|C & O Canal|
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is a trail that
will amaze you. Stretching from Georgetown to Cumberland, this 184.5 mile trail offers
history, scenery, a tunnel, 74 locks, and 11 aqueducts. The C & O also
completes the link allowing one to bike from Pittsburgh to DC.
My first experience on the C & O Canal was just suppose to be a short 20 mile ride or so. It ended up being a 140 mile overnight roundtrip, riding until 2 in the morning. Once on the trail, doing a 20 mile ride just would not have done justice to this trail.
So what makes the C & O Canal so great? First of all, there is so much history surrounding it. To make a long story short, the C & O was the brain child of George Washington, who wanted to make a water way to parallel the un-navigatable Potomac River. His goal was to reach Pittsburgh, PA, connecting to the Ohio River, thus connecting to the Mississippi River. The problem with the canal however, is that before it was even completed, under President John Quincy Adams, it was outdated. Unfortunately, the railroads came up with the idea of mirroring the route and were able to do it quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently.
The canal began operation in 1828, used mostly to transport coal. The canal was able to survive the Civil War, but not the numerous floods from the Potomac. To expensive to maintain and outdated, flooding led to the closing of the canal in 1924. Thanks to awareness raised by Justice William O. Douglass hiking the trail in 1954, the C & O was preserved as a National Historic Park and is around today for all to enjoy.
Also noteworthy is that at one point, you are across the river from Harpers Ferry, WV. Harpers Ferry has its own history, so I will not get into that, but a definite is to cross the bridge and explore Harpers Ferry. You will not be disappointed at all.
When on the C & O, you are actually biking on the towpath where the mules would have walked, pulling the boats along. It is all dirt, so it can be a little muddy after it rains. In parts, the canal is as full as when in operation, in other areas it is dry. No matter where you are on the canal though, it is beautiful. The canal is also very camper friendly, providing primitive camping sites every 5 miles or so in most areas. Food stops are a little scarce, so you will want to plan accordingly.
This canal has many structures, including locks to raise the boats on their journeys, aqueducts to transport the boats across streams feeding into the Potomac, and the Paw Paw Tunnel. With out writing a book, the Paw Paw Tunnel is a must see. Measuring 3118 feet long, the Paw Paw Tunnel took 12 years and 5,800,000 layered bricks to complete!!
One thing you will notice about all of the structures is the top notch craftsmanship. The locks and aqueducts are constructed out of stone that was locally quarried. Remembering what time period the canal was built, and knowing heavy machinery was not readily available, it is almost unreal to think that pure man power built this whole canal and everything included in it!
I can not stress enough how amazing this trail is. For any one even remotely close to the C & O, do your self a favor and plan an overnight ride on the C & O, or plan on riding the whole thing, if you can. The C & O has never disappointed me and I am sure it will not let you down either.
Points of Interest: Canal, 11 Aqueducts, 74 Locks, Paw Paw Tunnel, Cumberland, Hancock, Harpers Ferry, Georgetown, Washington, DC.
Trail Web Site- Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Additional Link- C&O Biking Guide - Trip Planning
C & O Bicycle Shop Link- C&O Bicycle
This site was last updated 07/29/06