More than 78 miles of the C & O Canal’s 184.5 miles are located in Washington County, Maryland. Though the National Park Service (NPS) site has a historical designation and a rich history rooted in transportation and commerce, it’s no secret that people flock to the Canal year-round to recreate outdoors.
Whether you’re going for a stroll, hiking, biking, fishing, birdwatching, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, or enjoying boating or paddle sports, there are diverse landscapes and scenic views. United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once described the Canal as “a refuge, a place of retreat, a long stretch of quiet and peace,” and many people find it to be just that.
The best place to start your journey on the Canal is at an NPS visitor center. Three of the seven visitor centers along the Canal, as well as the park headquarters, are located in Washington County: Ferry Hill Plantation, the Williamsport Visitor Center and the Hancock Visitor Center. At each, you can learn about the history of the Canal and pick up a park brochure with a trail map. Visitor center hours vary, but they are typically open spring through fall. You can also download the C&O Canal’s mobile app for 99 cents on your phone’s app store.
There are numerous access points for the Canal, ranging from drop-off only points to small pull-off areas and large established parking lots. Parking areas with large lots are located at the Railroad Bridge/Shepherdstown (mile 72.4), Big Slackwater (mile 85.4), Williamsport Visitor Center (mile 99.8), Four Locks (mile 108.8) and the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) at Pearre (mile 135.9).
If you’re planning an extended through-hike/bike on the Canal, you’ll find several camping areas along the towpath in Washington County. Most are free, located every six to eight miles. Two in Washington County are drive-in/walk-in campgrounds: Antietam Creek Campground and McCoy’s Ferry Campground. Another unique option is Lockhouse 49, located at Four Locks. The restored lockhouse has been converted to lodging as part of the Canal Quarters program through the C&O Canal Trust. It sleeps eight, and is fairly primitive, with electric baseboard heat, a stove, and a portable toilet. There are B&B’s, too, and they can pick you and your bike up along the towpath and return you there in the morning. More info can be found here: B&B’s Near the C&O Canal.
Several watershed sections of the Canal and the towpath run alongside the Potomac River, making it a great place for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and boating. Boat launches are located at Dargan Bend, Snyder’s Landing, Taylor’s Landing, Big Slackwater, Four Locks, McCoy’s Ferry and Little Tonoloway.
And speaking of boating, you can step back in history by taking a Canal boat ride at Williamsport, offered during specific times of the year. 2109 will see the completion of the waterway restoration at the Cushwa Basin, In Williamsport.
For a complete listing of recreational activities on the Canal, click here for a copy of the Recreation Guide by Milepost: https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/upload/Park_Planner_FY_2017_Recent-titled-2018.pdf