The C&O Canal Towpath is a must-ride trail for all bike travelers. 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, quality B&Bs stays, great scenery, and good food make this a one of the best bike trips you’ll ever experience.
Prefer to plan your own trip? Check out our CO Bike Tour Blueprint!
Riding out of Canal Place in Cumberland, you begin your trip on the C&O Canal Towpath. The towpath was a historic engineering marvel, and you’ll see why as you ride its 185 length. The Paw Paw Tunnel is a particular highlight of your ride today (be sure to have a light) and perfect for photos ops. Upon reaching the Fifteenmile Creek Recreation Area you’ll take the turn up the road to Bill’s Place and stop for dinner. Call your B&B to arrange for your shuttle ride up the hill and learn why Town Hill B&B is a piece of National Road history and unbeatable kitschy fun!
Meals: On Own
Overnight: Little Orleans
After a shuttle back down the hill to the towpath, you can choose to ride the C&O all day or take a break on the paved Maryland Scenic Rail Trail which parallels the towpath just west of Hancock and then beyond to Fort Frederick. Stop in the town of Hancock for lunch. For history enthusiasts a stop at the reconstructed 18th century Fort Frederick may be in the cards. End your day in the canal town of Williamsport.
After breakfast in Williamsport it’s back onto the C&O and more riding. The Big Slackwater section (around MM 85) is unique on the towpath as you ride on a cantilevered concrete path above the Potomac River. You can ride on water! Entering the heart of Civil War history, end the day in Shepherdstown, Wv., just across the Potomac from Sharpsburg, Va. and Antietam National Battlefield. Civil War buffs will want to take a half-day to visit the battlefield – biking is allowed in the park.
*Due to the closure of the Whites Ferry, access to lodging in Leesburg, Va., is not practical. This allows for a shortened day to visit sites along the trail including Antietam National Battlefield and Harpers Ferry, followed by a final push into DC.
Shepherdstown may be one of the cutest college small-towns in the US and has some tasty cafes and bakeries, plus great boutiques and book stores. You may find it hard to leave! The C&O Towpath today continues into Civil War country and you’ll pass by multiple historic markers and structures – including several reconstructed aqueducts which were built for the canal. At MM 60.8 you’ll want to take a trail break and walk over to Harpers Ferry, Wv. The Lower Town is part National Park Service exhibit, part art shops and boutiques, and all charm. It’s also a perfect place to find lunch.
After breakfast, begin your last day of riding on the C&O Canal Towpath. The trail here is well traveled and highlights include Great Falls Park (a good lunch stop), Georgetown, and Washington, D.C.! Your destination is Mile Marker 0 (we provide mapping and text since it can be a tricky marker to find) and the end of an incredible journey.
Spend the night in Washington, D.C. before meeting your return shuttle, if included.
Post-Trip Option: Spend an extra day or two in D.C. and explore the many bike trails that follow the Potomac, bike around the National Mall, visit some museums, or even take the Mount Vernon Trail all the way to Alexandria and George Washington’s Mt Vernon plantation. We’re happy to help provide suggestions, reservations, and planning.
$875 trip + shuttle
No return shuttle, discount $295 from total price
ALL prices are based on Double Occupancy
•Solo riders add 85% to listed price without luggage transfer, or 90% to the listed price with luggage transfer.
•Groups of 6 or more (requiring at least 3 double occupancy rooms) receive a 10% discount.
This trip includes lodging for 4 nights and 4 breakfasts.
For non-included meals we provide daily suggestions and will consider your dietary requests, making special arrangements as needed. Please be aware that some restaurants close one day a week, and often that will be on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, depending on the town.
Our C&O Canal Towpath bike trips utilize the best in local B&Bs to ensure a comfortable and refreshing stay each night. Most B&Bs are located right next to or within a few blocks of the trail; shuttling to hotels off trail are included in price.
Hotel nights before and after the trip can be included.
There are a very limited number of single rooms, as well as suites, along the trail. If you require either room set up please let us know at the time of your quote request.
We do our best to advise of vegetarian and vegan options for dining along both trails.
Those with significant dietary restrictions, please also advise us AT THE START OF YOUR QUOTE PROCESS so that we can discuss your itinerary options. Food is important!
C&O Canal Towpath tours are offered between late April and mid-October. This schedule is dictated by weather and trail conditions. Most riders choose to ride between mid-May to early October.
Spring on the C&O Towpath is a wonderful way to restart your cycling season. April and the start of May can have periods of rain followed by periods of gorgeous spring sunshine. Spring flowers are found all along the trail and add a special color to your trip.
Summer is ideal for riders who love the long days, sunny and dry weather. Long sunny days allow for full days of biking, side trips, and socializing.
September and October is peak season on the trail – groups should book trips at least 9 months in advance when possible. Fall foliage occurs generally in early to mid-October, although exact dates do vary each year.
C&O trips start in Cumberland and end in DC. We find this direction works best for the flow of the trip and travel logistics. Amtrak runs daily between D.C. and Cumberland, with a late afternoon departure westbound and a morning departure eastbound.
This trip can be offered in the opposite direction on a limited basis, but no bike rental is available.
The C&O Canal Towpath is a dirt surface and bumpy, similar to a forest road, and is managed by the National Park Service. Portions of the surface have a grassy berm in the middle of two lanes. The towpath is not technically difficult to ride, but you will feel the vibrations and over time it can become taxing. The trail can also get soft and muddy after rains. [The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) parallels the C&O for about 20 miles from just west of Hancock, eastward to Fort Frederick. The WMRT is fully paved and can be a nice change after the bumpy C&O surface.]
Expect to ride the towpath at a slower pace than road or crushed-gravel trail surfaces.
The C&O Canal Towpath is a national park and is monitored regularly by NPS rangers. There are hiker/biker campsites with port-a-johns and water pumps (water may be capped by the park service) every 8-10 miles. The western section is fairly isolated between Cumberland and Hancock. East of Williamsport you will encounter towns with food and bikes services somewhat regularly.
Cell coverage is fairly good along the trail and Verizon covers most of the area. Wifi can be limited, although most B&Bs and hotels will offer the service. *Coverage on the western portion of the C&O (between Cumberland and Hancock) is very limited and wifi unavailable.
The best bike for the C&O Towpath is a hybrid-style bike with at least 32 mm-wide tires with tread; 40+ wide tires are even better. We discourage the use of road bikes and tires on the C&O. Parts of the towpath also tend to be muddy depending on the weather. Many parts of the towpath are similar to a dirt road, there is a mounded, grassy middle berm and sometimes ruts. Trikes and bikes with trailers which will have tires running along the middle of the trail can find this surface to be difficult.
Remember that if you are riding with loaded panniers, the added weight will affect your tire traction. If trail conditions are wet and you are running a loaded bike, a wider tire (or less inflated tire) is recommended so you don’t sink into the trail too much, making pedaling more difficult.
If the trail has been moist for an extended period of time, trail conditions can be soft and slow going.
Bike rental is not currently available for this trip. We can direct you to a local Cumberland bike shop if interested in arranging on your own.
If you can box and rebuild your bike on your own, and if you have good bike cases for shipping, BikeFlights.com or another shipping method can be much cheaper than renting a bike. If you need help boxing and rebuilding a shipped bike, we can direct you to bike shops along the trails which can assist you for a fee (usually $40-75/bikes).
A one-way shuttle from D.C. to Cumberland is included in ALL trip prices. The drive time is approximately 2.5 hours barring unusual traffic. The shuttle can be eliminated if you do not need to return. See the Pricing tab for more information.
Most often the shuttle is taken on the afternoon of your last ride day and returns you to Canal Place in Cumberland. The Thompson Boat Center (D.C.) shuttles leaves at 1:30 p.m. The shuttle can be scheduled for a later date if spending time in D.C. at the end of your trip. Morning shuttles leave around 10 a.m. but other times can be requested.
Daily luggage shuttling can be included on this trip.
Luggage must be ready each day by 9 a.m. and is transferred to your next overnight location by 4 p.m. We request each rider bring one carry-on sized piece (approximately) and one smaller, personal bag. Luggage should weigh no more than 40 lbs per person. Odd-sized and/or bulky pieces such as bike stands, coolers, or bike racks are not permitted.
You will be directed each morning where to bring your luggage – typically to the front desk or B&B common area. The luggage will not be accessible during the day, so you will need to have with you anything you require including cameras, change of clothes (if swimming/rafting), and food. Most B&Bs/hotels do not allow check in before 4 p.m.
Loved loved loved the ride. Will do it again. And will use you again. Also please know that as we mentioned you out there on the trail, everyone praised you and your company. Keep up the great work. Looking forward to the Katy trail next year.
The accommodations were excellent; every single one was perfect. The daily mileage was reasonable for being able to get to the next accommodation without getting burned out. I met others on the road that arrived at the B&B and then promptly went to bed they were so wiped out!
I was never concerned at all the entire way. People on the trail help each other out, so even if there is no cell phone coverage, there is still plenty of help available.
I would go as far as to say that this trip was life changing for me, and your arrangements helped to make it that way. Thank you so much Sara,
The pacing was perfect for us. The only tough day for us was the last, and that had to do with trail conditions and lots of rain. It was nice that it was the last day.
The trip materials were great . We had some trouble getting to the 0 mile marker but there were two groups of us that made it about the same time.
As far as safety, there is always the issue of being out of cell range on the c & o but not much you can do about that. It helps that you meet and get to know other riders along the way and everyone watches out for each other.
It was a great trip. Any suggestions for more similar ones?