 along the Potomac River is quite beautiful in the afternoon sun.
Jan 7, 2017 near Shepher…, WV

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