Without going into much detail, which I'll mess up and you can easily find it all on a reputable website. The C & O path is a mule tow path that runs between a man-made canal and the Potomac River. The towpath was used by mules to pull canal boats full of supplies from Georgetown inland. It was made in the early 1800's. It actually wasn't used for very long because the railroad eventually took over as the main means of transporting goods inland. Luckily for us its still there. It starts in Georgetown and goes all the way to Pittsburgh PA. In Georgetown it starts on Canal St as a black-top riding surface. After a little bit you can stay on the hard-top which turns into the Capital Crescent Trail that leads you into Bethesda. It you stay on the gravel trail it keeps going...In georgetown you can rent bikes for the trail or you can rent a kayak or canoe to use in the canal or the Potomac. If you have small kids its reasonable to ride to Fletcher's boat house where there is food and drinks and a nice picnic stop. If you are more experienced and would like to ride further go up to Great Falls, which I highly recommend. Great falls is beautiful.
Go to my Cumberland, MD page to read about my bike trip from Cumberland MD to DC.
This scenic national historic park has quite a long name. It preserves the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, a water route that linked Georgetown in DC with Cumberland, MD and parallels the Potomac River; it is quite an engineering feat. Along its route, the canal has many locks, which helps it gain in elevation near waterfalls. Along the length of the canal runs the C&O Canal Towpath. There are a multitude of visitor centers on the route, including one at the start, at Georgetown; one at Great Falls, one at Harpers Ferry, another at Cumberland. I've only visited the Great Falls section of the canal, where there is a $5 entrance fee.
Before the railroads, the founding fathers envisioned a canal leading from Washington deep into the interior of their new country. Europe is criss-crossed with them. They once served as the main arteries of transportation.
The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was originally designed to stretch from Washington to the Ohio River. Unfortunately, the territory between becomes too mountainous. But is does go 184 miles--all the way to Cumberland, Maryland.
In Georgetown, during summer, one can ride an old-fashioned canal boat for about a mile up and down the old canal. Drawn by a team of mules, it hauls people in the same way that such boats once carried cargo. It's a fun ride, narrated by National Park Service guides. Some even play period music, including their own version of "Erie Canal". This is a great way to learn about a vanished way of life, as well as the early history of Georgetown.
Walking along the canal can be not only a great experience for anyone but it can also be very romantic to go with the person you love and take a nice picnic basket with a little table clothe to spread things out on. I remember seeing this when I was a student many years and always dreamed of doing just such a thing, but I never did. I have walked along the canal though and that is great. DON'T GO BY YOURSELF.
The C&O canal trail starts from where K st ends in Georgetown. But I would recomend following the canal rather than following Kst (drab) . Pick up the canal from in between K & M st (s) and in between 30 & 35th St(s) . Follow the canal until you reach an Iron over head bridge which crosses from the Mst side to the K st side. From this point there are two options, Either follow the canal or the trail . If You want to follow the trail , get on the K st side of the canal and head down a wooden staircase going down to the riverfront (K St. ) and then turn right. Otherwise just follow the canal on the K st side (The M St side ends abruptly at the Petrol pump in Georgetown ) . You can always cross over to either side after some time . The trail gives a nice view of the riverside and the adjoining forest. The canal trail on the other hand lets you watch the cars zooming past on Foxhill Rd. (i think ) . A normal walk would be to go upto the chain bridge ( .75 miles ahead of Fletchers Boathouse ) and then turn back or Walk the C&O trail ( lower one ) upto Silver Springs MD and then catch the metro ...
The Canal House is one remaining piece of Washington DC history. The original plans for this grand city included a series of canals that could be used for transportation of goods and people throughout the region. 30 years after it's initiation, the railroad had become the major form of transportation, and the canals were abandoned. By the 1870's, the difficult process of filling the canals began, and this era ended.
The Canal House is a small, unassuming, out of place building that is easy to pass by. This used to house the tollkeeper of the Cheasapeke and Ohio (C&O) canal. The tollkeeper would collect usage fees, and record all movements along the Wahington branch of the canal, which passed near the White House.
I wouldn't go out of my way to search this structure out ... but you really do pass by it as you are walking along ...... past the Washington Monument toward Constitution Gardens, so it is a worthwhile place to stop, read, and remember ......
It's amazing to think that in a CITY there would be hiking!!! Well, Washington DC is just that interesting and provides SOOOO much for you to do!!!
The C & O Canal is no exception. The canal spans from Georgetown, Washington DC to Cumberland, Maryland...185 miles...WOW!!! It pretty much parallels the Potomac River. To this day, it still pretty much remains intact. It serves as an example of the ingenuity of 19th-century canal-building technology.
Just walk along the waters and enjoy the scenes. There are the truly ambitious and outdoorsy who bike or hike the entire length. However, if you are pressed for time, you can still enjoy what there is to offer!!
C&O Canal is Washington's vision of linking the early east and west. I guess he got the concept from the British, the big old mother of early America. It was originally built by the Potomac Company fostered by Washington, then transferred to the Chesapeake & Ohio Company. It's supposed to connect all the way to Ohio but ceased after 185 miles.
This is the best preserved and least altered of old American canals. The photo shows the Canal's lock near Georgetown University. You can also take the mull-drawn canal boat, which I'll post in the "off the beaten path" area.