Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the C&O Canal

The C&O Canal National Historical Park in Montgomery County, Maryland unfolds as a haven of natural beauty and historical richness. We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the C&O Canal, making it a must-visit destination for your next trip.

Upon arriving at the park, the experience begins with the promise of exploration without breaking the bank. Admission fees are only charged at Great Falls, where visitors can witness fantastic waterfalls for $20 per car, $35 for an annual pass, or $10 for pedestrians or cyclists.

The remainder of the park’s entrances in Montgomery County welcomes visitors free of charge.

The C&O Canal’s must-see sites encompass the majestic Great Falls, where the Overlook Trail and Billy Goat Trails allow for easy views of the falls.

The historic tavern and Mercer canal boat provide a glimpse into the past, complementing the towpath’s 184.5-mile stretch from the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington D.C. to Cumberland, MD. Dotted with historic structures and an engineering marvel like aqueducts, the canal weaves a tapestry of history and natural wonder.

The park’s popularity stems from its diverse range of activities. Hiking, cycling, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, and camping are on the menu.

You don’t need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the trails; the towpath is flat, and even hiking trails are relatively gentle. However, preparation with suitable gear, water, and adherence to posted closures is essential.

For those seeking a more immersive experience, camping is allowed at designated drive-in and hiker-biker campgrounds. The fall and winter seasons bring a different charm to the park, offering excellent conditions for hikers, cyclists, and runners. The autumn foliage is a spectacle, while winter invites activities like snowshoeing, adding a layer of serenity to the landscape.

To avoid crowds on weekends, venturing west to less-visited areas proves effective, while weekdays generally offer a quieter experience. Parking may pose a challenge at smaller trailhead lots, particularly on weekends.

Wildlife enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise, as the park is home to diverse species. From vibrant birds and butterflies to turtles, deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, fish, and the occasional bear in western Maryland, the C&O Canal has a biodiverse ecosystem. This adds to the amount of people the park sees annually.

In 2022, the park hosted over 4.29 million visitors, its popularity surpassing Yellowstone and Yosemite.

For a blast to the past experience, stay in the Canal Quarters Lockhouses. These seven restored historic lockhouses offer overnight stays, allowing guests to step back in time and immerse themselves in the life of lock keepers. Each lockhouse represents a different time period, providing a distinctive and memorable experience. The tranquility of the park at night, surrounded by nature near the nation’s capital, makes the lockhouses an ideal spot for a weekend getaway.

C&O Canal Quarters Lockhouse 10

The C&O Canal National Historical Park stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of history and nature, inviting all who visit to partake in its timeless allure. Explore the wonders of Montgomery County’s parks and unlock the secrets of the C&O Canal on your next adventure.

For more information about the C&O Canal visit The Canal Trust or National Park Service.

Want to explore more? Read our Insider’s Guide to Glen Echo Park. Take the Ultimate Burger Road Trip or see the Best Places to See the Fall Foliage in Montgomery County.