24 October, 2006

The C&O Canal Trail

We had planned a 3 day family inn-to-inn bike trip this past weekend. But a flu going around Alec's elementary school canceled our plans. When we felt better we decided to salvage what we could and spent a day riding along the C&O canal towpath. Every time we return to the canal, we are reminded that it's one of the most pleasant places we've ever ridden.

Perhaps it's not quite as nice as riding along the canals of France, but the scenery, especially in fall colors, is almost as spectacular. And it may lack canal side inns and cafes, but the B&Bs and restaurants in the towns are acceptable.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal runs for 184 miles from Washington, DC to Cumberland Maryland. The canal is a National Historic Park. It starts near downtown Washington in the fashionable Georgetown neighborhood. Then it runs along the Potomac river and beside the spectacular whitewater and waterfalls of Nader gorge. Further along is the historic town of Harper's Ferry. It continues along beside the river, through small mountains, dense forests, and a 3100 foot canal tunnel.

There are camping areas every 10 or so miles. Small towns along it's route allow riders to stop at B&Bs or motels or just for a meal. So the rider can travel light and need not ride long distances to get to the next campsite or bed.

The surface varies from crushed stone to dirt and gravel. A rando style bike with 32mm tires is ideal. There are big rocks, mud holes, and fallen branches here and there. Last year I cracked a rib when I hit one and crashed near Cumberland. So don't ride as fast as you do on a road on this surface. I find 15 or 16 mph is about as fast as I can ride without having to continuously concentrate on the trail surface.

Here is a fantastic site with more details. What's your favorite local ride?


Anonymous said...


Nice, now I miss picnicing at Great Falls.

I do notice you have an Alps bag on your bike, seen it before once at Hirshi shop. Is there something you might carry?


Chris Kulczycki said...

The ALPS bag is very nice, and it's huge. I use it when we need to carry picnic stuff or for shopping.

We don't plan to stock it. In fact, it's no longer on the ALPS web site, so it may be out of production. I suspect that it is, or was, made by Ostrich.

Alan said...

Great looking photos and area to ride.

My favorite area to ride for a day trip is in the St. Croix river valley which separates Minnesota from Wisconsin. I particularly enjoy the areas north of Stillwater, in and around the town of Marine on St. Croix.

I have not had time to ride for two weeks and it's getting me down. Today is beautiful in Minnesota, I should go for a ride, but I'm trapped in my office. The season here is winding down, each day is hit or miss at this point. Pray for tolerable weather on Sunday - my next opportunity.

david_nj said...

That's a terrific trail; many times I've ridden the southern part between Bethesda and Georgetown.

We have one of these canal paths just a couple of miles from my house, along the Delaware river. Similarly gorgeous, and a terrific place for kids to ride, since there's no traffic to contend with, etc. (Curiously, you don't often see little ones out there, which makes no sense to me.)

One thing I've learned about riding with my 10 year old: go slow, don't make him ride any faster than he's naturally inclined to, plan on stopping a lot for any or no reason, and bring lots of snacks!

AN said...

Some reasons to stop for a 7-year old:

May have seen a tree frog.

Saw a hhhheeeeeuuuuuuuuge bass.

May have seen a snake.

We don't have these acorns/pinecones/pine needles/stag beetles at our house.

Need to collect at water sample from this pond.

Need to pee.

My knee hurts.

Having a mechanical, involving fingerless gloves, shoelaces, and jacket getting caught on handlebars.

Daddy beat me to the sprint point.

neil m berg said...

That Alec is a good looking kid. He looks a lot like his father. Except much better looking.

wannaberando said...


In 1972, my friend and I took our first ever long bike ride down the C&O Canal and back. We were 15, and it was just after Hurricane Agnes blasted thru and tore it up. Many detours. Also outhouses and cars in the trees.

We did it on our brand new matching-except-for-color Schwinn Continentals. Carried a watersoaked canvas tent, giant cans of Dinty Moore stew; nothing lightweight.

We camped and stayed in Youth Hostels and entered D.C. as Breznev entered and the town was thawing the cold war with Soviet flags everywhere. We argued with visiting white students from South Africa who shared the D.C. Youth Hostel with us. They insisted Aparteid was sound policy. We skinny-dipped, caught a snapping turtle, were nearly struck by lightning, and just missed having a tree fall on us in the storm. Quite an adventure for 15 year olds who'd barely left Pittsburgh ever before!

That trip changed my life. I came to love bikes, travel, and adventure.

Thanks for the memory jogger.