C&O Canal Towpath - Trail Running

Made possible by




A trail run on the C&O Canal towpath is a peaceful experience. The trail stretches 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md.

Written by

Jason Devaney


184.5 miles

The trail’s full length is 184.5 miles, but there are several spots along the way to turn around for a shorter run. You can just as easily run 2 miles as you can 10, or the multi-day 184.5.

Destination Distance From Downtown

2.6 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

A run on the C&O Canal towpath can be a few miles, or you could take the full 184.5 miles.

Time To Complete

1 hours

A trail run on the C&O Canal towpath can take an hour or several days, depending on distance.


All Seasons

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits


Land Website

C&O Canal Towpath



Stretching 184.5 miles from Cumberland, Md. to Washington, D.C., the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath follows the Potomac River and the historic, man-made canal that was constructed in the 1800s. The canal was an engineering marvel back in its day, as it contained 605 feet of elevation change that required the construction of 74 locks to raise and lower boats on the undulating landscape, plus 74 aqueducts and 240 culverts. Running parallel to the canal is the towpath, which was originally designed for horses, vehicles, or even humans to pull a boat down the canal in certain spots. Now it offers a chance to go for a trail run through history.

What Makes It Great

Mile 0 of the towpath is in the Georgetown section of Washington, on the Potomac River across from the infamous Watergate complex. The trail extends out from there over a gradual incline for the next 184.5 miles on a surface that varies from gravel to dirt.

There really isn't a bad section on the trail, as each mile offers a unique glimpse into American history. In 1825, President James Monroe signed a bill that allowed the canal to be constructed. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in 1828 and included an appearance by President John Quincy Adams. The first 17 miles, stretching from what is now mile 5.8 to mile 22.8, were completed by 1830. The canal was extended down to Georgetown by 1831, and it was then built outward until the final section into Cumberland opened in 1850. When the canal was in use between 1831 and 1924, it mostly brought coal from the Allegheny Mountains into the D.C. area.

Today, the remains of locks, buildings, and other structures line the canal and the adjacent towpath. Running through this is an inspirational experience when you think about the amount of manpower it took to construct the canal in the early- to mid-19th century.

Runners with lofty goals have run the entire length of the towpath straight through, staying at either local hotels or in the hiker/biker campsites that line the canal every 6-8 miles to break up the run over several days. There's also the option to stay in some of the restored blockhouses.

For most runners, however, running the length of the path is more of a goal that stretches over several years. You might run 10-15 miles here, 10 miles there as you work your way upstream (or downstream, depending on where you live).

Or maybe you just want a place to run some easy miles in a tranquil setting. The C&O Canal towpath is the place.

Who is Going to Love It

Runners will love the towpath for its gentle profile, forgiving surface, scenic views, and peaceful setting. The canal passes through several old cities and towns as it snakes northwest from Georgetown to Cumberland.
Ultrarunners try to run the towpath straight through, stopping only to sleep and eat. More novice runners, hikers, and history buffs also enjoy the path.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are countless on and off points along the canal and towpath, so it's best to consult with the official website for help. Entering the C&O Canal National Historic Park is free, although an overnight stay in a campsite or a restored lockhouse carries a fee.


C&O Canal Towpath - Trail Running

38.909189, -77.064737

Get Directions