Cycling the C&O Canal

Trip Planning
Thomas Shepherd Inn

Overnights

C and O canal tee shirt store

There are water pumps at the Hiker/Biker and Drive-In Campsite locations. Water quality tests are performed frequently by park staff to ensure water is drinkable. If the water quality is unsafe the NPS will lock the pump to prevent it's use. Water pumps are available from mid-April to mid-November.


Camping is allowed only in designated sites. If you are planning on leaving a parked car at a C&O Canal Parking lot, visitors must register their vehicle through the new online registration system. 

Click here for the overnight parking registration form

Print your receipt and place on your dashboard. If unable to print, please visit the nearest visitor center.
A maximum of 2 tents and 8 people per site except for group campsites. Tying ropes to trees and structures is not permitted. The C&O Canal is a Trash Free Park. Please plan to take all trash with you. Group Campsites are located at McCoy's Ferry, Fifteen Mile Creek, Paw Paw Tunnel, and Spring Gap. They are $40 per site, per night with a maximum of 35 people. NO reservations required - first come first 


Find a cycle-camping equipment checklist on the REI website. Click here to view the list.  

Be safety conscious when you're camping. It's a good habit to lock your bike at night to a nearby tree, pole, picnic table or other such object and then remove all water bottles, lights, and pumps from your bike. Removing them prevents them from getting stolen in the middle of the night. If you leave your light or pump on your bicycle, there is always a chance that someone could help themselves to your gear. When you go to bed each night, make sure that your camp looks impenetrable. The last thing you want on a bicycle tour is to wake up and find that your lights, pump, and water bottles have been stolen. Not a great way to start the day!

Camping is allowed only in designated sites but there are camp sites every 5 miles. If you are planning on leaving a parked car at a C&O Canal Parking lot, visitors must register their vehicle through the free online registration system. Enter your license plate, phone number and the parking location on the online registration form. Print your receipt and place on your dashboard. If unable to print, please visit the nearest visitor center.

A maximum of 2 tents and 8 people per site except for group campsites. The tying of ropes to trees and structures is not permitted. There are no trash cans at the campsitesPlease plan to take all trash with you.


Lockhouses along the C&O Canal

Trip planning

Primitive campsites every 5 miles

​​​Camping

Canal Quarters

Ride the C&O Canal

Camp

The Canal Quarters program is a cool lodging option because you can spend the night in a historic lockhouse which has been restored to provide the experience of what life was like 150 years ago!


Each Canal Quarter lockhouse has been furnished with furniture and accessories from a different time period, and each tells a different story about the development of the C&O Canal. We encourage you to spend the night at all 6 – each provides a unique experience!

All six Canal Quarters lockhouses can sleep up 8 people. They have been used for romantic couples getaways (including some engagements and weddings!), family getaways and reunions, girls’ weekends, scout troop lodging, and a 

Prefer to pitch a tent, or put the key in the hotel room door?  Both options have their benefits.  

​​Canal Quarters

special place for parties, holidays, and celebrations. They are pretty cool so they tend to get booked up, so if this option is for you make your reservation in advance.

There are six different lockhouses available for rental:






The lockhouses rent for $100-$150 per night and sleep eight. Each Canal Quarter lockhouse has been furnished with furniture and accessories from a different time period, and each tells a different story about the development of the C&O Canal. Most of the lockhouses are rustic with no electricity or water but there are a couple (6 & 8) that have full amenities. Check out the Canal Quarters website to view availability.

There are people who will ride the entire towpath (184.5 miles) in a single day but most of us will do the ride over multiple days. Part of the planning process is to forecast your daily mileage and then secure lodging in the respective towns. There are basically two lodging options, either pitch a tent or stay in a hotel. Both options have their benefits and the towns along the trail support both styles.  

The towns along the trail are typically small with limited lodging options so it's a good idea to make reservations in advance. The trip planning section provides links to a web tool which list services at towns along the trail. 

  • Lockhouse 6 (mile: 5.4) - full amenities
  • Lockhouse 10 (mile 8.8) - full amenities 
  • Lockhouse 22 (mile 19.6) - Rustic
  • Lockhouse 25 (mile 30.9) - Rustic
  • Lockhouse 28 (mile 48.9) - Rustic

Step back in time and experience what life was like 60, 90, or 150 years ago!

Tee shirt store

​​Hotels and B&Bs

Overnights at Canal Quarters
Hotels and B&B's along the C&O Canal

Everyone does the ride at their own pace. How many miles will you ride each day?

primitive campsite along the C&O Canal

​​​​Camping

Add adventure to your long distance rides by sleeping under the stars. There's a great feeling of independence when you ride the trail completely self-supported but understand it does require the additional effort of transporting the camping gear.


There are a couple camping options...full service campgrounds and primitive campsites. About half of the trail towns on the GAP have campgrounds and generally offer amenities like showers and laundry.  There is a primitive campsite every 5 miles along the towpath and full service campgrounds in some of the larger towns. Primitive camping areas have a hand 

Camping adds a sense of adventure to the ride and free campsites are located every five miles. 

​​Hotels & B&Bs

Spending overnights in a hotel will certainly require less gear than camping. It can be more adventurous to sleep under the stars but carrying all of the camping equipment requires you to work harder when your bike is fully loaded. Also bike handling is impaired when your riding with full panniers or a trailer.  Staying in hotels/B&B's/hostels will make packing easier but you will likely spend more money.


Research the target towns because you will have choices between Youth hostels, Bed and Breakfasts or hotels.  One thing I learned is to make lodging reservations in advance.  Many of the Trail Towns have limited lodging options and the places fill up.​