Cycling the C&O Canal

(mile 124) The town of Hancock makes a good overnight stop because the 1828 Trail Inn and the Riverrun Bed & Breakfast are located just off the towpath. There's a Super 8 Motel is within a half mile of the towpath and there are several restaurants in town.


The bumpy towpath, with all of its potholes and tree roots, takes a toll on your body, so many people choose to skip 20+ miles of towpath and ride the super-smooth asphalt of the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT). The WMRT runs parallel to the towpath and has connections on the southern end at mile 117 & 119 (about 7 & 9 miles south of Hancock) and on the northern end at mile 136.5, just south of the Sideling Hill Aqueduct (12 miles north of Hancock).  

Tee shirt store

(mile 141) Little Orleans is a popular place to stop because it's 20 miles north to Oldtown and 17 miles south to Hancock. So it's positioned somewhat in the middle of a 40 mile stretch with limited services. Just under the railroad tressel is Bill's place. Bill's Place is a bar, general store and diner. Everyone comes to Bill's Place for its one of a kind atmosphere. This log cabin style building is a favorite stop for a cold drink and an excellent meal.

There's a lodge and a campground not far from Bill's. The Little Orleans campground requires a significant effort to climb the steep hill along Oldtown Orleans Rd. Campground website

C&O Canal near Hancock
Hilltops oer looking the Potomac River and the towpath

 Brunswick

C and O canal tee shirt store
Williamsport welcome center

Cumberland is a great place to stop. The Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop is located right on the trail in Canal Place. Also in that plaza, I have had a few good meals in the Crabby Pig restaurant. On a trip with my son several years ago, he claimed that his favorite hotel in the world is the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Cumberland. It's located right on the trail and has a pool and hot tub.

The Paw Paw Tunnel is 3,118-feet (950 m) long and has no electrical lighting. Bring a flashlight

(mile 61) Harpers Ferry is a tiny village, positioned at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park surrounds the town, providing visitors with tours, museums, hiking and biking trails --- all within easy walking distance. Today, the majestic beauty of the two rivers and the cliffs surrounding Harpers Ferry draw visitors from all over. The Appalachian Trail goes right through the heart of town. Boutique shops offer a variety of beautiful items for our visitors and local eateries can satisfy the palate. Local outfitters can help with rafting, tubing or kayaking trips. 


The Appalachian trail crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry via a footbridge which connects the towpath to the town. Riders must navigate a stairwell which climbs up to the footbridge which crosses the Potomac. There stairs were difficult with a loaded bike and BOB trailer. 

Explore history and nature in the beautiful 800-acre Great Falls park only 15 miles from the Nation's Capital.

Shepherdstown

Spectacular view of Great Falls

Little Orleans

C&O towpath is great for cycling because the nearly flat trail makes for easy pedaling. Over the 184 miles from Washington to Cumberland the trail only climbs 600 feet in elevation. Come prepared with a camera and a flashlight to capture the highlights along the trail.Type your paragraph here.

Canal boat in Cumberland

Hancock

Williamsport

​bar at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center complete with public rest rooms.

Cumberland

Paw Paw town and tunnel

Oldtown

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal abbreviated as the C&O Canal extends 184.5 miles along the bank of the Potomac River from Washington DC to Cumberland Maryland and played an important role in American history. The canal and the adjacent trail were constructed in 1828 to support the transportation of goods throughout the Potomac valley. The "Grand Old Ditch," as some called it, operated from 1831 until 1924 with a principal cargo of coal from the Allegheny Mountains.

The C&O Statistics tee showcases some of the engineering accomplishments which include 74 locks, 11 aqueducts and the infamous Paw Paw tunnel. The tunnel was one of the most challenging projects and today is certainly one of the coolest things to see on the trail. The 

Great Falls 

The Schoolhouse kitchen is an oasis in the heart of a food desert.  There's an old schoolhouse about a quarter mile from the trail that has been converted into several businesses.  This is where you will find the Schoolhouse Kitchen Cafe, which is located, yes, you guessed it, in the old schoolhouse cafeteria.  There is nothing fancy about the place, but they will serve you a home cooked meal for under $4.00 and fill up your water bottle with ice cold filtered water.   

lockhouse foundation along the C&O canal

Harpers Ferry

(mile 35.5) There used to be 100 ferries operating on the Potomac, this is the last one and it's still pretty busy.  The cars line up on what looks like a boat ramp and fill up the ferry.  The ferry follows a wire cable to the other side (lower right).  The ferry runs continuously, year round, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.  There's a fee to use the ferry and it's cash only. More info here

  • All autos: One way $5, round trip $8 
  • Trucks: $5, $7, $9, $12
  • Motorcycles: $3
  • Bicycles: $2
  • Trailers: $3 per axle
  • Foot Passengers: $1

For up-to-date conditions, call them at 301-349-5200.  Flooding and ice can close the ferry. Once across the ferry to Virginia, the town of Leesburg, is a mile south and has bike shops, restaurants and lodging.

Cycle through history on the towpath

light. The surface is hard-packed dirt with random dips and pothohes so it's a little tricky without a light. 


On a ride from Pittsburgh to DC I stopped at the entrance of the Paw Paw tunnel to take a couple photos. Looking down through the tunnel I could see nothing but the arch-shaped light coming from the southern entrance. About half way through the tunnel, a tour group of about 25 people passed me walking north. Everyone in the group had a light but the tunnel was so dark that I wasn't able to see them approaching until they were within a couple hundred feet away. The trail gets pretty skinny through the tunnel so passing someone requires a slight tilting of the bike to avoid a handlebar collision. Bring a light. 

If you need supplies stop in the town of Paw Paw, WV because the next town is around 10 miles away in either direction. Paw Paw is about a mile down south on Route 51 and has a few amenities including a general store, a convenience mart, and B&B.

The Nation Park Service website has more details about the tunnel here.

Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown

Harpers Ferry

(mile 99.4) Williamsport is a strategic place to stop because whether you are traveling north or south, there's no town for 25 miles.  If you're stopping in Williamsport you have to check out the Desert Rose Cafe.  Their fruit smoothies are delicious and all of their sandwiches are fresh.  I was having mechanical issues with my bike so Rose and Alan allowed me to use their computer to research bike shops and accommodations.  You guys are super-nice people (they are not a couple) and I wanted to thank you again.


There's a number of restaurants and overnight lodging options so 

Harpers Ferry is a tiny 19th century village which lies at the eastern-most point of West Virginia.

Great Falls

cyclists near Brunswick, MD
Inside the Paw Paw tunnel

(mile 55) The town of Brunswick is known for its train depot and sits about seven miles south along the canal from Harpers Ferry. Last time I was in town, Keith from Three Points Cycle saved the day having replacement three spokes on repair my rear wheel.  He's the guy to see if you need any bike maintenance. While you wait grab a burger with chips at Mommer's diner for $2.75.  The town has lodging and a campground. Tripadvisor lists 15 restaurants.  Beans in the Belfry is open for breakfast lunch or dinner. They have everything from baked goods, soups, chili, snacks, salads and Panini sandwiches and serving food seven days a week. 


(mile 156.5) On George Washington's many trips west, he usually took the Winchester-Cumberland Road which navigates through Paw Paw. Much of the town is nested in a big bend of the Potomac River. The town is the namesake of the Paw Paw Tunnel, an important part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The tunnel and the nearby canal is now part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.


At six-tenths of mile, you can see the arch-shaped light at the opposite end of the tunnel but be careful. The distance is deceiving. It is so dark in the tunnel that without a light you can't see the trail surface.  One hundred feet into the tunnel the trail surface fades to black so I illuminated my helmet-mounted 

Looking across to Harpers Ferry

Whites Ferry

crossing the Potomac into Shepherdstown

​​Paw Paw Tunnel

Shepherdstown

Great Falls is beautiful!
Bill's Place in Little Orleans

Shepherdstown is a vibrant little college town on the West Virginia side of the Potomac.

South end of the Paw Paw tunnel
Visit Shepherdstown

Trail highlights

(mile 14) This is one of the most popular sections on the canal because of the proximity to Washington and the incredible scenic beauty. Vantage points along the trail deliver breathtaking views of Great Falls on the Potomac River. The Historic Great Falls Tavern is home to the Visitor Center with a Bike Rental which is open on weekends. There's plenty of hiking trails to explore along the rivers edge. Click here to download a trail map.


If you're hungry and looking to feast on the areas' most average $16 burger, the Old Anglers Inn restaurant is the perfect place. They have comfortable outdoor seating shaded by mature oaks and accented with a soothing fountain. If your prefer to grab a quick bite, there's a snack

Harpers Ferry

(mile 72.8) Shepherdstown is a vibrant little college town on the West Virginia side of the Potomac. The town has a nice bike shop (The Pedal Paddle) on German Street and enough restaurant options to make everyone happy. On my last visit, I had a delicious roasted beet salad and steak at the Press Room.  There are a number of hotels to choose from and there's camping just down the road.


Crossing the Potomac at Whites Ferry