The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal biking trail is scenic and full of history with examples of 19th century engineering. On the north bank of the Potomac River it follows alongside the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The 184.5-mile canal starts in Georgetown Washington DC and ends in Cumberland Maryland. Over 4 million visitors explore this area each year for historical, nature or recreational purposes.
The unpaved trail has a clay and crushed stone surface. The first 20 miles is the most commonly used section of the trail. Due to its length a trip along the entire distance is only of interest to a limited number. Yet this lengthy task may be accomplished by breaking the trail into segments done over time.
The canal passes through a corridor between the eastern states of Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and Washington DC. The trail is within vicinity of Maryland towns Oldtown, Brunswick, Hancock, and Williamsport. In West Virginia the towns of Paw Paw, Shepherdstown, and Harpers Ferry are nearby. Leesburg and Great Falls are passed in Virginia before ending at Washington DC.
The word canal is used in reference to a man-made waterway. With the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal there are many historical stories focusing on this waterway. The canal sometimes called the “Grand Old Ditch” was built between 1828 and 1850 operating until 1924. The canal has an elevation change of 605 feet handled with 74 canal locks.
Creation of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal provided transportation of coal and other goods. It also produce jobs opportunities in the western Maryland Mountains, the Potomac River Valley, and the tidal basin of Washington D.C. The canal created economic prosperity with new towns forming along the canal.
In less than a hundred years the canal became outdated due to changes in technology, life styles, a decline in communities and businesses along the Potomac River banks. Today all that remains are canal ruins, and 1,300 historical structures from the past. The forest reclaimed much of the canal now water free.
The unique contributions of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal were realized in 1971 declaring it a National Historical Park. The intent was preserving and understanding this important historical landmark. This explains why this trail has attracted many bikers, hikers, joggers and nature lovers.
At the north end of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal biking trail is Cumberland MD. It is a city of 20,859 population, once called the “Queen City” as the states second largest city. It was well established as a major manufacturing city until a decline following World War II.
It is a 5.5 hour drive of 341 miles from Rochester NY. From Rochester drive south on route into Pennsylvania to Williamsport on to Milton west on US 80. Then exit onto route 220 south past the state border into Cumberland MD.
Here is one bicycler’s opinion of the trail:
“I enjoyed the ride, the scenary (sic) and the history that surrounds the canal. My favorite spot was at Harpers Ferry.”