The C&O Canal terminates or starts in the Georgetown neighborhood of DC. It's fun to sip a beer at Nick's Riverside, in the waterfront park area and watch the riders come in from the trail. There's a lot of cyclists coming off the trail and it's easy to tell which riders are completing the through trip. There are many lodging options near the C&O Canal in Georgetown. I've stayed at the Georgetown Suites a number of times simply because it's within a block of the trail and it's relatively inexpensive compared to other lodging options. The first time I completed the through trip I couldn't find the Mile 0 marker. It's somewhat difficult to find because it's located on the opposite side of Thompson Boat Center from the Georgetown Waterfront. You can see the "crew" boats of the boat center from the waterfront area. Follow the waters edge past the boats and you will see the marker.
This is one of the most popular sections on the canal because of the proximity to Washington and the incredible scenic beauty. Vantage points along the trail deliver breathtaking views of Great Falls on the Potomac River. The Historic Great Falls Tavern is home to the Visitor Center with a Bike Rental which is open on weekends. There's plenty of hiking trails to explore along the rivers edge. Click here to download a trail map.
Park your bike across the towpath from the Visitors Center and follow the trail which crosses onto the island. Follow the path a few hundred feet until you reach the lookout. From here you can really see the falls and the power of the river.
If you're hungry and looking to feast on the areas' most average $16 burger, the Old Anglers Inn restaurant is the perfect place. They have comfortable outdoor seating shaded by mature oaks and accented with a soothing fountain. If your prefer to grab a quick bite, there's a snack
There used to be 100 ferries operating on the Potomac, this is the last one and it's still pretty busy. The cars line up on what looks like a boat ramp and fill up the ferry. The ferry follows a wire cable to the other side (lower right). The ferry runs continuously, year round, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. There's a fee to use the ferry and it's cash only. More info here
For up-to-date conditions, call them at 301-349-5200. Flooding and ice can close the ferry. Once across the ferry to Virginia, the town of Leesburg, is a mile south and has bike shops, restaurants and lodging.
There's no lodging in Whites Ferry but there's a lunch grill in the building next to the Ferry that has some pre-made sandwiches and wraps. Stock up because it's a few miles until the next watering hole.
The town of Brunswick is known for its train depot and sits about seven miles south along the canal from Harpers Ferry. The trail surface has been improved from Brunswick several miles north beyond Harpers Ferry. The trail surface is similar to the crushed limestone of the GAP. A few miles south of Brunswick is where the trail washout is located. The image to the left shows the temporary bridge thats in place until the permanent solution is complete.
On a previous visit, Keith from Three Points Cycle saved the day having replacement three spokes on repair my rear wheel. He's the guy to see if you need any bike maintenance. While you wait grab a burger with chips at Mommer's diner for $2.75. The town has lodging and a campground. Tripadvisor lists 15 restaurants. Beans in the Belfry is open for breakfast lunch or dinner. They have everything from baked goods, soups, chili, snacks, salads and Panini sandwiches and serving food seven days a week.
Harpers Ferry is a picturesque village, positioned at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park surrounds the town, providing visitors with tours, museums, hiking and biking trails, restaurants and lodging options...all within easy walking distance. The majestic beauty of the two rivers and the cliffs surrounding Harpers Ferry draw visitors from all over. The Appalachian Trail goes right through the heart of town. Boutique shops and bed and breakfasts are plentiful and offer a variety of beautiful items for the visitors. Plenty of local eateries can satisfy the palate. Local outfitters can help with rafting, tubing or kayaking trips.
The Appalachian trail crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry via a footbridge which connects the towpath to the town. Riders from the C&O Canal must climb a stairwell from the trail up to the footbridge which crosses the Potomac. There stairs are difficult with a loaded bike and impossible with a BOB trailer. Most people simply disconnect panniers and reconnect once up the stairs. There are no stairs on the Harpers Ferry side of the bridge.
Shepherdstown is a vibrant little college town located across the Potomac from the C&O Canal. The town has a nice bike shop (The Pedal Paddle) on German Street and enough restaurant options to make everyone happy. On my last visit, I had a delicious roasted beet salad and steak at the Press Room. There are a number of lodging options to choose from and there's camping just down the road.
Williamsport is a strategic place to stop because whether you are traveling north or south, there's no town for 25 miles. If you're stopping in Williamsport you have to check out the Desert Rose Cafe. Their fruit smoothies are delicious and all of their sandwiches are fresh. They serve so many cyclists that they actually stock shelves with spare tubes, patch kits, bug spray and many other bicycle accessories. I was there a few years ago and having mechanical issues with my bike so Rose and Alan allowed me to use their computer to research bike shops and lodging in Shepherdstown because I wasn't going to reach Brunswick as I had originally planned. These guys are super-nice people and they are always going the extra mile.
There's a number of restaurants although I'm not sure you need to know anything but the Desert Rose Cafe. Overnight lodging options are available near the highway on the edge of town.
The town of Hancock makes a good overnight stop because it offers several lodging options. The 1828 Trail Inn and the Riverrun bed and breakfast are located just off the C&O Canal. There's a Super 8 Motel is within a half mile of the towpath and there are several restaurants in town. Many of the tour companies may end the day of riding in Hancock but will shuttle their guests several miles up the road to Berkeley Springs. The town has more amenities than Hancock but it's a dangerous bike ride from the towpath.
The bumpy towpath, with all of its potholes and tree roots, takes a toll on your body, so many people choose to skip 20+ miles of towpath and ride the super-smooth asphalt of the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT). The WMRT runs parallel to the towpath and has connections on the southern end at mile 117 & 119 (about 7 & 9 miles south of Hancock) and on the northern end at mile 136.5, just south of the Sideling Hill Aqueduct (12 miles north of Hancock).
One of the coolest sections of the towpath is where there is no towpath. A three-mile section of the trail is built up along the river bank where the canal boats would navigate the flat water section of the river. This Big Slackwater section is cool because you're on the edge of the river and it's a good place to stop for a swim.
Little Orleans is a popular place to stop because it's 20 miles south of Oldtown and 17 miles north of Hancock. So it's positioned somewhat in the middle of a 40 mile stretch that has very limited services. Just under the railroad trestle from the C&O Canal is Bill's place. Bill's Place is a bar, general store and diner. Everyone comes to Bill's Place for its one of a kind atmosphere and because it's the only place for 40 miles. This log cabin style building is a favorite stop for a cold drink and an decent meal. On my last visit in June of 2019, the man behind the counter was not Bill. Evidently Bill passed away a few years back and now the operation is run by a real SOB (son of Bill). He was explaining to me about the other SOBs out on the trail...which stood for "Senior on Bikes".
Customers stuck dollar bills to the ceiling of Bill's Place. A small section of the ceiling appears in the related image.
There's a lodge and a campground not far from Bill's. The Little Orleans campground requires a significant effort to climb the steep hill along Oldtown Orleans Rd. Campground website
Just a couple hundred feet from Bill's front door is the trailhead for the Western Maryland Rail Trail. If you need a break from the bumby C&O Canal, you can follow the paved trail all the way to Hancock and beyond.
The Schoolhouse kitchen is an oasis in the heart of a food desert. There's an old schoolhouse about a quarter mile from the C&O Canal that has been converted into several businesses. This is where you will find the Schoolhouse Kitchen Cafe, which is located, yes, you guessed it, in the old schoolhouse cafeteria. There is nothing fancy about this place. In fact, it looks like an elementary school. It may not look fancy but the place is a cyclists delight. They will serve you a home cooked meal for under $4.00 and fill up your water bottle with ice cold filtered water. What more could you ask for?
This is a great place to stop offering a number of lodging options. An overnight stay in Cumberland is always a good thing. The Fairfield Suites is my son's favorite hotels in the world (maybe because the hot tub). I must admit that the pool and hot tub are a welcome treat after a day behind the handlebars. There's a cool pedestrian mall (Canal Place) at mile marker '0' where the Great Allegheny Passage meets the C&O Canal with a bike shop and a restaurant. Just across from Canal Place is Uncle Jacks. This is one of my favorite places to grab dinner and drinks. Even though it's a "pizza" place, they have a decent menu with healthier options. There are plenty of other lodging options including bed and breakfasts, a hostel, as well as mainstream hotels. There are also a couple camping options. Cumberland has a gang of lodging options, restaurants, stores, and bike shops. If you are starting your journey here, you will have no trouble obtaining bike rentals. If your plan includes riding the C&O Canal to D.C., this is a great spot to get your bike serviced, spend the night, or to pick up trail supplies. The towns along the C&O Canal are fewer and further between so you may want to stock up. Cumberland food
Cumberland bike shops