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Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100
Hagerstown, MD 21740-6620

By Phone
Park Headquarters 301-739-4200
Georgetown Visitor Center 202-653-5190
Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center 301-767-3714
Brunswick Visitor Center 301-834-7100
Williamsport Visitor Center 301-582-0813
Hancock Visitor Center 301-678-5463
Cumberland Visitor Center 301-722-8226

Explore to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park!

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park located in the District of Columbia and the states of Maryland and West Virginia. 

The park was established as a National Monument in 1961 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in order to preserve the neglected remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal along the Potomac River along with many of the original canal structures. The canal and towpath trail extends from Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Construction on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (also known as "the Grand Old Ditch" or the "C&O Canal") began in 1828 but was not completed until 1850. Even then, the canal fell far short of its intended destination of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Instead, the canal terminated at Cumberland, Maryland for a total distance of approximately 184.5 miles. The canal was already considered obsolete by the time it was completed because a railroad line had arrived in Cumberland eight years before the canal was finally finished. 

The C&O Canal operated from 1836 to 1924 and served primarily as a means to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington D.C. The canal was closed in 1924 in part due to several severe floods that had a devastating impact on the financial condition of the canal.

Creation of the national park

The abandoned canal was purchased in 1938 by the United States Government and placed under the care of the National Park Service, which planned to restore it as a recreation area. Although the bottom 22 miles of the canal were repaired and re-watered, the project was halted when the United States entered World War II and resources were needed elsewhere. 

After the war, Congress expressed interest in developing the canal and towpath as a parkway. However, the idea of turning the canal over to automobiles was opposed by some, including United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas. In March 1954, Douglas led an eight-day hike of the towpath from Cumberland to D.C. 

Although 58 people participated in one part of the hike or another, only nine men, including Douglas, hiked the full 182 miles. Popular response to and press coverage of the hike turned the tide against the parkway idea and, on January 8, 1971, the canal was designated a National Historical Park.

The park today

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park now receives more than three million recreation visits annually. The National Park Service operates visitor centers at six different locations along the canal: Georgetown, Great Falls Tavern, Brunswick, Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland. These visitor centers have displays and interpretive exhibits on the history of the C&O Canal.

Visitors can also experience the canal by taking a ride on one of the park's two mule-powered canal boats. These restored boats operate during the summer months at both Great Falls and Georgetown.

The old canal towpath now provides a way for hikers and bikers to see the beautiful Potomac River Valley. A small portion of the towpath near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park doubles as a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Flooding continues to threaten historical structures on the canal and attempts at restoration. In January 1996, a major flood of the Potomac River inflicted extensive damage on the canal and some of the associated structures. The Park Service has re-watered portions of the canal, but the majority of the canal does not have water in it.

In Allegany County, Maryland, the park includes the Western Maryland Railroad Right-of-Way, Milepost 126 to Milepost 160, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

  • Picnicking
    • North Branch
    • Spring Gap
    • Oldtown
    • Paw Paw Tunnel
    • Little Tonoloway
    • McCoy's Ferry
    • Four Locks
    • Big Slackwater
    • Dam 4
    • Dargan Bend
    • Lock 30
    • Nolands Ferry

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