While the 184.5-mile C&O Canal is no longer used for its original purpose of transporting freight, it is still a wonderful spot for those looking to get outside for a run, bike, walk, or paddle, and brings a little history along with it.
While the 184.5-mile C&O Canal is no longer used for its original purpose of transporting freight, it is still a wonderful spot for those looking to get outside for a run, bike, walk, or paddle, and brings a little history along with it. The canal is a national historic park that stretches from Georgetown, situated in the western end of Washington, DC, to Cumberland, MD, and shadows the Potomac River for its entire route. The canal's adjacent towpath is a fantastic place for a trail run—a mostly flat surface of gravel, dirt, and grass. While the canal itself is devoid of water in many sections, six areas—totalling 30.1 miles—have been re-watered making it a great place for paddlers to enjoy the canal as well.
What Makes It Great
There are many places to put-in up and down the canal. So depending on what type of paddling you are looking for and where you are located one may be better than another. If you're in the D.C. area, the easiest section to check out is the first 22 miles. Starting in Georgetown and ending at Violettes Lock, near Darnestown, MD. paddlers will find the water flat and calm. It’s perfect for families or folks looking for a relaxing time on the water. And the gentle current—the canal was built to have a two mph current—means going up the canal doesn't require much extra paddling energy.
The next watered section of the canal is from mile 99.3 to 99.8 in Williamsport, MD followed by a one-mile segment between miles 112 and 113. Three more watered sections lie up the canal—from mile 120 to 121, 124.1 to 124.7, and 162 to 167.
To make your day on the canal complete, paddle for a while and then head ashore to have a picnic along the towpath.
Who is Going to Love It
There's really nothing not to love about paddling on the C&O Canal. The water is clear, clean, and calm, and the views are stunning. Plus, the canal was built between 1828 and 1850, and operated between 1831 and 1924. That means there's lots of history to be seen. Families, especially those with children, can make a trip to the canal an educational experience.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are several on and off points along the canal. Check the National Park Service website for information on directions and parking.