C&O Canal National Historic Park is a 185 mile point-to-point trail located near Alexandria, VA and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for mountain biking and is accessible year-round.
Wrong directions no trail head.
This was an unforgettable experience. I am remembering back to 2012 that it took us a day longer than we planned but all the better not to be rushed.
We bike camped this trail about three years ago. I think the pictures were on a camera that got stolen. That may explain why we forgot to review the trail. I loved it that there were plenty of campsites the entire route.
Can't say enough good things about this trail. Best section of the 185 mile trail is between Williamsport and Paw Paw - it's the most remote and peaceful least crowded too. Hiker biker campsites are every 5 miles or so first come first serve no reservations necessary. They are awesome. Download of "C&O Companion" app highly recommended. This trail hooks up with the 140 mile Great Allegheny Passage in Cumberland MD, which will take you to Pittsburgh PA - almost the entire route off road.
Great trail and scenery. can be very quiet in the "off-season." Enjoyed running alongside an historic canal. Can't wait to get back on that trail!
Rode the towpath from Cumberland to Georgetown and back. It was a great journey! There are plenty of great campsites to stay at, and the trail is kept up very nicely. I ended up getting a flat tire about 4 miles outside of Georgetown, and a few of the park controllers helped me changing out inner tubes in the midst of the congestion. There are plenty of stores and towns along the way also in case you need any supplies.
Definitely recommend this trail highly!
Rode this trail over four days from Cumberland into DC. Follows the old canalway, sometimes going above the locks and sometimes through them. Really enjoyed all the restored old lockmaster houses. There is a book that was helpful that we picked up called "184 Miles of Adventure - Hikers Guide to the C&O Canal" Put out by the Mason-Dixon Council of Boy Scouts of America that chronicles every mile along the way with historic references. It was a great companion that I would recommend.
My Husband and I did this trail of 189 miles over 3 days. It was a beautiful ride. We started in Cumberland MD and spent the night at the Hampton Inn that is right on the trail. We then cycled our first Day to Hancock and stayed at a beautiful B&B. The next day we spent the night in Harpers Ferry and then onto Georgetown and DC where we ended the Trip. With fairly long days of 55 miles or more we wanted a place to shower and a good bed. The trail can be hot in the summer.
I always enjoy biking and running on any part of the C&O.
A Friend and I rode from mile 0 in Georgetown, DC to Harper's Ferry WV .
a bit muddy after whites ferry . great ride up to Dickerson MD after that through woods, not much to see.
would love to do Cumberland MD to Harper's Ferry WV next.
My first long bike trip and it was AWESOME!
When I told people that I was riding a 185 mile trail to Cumberland, the reaction was unanimous. They all thought I was crazy! But the people that has known me for a while kind of expect that sort of thing from me.
Starting at Georgetown, we made it to the Waterfront Starbucks for a final caffein fix before heading to mile 0. It's good that my buddies have taken the trip before because I would have never found mile 0 without detailed instructions. It is actually located behind the Thompson's Boat House's building, across a bridge, on a tiny peninsula that seemed like its sole purpose was to hold the headstone for mile 0.
I have ridden the Crescent Trail plenty of times and expected similar trail conditions on the C&O. It started out as crushed stone, fairly packed, and somewhat of a smooth ride. But as we progressed, the trail got softer and sections of packed tracks began to appear where, if you weren't paying attention and your wheels fell into them, it was enough to grab your wheels and throw you off balance. Watch out because you can end up in the canal or down a ravine (I almost did a few times).
There were remnants of the severe storm we had a few days back of downed branches, large puddles, and saturated soft ground that you had to watch out for because your wheel cut right into it. But despite the aftermath, the scenery was so surreal in some spots that I found myself zoning.
The weather was clear and sunny which made it uncomfortably hot riding in wide open areas. But fortunately, the majority of the trail is covered and was cool. There are rest stops every 5 to 10 miles with water pumps. Just a fair warning, the water is heavily treated with iodine or chlorine so do not be surprised with the smell. At least it is drinkable.
There is no shortage of campsites but we planned on Huckelberry Hill at about mile 65 because it was just past Brunswick, a small railroad town that had a bike shop and a diner called Mommers. I couldn't vouch for how good my steak-n-cheese really was after a full day of power bars, trail mix, and energy shots, but at the time it tasted like shredded kobe beef on freshly baked sourdough, covered with cheese. Deeee-licious!
Back on the trail, we had about 10 miles to the Huckleberry Hill campsite. Arriving there, it looked to be the best camp site yet. We were right on the water where the river widens enough not to hear running water all night. To top it off, there was a fire ring. As I was pitching my tent, I was enjoying the sun set behind the hills across the river.
FYI...for those like myself who haven't done the C&O Canal Trail yet, pay heed to the warnings of the ones who has and bring ear-plugs! Throughout the night, there must have been four LONG trains that barreled through the mountains on both sides of the river. The horns and track noise seemed like it was just bouncing back and forth across the river between the mountains. And to add to the symphony of horn and metal noise, two dogs were barking at each other all night as if they hadn't seen each other for a long time and was catching-up. Didn't get much Zs that night.
Day 2. Packed and back on the trail. I was gearing myself up for the detour we had to take. A four mile stretch of the trail is impassable so there was a six mile alternate route established for bikers. The detour was on roadway which was a nice retreat from the bumpy and muddy trail but had a quarter mile of straight up climb and was completely exposed to the sun.
After the detour, we started counting the miles to the next destination. The bumpy trail was taking a hug toll on my rookie butt. Do not under estimate the value of saddle time and try to clock as much of it before this trip. Fortunately, there would be another trail reprieve on the Western Maryland Rail Trail before we hit the town of Hancock. The Rail Trail seemed endless, especially since my butt felt like it was going numb from the pain and it was near the end of a long day of riding, but we finally made it into Hancock.
We planned to stay in the C&O Bike bunk house that night. It was a hostel-like facility with porto-johns that were converted into shower stalls. It was not bad at all and the accommodations were 5-stars compared to the previous night. We ate at the much raved about Weavers where I had to try the gyro, then we got ear plugs and water from a grocery store.
The final leg of the trip we got to go through the Paw Paw tunnel. The tunnel was so long that, when inside, all you can see are the two opening on either side. Without a flashlight, you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face. Finally you reach mile 184, but no relief yet. We still had another half a mile to get to the Cumberland train station for the final pic in front of the Mule which marks the true finish line.
Overall...sore butt,but great weather. Rough ride, but incredible scenery. Physically challenging, but unbelievable
Either on it's own (DC-Cumberland) or in combination with the GAP (Pittsburg- Cumberland), this is one of the gems of the mid-Atlantic. Easy grades and great views make this a fairly easy bike ride.
Going South, the trail leaves Cumberland as crushed gravel, but quickly changes to single/double track for 20 miles. It then changes into dirt path for the rest of the trip until you nearly reach Great Falls (14 miles outside of DC). It can be done in one crazy day. But most would recommend taking two days to complete. Definitely a great overnight camping trip in the summer. MTB's are not necessary, but I wouldn't do this trail on road tires either.
There are a number of "primitive" camping locations spread about every ten miles along the length of the trail. Primitive is the wrong word, however, as each camp has a water pump (seasonal) and an outhouse. To most campers, the facilities make camping along the trail pretty plush. That said, there are few services along the trail. I know there are a few towns that have some food and B&B-type lodging, but it's not entirely easy to get off the trail. I also don't know of any bicycle repair services along the way aside from those in Cumberland and DC. Definitely be prepared to do some minimal bike repair to prevent being stranded.
The trail can be ridden all year, but beware of the mud. If it's been wet or rained recently, the trail can be difficult to complete. Rarely is it impassible, but the mud can make the trip feel much longer.
Ultimately you'll be hard pressed to find another trail in the region that packs in this much history per mile traveled, and as many great views. From PawPaw to Harper's Ferry, Antietam to Great Falls, its an all-around great trip.