From Georgetown to Cumberland, MD, the C&O Canal is full of history and adventure. With 48 miles of the C&O Canal located in Allegany County, the Mountain Side of Maryland, you will find unique opportunities to learn about the history of the canal; embark on journeys through our parks, forests, and the Potomac River; and delight in the food and culture in the trail towns of Frostburg and Cumberland.
Explore the History
Beginning in the early 1800s, Allegany County served as a vital hub for the coal and other industries as well as the staging and outfitting point for westward migration. Where the C&O Canal, the Western Potomac, major roads, and railroads converged, the western region of America connected to the eastern seaboard. The very first portion of the National Road, the nation’s first federally funded highway that stretched through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, began construction here in 1811 and eventually became known as “The Road that Built a Nation.” At the same time, a budding railway system began to take shape here in the very nascent days of canal and railroad transportation. The story of this area’s role in the history of the railroad is legendary, if still somewhat unknown. Explore these areas for historical context, full museum exhibits, canal boat replicas, engineering feats, and so much more.
Located at mile-post 155.2 of the canal, the Paw Paw Tunnel is open year-round from daylight to dusk. But if you plan to visit, bring a flashlight. Even on the sunniest of days, the openings at both ends of the tunnel reduce to pinpoints as you make the 20-minute walk through the center of the tunnel. You will be able to see and experience a number of features inside the tunnel. You can feel the rub along the fence railing where the tow ropes burned into the wood as the mules dragged the boats along the water below. You can also find other features such as weep holes – openings left in the brick liner to allow for water drainage; rub rails – wooden planks fastened to the brick liner to protect the tunnel liner; and brass plates – these mark every 100 feet of distance and the location of the tunnel’s vertical shafts.
The C&O Canal’s 12-foot wide, nearly-level path was built for mules to pull the canal boats along the 184.5-mile canal from Cumberland, MD, to Georgetown. Today, the path is an internationally recognized recreation biking and hiking trail, maintained by the National Park Service. Outfit yourself with a bike rental or bring your own to experience the natural beauty and history of the trail.
Starting in Cumberland, the Great Allegheny Passage follows the route of the historic Western Maryland Railway as it makes a gradual ascent to the Eastern Continental Divide. Along the way, travelers pass through the Brush Tunnel and bend around the 180˚ Helmstetter’s Curve, paralleling the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (which offers rides, with bicycles if desired, to Frostburg, MD, where public art, lunch, and ice cream await). After Frostburg, travelers can meander through the Borden Tunnel, cross the Mason & Dixon Line, and catch spectacular views into four states at the overlook outside the lighted Big Savage Tunnel.
It is a favorite pasttime to grab an inner-tube, canoe, or kayak and hop on the Potomac River for a lazy float down the water. There are multiple public access points across Allegany County, most complete with a ramp and parking, where people can prepare for launch or coordinate a take out. We recommend working with an outfitter for equipment and shuttles as well as recommendations on take-out locations and float timing and itineraries.
Food & Culture
Cumberland and Frostburg are both official trail towns on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath, full of unique and charming shops and eateries. Both towns are state-designated Arts and Entertainment and Main Street districts and both share roots in the Passages of the Western Potomac Heritage Area transportation story. Delight in architectural beauty, small-town charm, and vibrant scenes. Be sure to take the self-guided walking tours while you visit.
Mountain Maryland’s Tap and Pour Tour was recently named “Best Beer/Wine/Spirits Trail” by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s 2021 ‘Best Of’ awards. Visit the area’s award-winning wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Relish in the ambiance their outdoor spaces provide, or you can grab your favorite bottles, crawler, and growlers to go.
We may be located in the breezy mountains of Mountain Maryland, but that doesn’t spare us from the sultry dog days of summer. Whether you’re biking through Allegany County on the Great Allegheny Passage or just want a sweet retreat from the mountain’s summer sun, Allegany County, Maryland, is home to some notable ice cream stops on the Allegany County Ice Cream Trail.
Travel through either one of Mountain Maryland’s Arts and Entertainment districts, in Cumberland and Frostburg, and you will be met with diverse genres of art in our galleries, theaters, and art spaces. But, did you know that there is a whole collection of art available in open spaces? Explore these incredible works of public art depicting history, honoring life, and celebrating culture in the county and the region.