The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is 184 miles long, starting on the north bank of the Potomac River from Washington, DC and ending in Cumberland, MD. Much of the canal has been drained and reforested but the towpath along the canal remains popular for hiking and cycling. The towpath surface is hard-packed dirt for much of the way, and can be muddy after a heavy rain.Visit the National Park Service site.
At Cumberland Maryland, the Canal meets the Great Allegheny Passage trail, continuing 141 miles to Homestead PA near Pittsburgh, for a total of 325 miles from Washington DC to Pittsburgh.
The GAP and C&O Trail
330 miles of trail from Pittsburgh to Washington DC
The 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Maryland , creating a 334.5-mile motorized vehicle-free stone dust/ packed stone cycling trail between Pittsburgh PAand Washington, DC. The GAP trail follows abandoned rail beds and thus has a nearly level grade, generally less than 1%. The westbound section from Cumberland to Deal is the only exception at 1.75%, reaching its high point at the Eastern Continental Divide. The two trails travel through several long tunnels, all lit except for the 3000 ft. Big Savage Tunnel, where you must walk your bike and will need a good flashlight. The C&O trail from Cumberland is a generally a single or double track canal towpath, with hard packed stone and dirt, occasional mud holes and tree roots. We rode the entire distance of the two trails on touring road bikes with 700 x 28 tires but were fortunate to have dry weather. We suggest mounting 700 x 32 tires with a light texture pattern for greater stability on these surfaces. We saw many people riding hybrid bikes. Mountain bikes would be fine as well, but are not necessary for either of the trails.
The 184.5 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal follows the north bank of the Potomac River from Cumberland MD to Washington DC. The canal was built between 1828 and 1850. In 1971 the canal became a National Historic Park. Download a detailed map of the C&O Trail and it’s historic features. Download trail notes and other information about the C&O Canal Trail.
The following is based on a route we took in the summer of 2013, including the inns we stayed at each evening as the day’s destination point. Even though the trails are essentially flat, the trail surface will provide more resistance than paved roads, and we averaged about 10-11 mph. 60 miles each day is about right to allow you to enjoy the features of the trail and come in before sunset.
Cue sheets and files for GPS devices are included below. Note that for much of the day you will neither be on a marked road or cross one, so the instructions will often be in directions rather than giving road names.
|Day 1 Pittsburgh PA to West Newton PA (start GAP Trail)
Distance: 34.0 mi
|Day 2 West Newton PA to Confluence PA
Distance: 53.5 mi
|Day 3 Confluence PA to Cumberlannd MD (end GAP trail)
Distance: 63.3 mi
|Day 4 Cumberland to Hancock (begin C&O Trail)
Distance: 59.5 mi
|Day 5 Hancock MD to Harpers Ferry WV
Distance: 64.5 mi
|Day 6 Harpers Ferry WV to Washington DC
Distance: 61.0 mi
Connecting and NearbyTrails:
Montour Trail, Pennsylvania
Panhandler Trail, Pennsylvania
Western Maryland Rail Trail, Hancock MD
Capitol Crescent Trail: Washington to Silver Springs.
Rock Creek Trail, Washington (download map)
Deckers Creek Trail WV
Mon River Trail, WV
North Mon River Trail, WV
South Caperton Trail, WV
North Bend Rail Trail, WV, a multi-use recreational trail operated by West Virginia State Parks. Formerly an abandoned spur of the CSX system, the trail is part of the 5,500 mile coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail. Stretching 72 miles from I-77 near Parkersburg in Wood County to Wolf Summit in Harrison County, this scenic trail passes through 13 tunnels and crosses 36 bridges.The trail nearly parallels US Route 50 east and west. Download map