Stretching 184.5 miles along the Potomac River between Washington, D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park preserves remains of America's colorful canal era. For nearly a century, the C&O Canal was the lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac, as coal, lumber, grain, and other agricultural products gently floated down the canal to market. This magnificent water highway linked the rapidly growing west to the east and played an important role in the growth and development of our country.
The construction of Chesapeake and Ohio Canal started on July 4, 1828 and lasted for 22 years. The canal was completed on October 10, 1850 at a cost of about $14 million. The canal was 184.5 miles long, 6 feet deep and 60-80 feet wide. There were 74 lift locks built on the canal, 7 dams and 11 aqueducts. One of the most impressive features of the canal, the Paw Paw Tunnel is 3,118 feet long; 27 feet wide and 24 feet high. The canal was in operation from 1850 to 1924. In 1938 the government acquired the approximately 12,000 acres of land adjacent to the canal and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park was established in 1971.
Flora and fauna
Park visitor centers:
Georgetown Visitor Center, 1057 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW Washington, DC 20007 (202-653-5190).
Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, 11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, MD 20854 (301-767-3714).
Brunswick Visitor Center, 40 West Potomac Street Brunswick, MD 21716 (301-834-7100).
Williamsport Visitor Center, Cushwa Basin, 205 W. Potomac St., Williamsport, MD 21795 (301-582-0813).
Hancock Visitor Center, 326 E. Main St., Hancock, MD 21750 (301-678-5463).
Cumberland Visitor Center, Western Maryland Railway Station, Room 304, 13 Canal St., Cumberland, MD 21502 (301-722-8226).
Many visitors to the Great Falls Area of the park hike Section A of the Billy Goat Trail. The 1.7 mile long trail can be best accessed from Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center and traverses rough and rocky terrain on Bear Island along the Potomac River. The trail is physically demanding as it requires some scrambling over angled rocks and boulders. In return, it offers beautiful views of Mather Gorge and the river. The trail rejoins towpath 0.7 mile north of Anglers Inn and the loop has 3.7 mile in length.
Another popular destination in the Great Falls Area of the park is Olmsted Island Bridges Trail. This easy and handicap accessible trail has 0.2 mile in length and is accessed from Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. A series of bridges and boardwalks provide access across the river and end at the Great Falls overlook with a spectacular view of the falls and the head of Mather Gorge.