For nearly 100 years, the C&O Canal played a key role in the nation’s history and economy as goods made their way from western farms to eastern markets. As new modes of transportation emerged in the mid nineteenth century, the canal fell out of use and closed to boat traffic in 1924 before it was revitalized as a recreational and historical hotspot.
This year, the C&O Canal National Historical Park marks its 50th anniversary as a national park. An outdoor-lovers dream, the Park offers hiking, biking, paddling, historic lockhouses for overnight stays, and nearly 200 years of history. Join in the celebrations with a variety of events, including festivals hosted by the ten quaint Canal Towns that line the towpath, or by trying a C&O Canal-themed beer or two on the C&O Canal Libations Trail.
Go Outside and Play
Along the C&O Canal, you’ll have easy access to the 184.5-mile towpath and the Potomac River. Spend your days hiking, biking, fishing, and paddling from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Md. Use the C&O Canal Trust’s planner to get the most out of your visit.
Have an authentic C&O Canal experience with a boat ride across a restored aqueduct at the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport or through a working lock at Great Falls Tavern. Walk through the Paw Paw Tunnel, a 3,118-foot tunnel that took almost 14 years to build, or take the two-mile trail over the tunnel for stunning views of the area. Visit historic sites along the towpath or go rock climbing at Carderock. Explore Canal Towns like Harpers Ferry, W. Va. and Cumberland, Md. for a deeper dive into the regional history and culture.
You can download the C&O Canal Explorer app on your phone for more hiking trails, parking lots, history, and nearby amenities.
Unique Lodging Opportunities
While you’re visiting the Park, book a stay at one of the historic C&O Canal Quarters lockhouses where lock keepers and their families once lived as they tended to the canal.
Each of the seven lockhouses has been preserved so you can experience what life was like during the height of the canal. Each is furnished with a different time period in mind, telling the history of the canal as its story intertwines with the Civil War, railroad industry, Civilian Conservation Corps, National Park Service, and more.
All seven locations sleep up to eight people and are less expensive than a hotel—quaint, peaceful, historic, and steps away from the scenic nature that lines the Potomac River. You will have the lockhouse to yourself, offering a safe place for your family to get away from the crowds and enjoy the outdoors. The lockhouses are being professionally cleaned between guests.
Choose from a variety of amenities depending on what kind of experience you are looking for. The full amenity houses are outfitted with central air conditioning, heat, electricity, and running water. The rustic lockhouses are similar to when they were first built, allowing you to truly experience life as the lock keepers did. Don’t forget to bring your own linens, pillows, towels, and food for your stay at all of the lockhouses.
“Walking through the front door transports you back in time 60 years,” said guests John and Matt. “Remove all the technological trappings and you are left with peace and solitude that is rarely experienced this close to the nation’s capital.”
Since 2009, more than 20,000 guests from 46 states and four countries have gotten a taste of life along the canal. All of the revenue generated from the program goes back into preserving these historic lockhouses.
“What a gift for all of us,” said guests Terri and Alan. “The scenery, the wildlife, and the peace and quiet made for a well-earned respite.”
Step back in time as you get away to the C&O Canal National Historical Park, exploring the past and present while surrounded by nature. Visit canalquarters.org to find out more about upcoming events and to make your reservation today. You can also show your support for the park and its history with the new Canal Collection from Route One Apparel.
Header photo: Towpath Hikers East of Harpers Ferry, photo by Jim Kirby