185 miles, Multiple days
Mile for mile, there is probably no trail in the world that is as significant as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath trail. It is is absolutely overflowing with history, scenery, wildlife, and adventure.
As you travel from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, you will experience American history from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. You will experience the demise of canal travel and the birth of railroads. You will see an abundance of deer, turtles, and birds of all kinds. You will mingle with the movers and shakers in the most important city on earth, and you will experience a wilderness solitude that is unique on the eastern seaboard.
Bring your flashlight or bike light with you, because you will explore the depths of a lengthy canal tunnel that cuts right through the heart of Appalachia. And bring your camera with lots of digital storage space, because you will be snapping photos until your trigger finger is sore.
This trail has the colonial urban charm of Georgetown and the raging torrents of the Great Falls on the Potomac River. It has over 45 different campgrounds along the way, and many of them are free to use; it also has historic Canal Quarters that allow visitors to experience what life was like for those who lived in 19th century lock houses.
As far as activities go, in addition to hiking, biking, horseback riding (some sections), and nordic skiing the trail, you can ride in an authentic canal boat, rent kayaks on the Potomac River, visit Canal & Civil War museums, and explore canal locks in various states of repair.
If you are trail aficionado, this could very well be trail heaven. The trails that connect to the C & O read like a list of Who's Who among America's greatest paths: The Great Allegheny Passage, the Appalachian Trail, Mount Vernon Trail, Billy Goat Trail, Western Maryland Rail Trail, and the Capital Crescent Trail are just a few of your many trail connections.
Whether you are just exploring intermittent sections of this wonderful path or you are connecting the C & O with the GAP trail for a 300 mile adventure, you are in for the trip of your life.
- If you are biking the trail, you'll probably want to ride a trail bicycle. The trail is mostly packed dirt and is not recommended for road bikes.
- Be sure to pack some type of light, especially for section #4 of the trail. You will definitely need a light in the Paw Paw Tunnel.
-This trail is great any time of year, but is especially gorgeous in the fall when the countryside is awash in autumn colors.
- Make sure to pack water and snacks. You will find numerous places to refill your water and food supplies, but you will also encounter extremely long stretches between towns.
- Pack at least rudimentary bike and tire repair supplies just in case. Bike shops are extremely rare along the trail.
- You may want to consider utilizing either Amtrak or Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) as a possible shuttle. Links to those two transportation options are available with this guide/bundle.