Summer Fun Day #73: Bike the C&O Towpath

C&O Towpath

Take the family on a biking adventure along the scenic C&O Canal Towpath.

cotowpathThe 184.5-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is located along the north bank of the Potomac River starting in Washington D.C. and ending in Cumberland. It was built between 1828 and 1850 and operated for nearly 100 years as the lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber and agriculture products floated down the waterway to market.

Today much of the canal has been drained of water and reclaimed by the forest, but the canal’s towpath remains a favorite of hikers, runners and bicyclists. There are many spots to park and gain access to the Towpath with bikes. The first 20 miles is the most heavily used and a good place to start.

The Towpath starts just south of the Pennsylvania Avenue and Rock Creek Parkway intersection in Washington D.C. There are many underground parking garages nearby to park your car. If you would rather start on a more rural section of the trail, park at the Great Falls Visitor Center located 14 miles outside of Washington in Montgomery County and head off on the Towpath in either direction.

The path is not paved and is mostly clay and crushed stone. Hybrid and mountain type bikes are best. Road bikes with skinny tires are not great for this path. If your family is up for a big adventure, plan a multi-day biking trip along the Towpath, staying at a hotel or camping overnight.

For details on biking on the C&O Canal Towpath, visit the C&O Canal Bicycling Guide. Or visit the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park website for general information.

You can also see our article to find seven Maryland bike trails fit for the family.

For more summer fun ideas, check out our 100 Days of Summer list of family activities, or see our daily calendar of events.