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Georgetown, District of Columbia, United States

C & O Canal Towpath trail, section #1

From Georgetown to Calico Rocks Campground, this 48 miles is the first of four sections on the C & O Canal Towpath trail

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 50 miles / 80 km
Duration: Multiple days
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
 
Overview: This portion of the C & O Canal Towpath trail runs from Georgetown, near Washington D.C., to Point of Rocks, Maryland. Whether you are riding/hiking out and back or plan to go the distance on the C & O Canal, you will find plenty of camping, scenery, and wildlife in this first 50 mile stretch of trail.

There are 30 hiker/biker campgrounds located along the entire length of the trail with eight in this section alone. These campgrounds are free on a first-come-first-served basis. Water is available at most of the campgrounds and dispensed with a good ol' fashioned hand pump. Lodging is also available at Cabin Quarters; these are restored versions of the original lockhouses that were used to house canal employees.

Information about these Canal Quarters is available online at the link provided with this guide. There are not many hotels available near the trail, but one of the great experiences of the trail is to cross the ferry near Leesburg if you want to stay in a hotel in Virginia for this portion of the trip.

You will find an abundance of historical charm along this trail from the shops in Georgetown to the locks along the canal. You may also take historic barge rides along portions of the canal in either Georgetown or near the Great Falls (Tavern) area. These tours are available through the National Park Service from mid-April until the end of October and are quite inexpensive and fun.

Another major attraction along this trail is the Great Falls area. There is a beautiful, short hike out to the viewing area. Depending on the time of year, you may see a beautiful series of cascades along the river or a stunning, raging torrent.

This trail has something for all levels of bikers/hikers. You have the option of traveling just a couple miles to see the sites of Georgetown and Washington D.C., 4.7 miles to the Maryland State Line, 14 miles to the Great Falls Overlook, 185 miles to explore the entire C & O trail, or 320 miles if you connect the C & O with the Great Allegheny Passage trail.
Hopefully you enjoy at least a portion of this great trail now; you can always do the rest later. It's well worth it.


Tips: - Although there are many places to stop for drinks & snacks along this first stretch of the trail, be sure to bring plenty of emergency provisions because some of the stops are spaced pretty far apart and stores/shops aren't always open when you need them.
- If you are riding a bike, bring a basic tool kit & spare tire. You will not find any places to buy bike parts/tires near the trail.
- Bicyclists will want to ride a trail bike and not a road bike.
- If you plan to stay in the Canal Quarters, be sure to reserve well in advance on the website link provided with this guide.
- You may want to plan to arrive at the campground of your choice early to make sure you get a spot. Water is available at most of the campgrounds, but still bring plenty of your own for drinking.

Points of Interest

Food/Dining
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Georgetown

If you are starting from the Washington D.C. area, this will be your point of origin. The actual zero marker for the beginning of the trail is near Thompson's Boat House. That is also a good place for bike rentals and information.
Junction
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Exit trail here to cross Key Bridge

From here, you can either continue on the C & O Canal Towpath trail or cross the Key Bridge to explore the Mount Vernon Trail toward Alexandria and George Washington's home.
Food/Dining
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Fletcher's Cove

Just a little bit past mile marker 3, Fletcher's Cove is a good place to grab a drink and a snack. It also has a picnic area, bike rentals, and boat rentals.
Junction
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The Capital Crescent Trail

For the first few miles, the Capital Crescent Trail parallels the C & O Canal Towpath and at times is one and the same. Eventually the Capital Crescent Trail Heads east, deeper into Maryland.
Hotel
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Lockhouse 6

It is possible to get a glimpse of what it was like to live along the C & O Canal by staying in the actual lockhouses where the lock attendants lived in days gone by. Many of the lockhouses, including lockhouse 6, are available for accommodations to trail users. Lockhouses 22 & 28 are pretty darned good replicas of how lockhouses actually looked in their heyday. See the canalquarters link that accompanies this guide.
Junction
map

Billy Goat Trail A junction

In this portion of the C & O Canal Towpath, there are numerous trails. Some, like the Billy Goat Trail, are for hikers. Others, like the Capital Crescent Trail and the Western Maryland Rail Trail are for bikers and shared use.
Viewpoint
map

Great Falls of the Potomac

After viewing all the man-made monuments in D.C., it's time to check out the handiwork of Mother Nature. The Great Falls of the Potomac is one of the most spectacular natural sites in the Washington D.C. area; and the best way to reach it is via the C & O Canal Towpath trail.
Landmark
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Lock 19

The locks were what allowed the canal to operate. As the canal boats moved westward, they were elevated by the locks filling with water and moving them gradually upward in elevation. It also allowed the barges/boats a smooth trip downward as they went from Cumberland to Georgetown.
You will see pictures of more locks when you get to the Lock 26 POI.
Junction
map

River Trail junction

Enjoy another of the many side hikes that intersect with the C & O trail.
Building
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Lockhouse 22

The full name of this structure is "Lockhouse 22 at Pennyfield."
This lockhouse is available for rent and contains authentic furnishings from the 19th century. It is one of the two lockhouses that have been restored to their original and authentic condition. It is reflective of how an actual working, functioning lockhouse may have looked while in operation during the early days of the canal.
Campground
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Horsepen Branch Campsite

This is one of the numerous campgrounds you will find along the C & O Canal Towpath Trail. In this section of the trail alone there are over eight campgrounds available.
There is water available at this campsite.
Campground
map

Chisel Branch Campsite

This campsite is located at mile 30.5 on the trail. It is near the Edward Ferry Boat Ramp which has vehicle access. There is water available at this campsite.
Campground
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Turtle Run Campsite

This campsite is located at mile 34.5 and also has water available. It is the closest trailside campsite to White's Ferry and Leesburg, VA.
Food/Dining
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White's Ferry and Leesburg

White's Ferry (aka General Jubal A. Early) is the last operating ferry boat on the Potomac River, and it's quite an experience to load your bike onto it and head over to Leesburg, Virginia where there are numerous lodging options. It is best to choose a hotel like the Best Western that provides a shuttle because the ferry is quite a ways from town on a very narrow road.
If you are staying at hotels rather than camping, this is a good stop, but make your hotel reservations and shuttle arrangements in advance. The ferry only costs a dollar to ride and take your bike across and the boat attendants are busy, fast, and friendly. You will load your bike after all the cars are aboard, but be ready to go as soon as they've gotten all the cars on the ferry.
Campground
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Marble Quarry Campsite

Water is available at this hiker/biker campsite. It is located just past mile marker 38.
Landmark
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Lock 26

Enjoy the accompanying photos of various historic locks along the canal towpath.
Landmark
map

Monocacy Aqueduct

This is the largest of 11 stone aqueducts that were used to allow the canal to flow over larger rivers that ran into the Potomac. The Monocacy Aqueduct was built between 1829 and 1833.
map

Indian Flats Campsite

Restroom
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Nolands Ferry

This area serves as a boat ramp for access to the Potomac, but for trail users, it is a great resting area with picnic facilities and a restroom. If you are restocking on supplies or possibly ending/starting your journey here, there is also road access and a parking area.
Animals/Wildlife
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wildlife on the trail

You will see an abundance of wildlife of all shapes and sizes along the trail.
Pictures in this guide taken by: trailsnet, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath Trail, C & O Trail, Georgetown, Follow the signs, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail, C and O Canal Towpath trail, Billy Goat Trail junction, C & O Canal Trail, near Lockhouse 22, trailside view, C & O Canal Towpath Trail, Most of the locks are dry, but this one gives trail users an idea of how the operational locks looked., Monocacy Aqueduct in Maryland, Monocacy Aqueduct over Monocacy River, water pumps are prominent in most of the campgrounds

C & O Canal Towpath trail, section #1 Trail Map


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