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Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

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Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park [1] is a United States National Historical Park located in the District of Columbia, West Virginia and Maryland in the United States of America. It lies in the Potomac River Valley between Washington, D.C. and Cumberland.

Understand

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.

History

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.

Landscape

The C & O Canal runs right along the Potomac River and the two couldn't be more contrasting. The canal is flanked by wide sandy paths for biking, walking, and jogging, and its water is still and green. On a nice day, the paths are full of people. Walk through the forest to the south just a few yards, and the mighty, rough Potomac River will roar in your ears. The Potomac is wide, fast, filled with boulders in and on the sides of the river, and surrounded by the dense woods that are the natural environment of the Mid-Atlantic. Views of the Virgina side's cliffs (closer to Washington, D.C.) can be especially pretty, rising above the rocky shore. Given that the canal runs alongside the river, the trails are mostly level.

Flora and fauna

You wouldn't guess it, but the C&O Canal National Park is one of the most biologically diverse in the national park system. The diverse landscapes of wetlands, streams, the river, forests, open fields, and rocky cliffs make for habitats for all sorts of plants and wildlife. Look in the mud beneath your feet and you'll find frogs, toads, salamanders, fish, freshwater mussels, beaver, and muskrats. Around in the woods, there are deer, song birds, red and gray fox, raccoons, gray and fox squirrels, and even the rare black bear and bobcat! Look to the skies for the most famous bird in this country, the bald eagle, which nests along the river alongside rocky cliffs, and is actually quite common along the river.

Be careful when wandering off the path, and avoid picking at the vegetation, because the C&O Canal is home to an extraordinary variety of rare, threatened, and endangered plant species. The region has so much rare plant life because of its idiosyncratic geography. The Potomac cuts through Maryland, known as "America in Miniature" for its radical shifts in geography from east to west. The Potomac cuts through the rolling woodland plateaus of central Maryland, then the Blue Ridge mountains, and further on the valleys of Appalachia, providing diversity of habitats for the plant life. This factor combines with the frequent flooding of the river, and the overlap in Southern and Northern species to make for very diverse and unique environments for plants to grow.

Climate

Given the region it passes through, the Canal and Potomac have a nice temperate climate. The only season that sees extremes is summer, when the temperature can rise as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but even then the presence of the big river has a cooling effect. Spring is the loveliest time of the year here, as the wildflowers and dogwood trees show their colors every which way, among budding trees. Fall is a close second, due to the fact that the park is almost completely covered with colorful deciduous trees. Winter is a surprisingly good time to visit, because temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and because you'll have the park to yourself! And so do the animals, who shyly wander out into the open during the winter (since there are few people around to scare them off), and this is the best time of year to spot the rarer and harder to find species, like raccoons, muskrats, and the extremely rare bobcats. Summer is fun in its own festive way, as families set up picnics, bikers speed by, and all sorts of people converge on the park to check out its historic attractions and natural attractions like Great Falls.

Get in

Fees/Permits

Get around

See

  • 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).

Do

  • 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.

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Sleep

Lodging

Camping

Backcountry

Stay safe

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