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C&O Canal Towpath

Bike Tour Blueprint

DIFFICULTY

Medium to Hard

MILEAGE

185 Miles

TRAIL SURFACE

Crushed Gravel

SERVICES

Luggage Transfers, Shuttling

LOCATION

Mid-Atlantic - Maryland, Virginia

TRIP ITINERARIES

3, 4, & 5 Days

ACCOMMODATIONS

Hotel, B&B, Camping

BIKE RENTAL

Yes

OVERVIEW

The C&O Canal at 185-miles long was originally completed in the mid-nineteenth to carry canal boat traffic into the west. Today, it serves as one of the most commonly traveled biking trails in the US. Our journey begins in Cumberland, Maryland and ends in Washington DC. Ride through the iconic Paw Paw tunnel, compiled of over six million bricks, visit several Civil War battle sites, and enjoy relaxing evenings on the trail or in a nearby historic canal town. The incredible history and bustling energy of the C&O Canal Towpath makes this one of the most ridden trails in the country. Day after day of cycling, great scenery, and good food make this a one of the best bike trips you’ll ever experience.

GET THE BLUEPRINT!

Our guests who purchase the C&O Canal Towpath Bike Tour Blueprint receive the following:

  • In-Depth Trail Knowledge
  • Detailed Trip Itineraries
  • Build-it Guide to Reserving your Trip
  • Digital Route Maps with POIs 

MORE INFO

  • Explore transportation history along C&O Canal Towpath.
  • Spend time at Civil War sites such as Antietam National Battlefield.
  • Enjoy a mix of gorgeous greenery and small historic towns.

Included Itineraries:

B&B/Hotel Stays

3-DAY Cumberland to DC
Day 1 – Cumberland to Hancock (60 miles)
Day 2 – Hancock to Shepherdstown (52 miles)
Day 3 – Shepherdstown to DC (73.5 miles)

4-DAY Cumberland to DC
Day 1 – Cumberland to Hancock (60 miles)
Day 2 – Hancock to Shepherdstown (52 miles)
Day 3 – Shepherdstown to Whites Ferry (38 miles)
Day 4 – Whites Ferry to DC (35.5 miles)

5-DAY Cumberland to DC
Day 1 – Cumberland to Little Orleans (43 miles)
Day 2 – Little Orleans to Williamsport (41 miles)
Day 3 – Williamsport to Shepherdstown (27.5 miles)
Day 4 – Shepherdstown to Whites Ferry (38 miles)
Day 5 – Whites Ferry to DC (35.5 miles)

Camping

List of camp sites and suggested itineraries. 

The C&O Towpath can be ridden throughout the year, although we recommend May-October.

The trail surface can be muddy and riders should be very conservative with daily mileage estimates.

Camping is available at free hiker-biker sites every 5-10 miles.

End-to-end shuttling is available for this trail system. 

Daily luggage transfer is available for this trail system. 

Bike rentals are available in Cumberland. Standard and e-bikes available.

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was completed in 1850 after 22 years of construction. It was used for transportation between the Allegheny Mountains and urban areas of the Chesapeake Bay. Hugging the north bank of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, the C&O Canal operated from 1831 to 1924. In 1954, after several decades of disuse, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas led an eight-day hike along the C&O Canal Towpath to try and save it from being transformed into a parkway. His success saw the former canal designated as the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historic Park in 1971.

With much of the canal now reclaimed by the forest, the 184.5-mile towpath has become a popular hiking and cycling route, with clay and crushed stone making it ideal for biking. Occasional potholes, rocks, and mud can be expected in some sections but conditions are improving dramatically as a major trail resurfacing project is currently underway.

The C&O Canal Towpath descends around 600 feet from Cumberland to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., with the gradual change in elevation almost indiscernible. This makes the “Grand Old Ditch” (as it’s affectionately known) ideal for any cyclist, particularly those who aren’t keen on hilly terrain.

Difficulty: The C&O Canal Towpath is rated at medium to hard difficulty. The trail has little to no elevation gain, but most itineraries require biking at least 50-60 miles each day and the trail surface tends to be uneven and slow. 

GALLERY

MAP

REVIEWS

Frank and Sue F.
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The Schoolhouse and Lindenhof B&B were spectacular. The beds in all the hotels were really, really comfy. We loved the small towns along the trail and the downhill direction of the trail. We met lovely people everywhere….midwest hospitality and friendliness. There were plenty of little towns along the way. And there were many really, really friendly bikers who were very helpful and fun. Was the trip paced to your satisfaction? Yes, very much so.
Tom and Sharon B.
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The Country Inn staff did everything they could to help us…The Hotel Bothwell and Hotel Frederick were both very accommodating and friendly….Capt Wohlt Inn, in Hermann, had Brant going out of his way to help us. He even cleaned our bikes for us. …It was fine for us older folks ( we’re 71 & 72) with no shuttle taking our luggage. Each day was very doable. Of course we had almost perfect weather. We had no issues with food our water etc. thanks to your materials. And, of course, you can’t do anything about the Missouri wind and dust.
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