C&O Canal

C&O Canal towpath

The towpath along the C&O Canal

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (known as the C & O Canal) towpath runs 184.5 miles from Georgetown in DC to Cumberland, MD along the Potomac River. It’s a path made mostly of clay and crushed stone and pretty flat in most areas. It’s a great area to enjoy being outside. Some of the locks have fire pits, which are great for picnics—or just s’mores at night with family and friends.

Our family likes to head to one of the locks and walk along the path for a while, sometimes cutting through small paths to the Potomac River and playing there for a while. But more often we like to bike along the path. Because it’s mainly flat, it’s perfect biking for me—I’m not a big fan of hills when I’m on a bike—and neither are my kids.

Biking the C&O Canal

Natalie on her bike on the Canal

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to bike a portion of the trail, and camp out at some of the campgrounds along the way. (There are small, free camping areas, every six to eight miles, along the towpath.) But every time I’ve tried to figure out the logistics of it, I’ve given up. It would just get too complicated with carrying all of our things, and transporting all of us to a starting point, and then having a car at the finishing point. So a couple of years ago when my sister called and said she and her kids would like to do it too, I started looking into it in earnest.

And here’s what I finally came up with: staying in one of the lockhouses that has been restored along the Canal. We were a little bit late in planning, so by the time I made reservations the only one available was Lockhouse 49 out near Hagerstown. There are some lockhouses that would have been closer, but none of them were available. We reserved it for two nights, deciding to use it as home base so we wouldn’t have to lug everything with us as we biked.

The lockhouse was great! It was so fun to stay in, with period furnishings and a fire pit outside in the back. The only thing we really missed was an indoor toilet—port a potties are just no fun. After the first night we didn’t allow the kids any drinks past 6:00 at night, because none of us wanted to take a trip to the port a potty in the middle of the night. Each morning we would hop on our bikes and bike about 15 miles in one direction, then return back to the lockhouse, spending the two days exploring each direction.

Here’s the website for renting a lockhouse. Some of them have more amenities than others (like an indoor bathroom!) Next time we’ll be staying in one of those!


Another thing we love to do along the C&O Canal is hike the Billy Goat Trail. Check out my post on that Trail.

C&O Canal Lockhouse view from inside window

Looking out at the Canal from inside the lockhouse

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