There is a vast amount of history to be found at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. The Towpath trail takes you along the nearly 185-mile canal that was constructed in the early 1800’s. But there’s more than just history that can be found here. Adventure and natural beauty surround you with every step you take as you make your way along the trail. Whether you go alone or bring some of your friends (furry or not,) you’ll have an incredible time experiencing the nature that the C&O Canal has to offer.
A Little C&O Canal History
Signing the bill to start construction in 1825 was the last presidential act of James Monroe. The purpose of the canal was to quickly move goods westward. In 1850 on its first day in business, 491 tons of coal were transported down the canal. That was more than the Lehigh Canal had done for the whole year of 1820.
The original plan was to connect the tidewater of Washington, D.C. to the Ohio River through one of its tributaries. It was scheduled to be done in two sections, an eastern and a western section. The eastern section proved to be a more extensive project than anticipated. The rise in the technology of trains along with the lack of needed funds caused the construction of the canal to cease and the western section was never built.
The canal was still quite useful before it became completely obsolete. It remained in use until the early 1900’s. Natural disasters along with financial hardships, led to a decline in maintenance and popularity all together.
In the 1950’s a plan was made to put a highway along the length of the canal. A group of incredible and determined people fought against this with help from Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas. The result ended up being the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.
The C&O Canal of Today
The towpath, that once was used to pull boats down the canal, is now used as a trail for hiking or biking. It runs the entire length of the nearly 185-mile canal. The trail is marked in sections, so if you don’t have a few days to do the whole thing at once then you can keep track of where you left off, because you’ll want to see it all.
This trail consists of far more than just the towpath itself. There are smaller side trails and loops that take you past the ruins of various places long forgotten. Overflowing with wildlife and nature, the serenity of these trails will have your mind wandering back to an era that most of us have only read about.
Feel free to bring your four-legged furry friend, wagging tail and big drooly smile included. Just don’t forget the leash and those lovely doggie clean-up bags. Dogs are allowed along the entire towpath and on most of the smaller trails as well. There are a few where your friend will not be able to accompany you on, but most are dog-friendly. The visitor centers even have watering bowls for your friend.Bringing your own water and snacks while hiking these trails is a great idea. There are stops along the way, but you don’t want yourself or fido to get dehydrated. A flashlight is also a wonderful thing to bring, since you might want to explore the 3,000-foot tunnel that lies waiting for you. Also remember, as with any time in nature, leave only your footprints. That goes for both you and your pooch. Meat eating animals do not excrete fertilizer.