Field Trips

Exploring the C&O Canal's Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, Maryland

A ranger takes a question from a 4th grader

The C&O Canal's Cushwa Basin tour covers science, math, engineering and history.

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Students explore the historic C&O Canal at Williamsport, Maryland on a half day education program. This program is designed for grades 3-5 and provides students with hands-on learning in science, math, engineering and history. From touring a historic canal lockhouse and operating a canal lock, to examining evidence of earth processes, to scavenger hunts and engaging discussion through real life case studies, students will come to know and appreciate the C&O Canal as an important part of our nation's past and gain an understanding of how the canal is relevant to their lives today.

As a result of visiting the Canal Basin, students should be able to...

1. Define the purpose and importance of National Parks with a focus on preserving the C&O Canal as a place to learn and explore our history

2. Describe the C&O Canal as an early transportation system including canal operations, lock technology, and life for canal workers

3. Explain the concepts and effects of earth processes: weathering, erosion, deposition, and flooding 

4. Examine plants and wildlife using technology

The park partnered with Washington County (Maryland) Public Schools to develop this field trip day along with pre- and post-visit activities for your classroom. Completing the classroom activities will enhance student learning. The lessons include a mapping project, a critical thinking activity, a reader's theater, and several math and estimation activities (links below).

Field Trip Itinerary

There are four on-site activities at the Cushwa Basin: a walk to Lockhouse 44 that includes a visit inside a historic lockhouse and a lock demonstration, a visit to our historic Trolley Barn with scavenger hunt and case study, a STEM activity about Earth Processes, and a Nature Hike. Schools have the option of 3 programs if planning for a 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. visit. Note: If groups are larger than 120 students, a 4-group rotation schedule is nescessary in which case students will participate in all activities in order to reduce group size. 

Lockhouse (1.25 hours)

On the way to the lockhouse, students will utilize a field observation guide as scientists would to explore the canal's natural and historical attributes. Students visit Lock House 44 and open/close the lock gates. This 1-mile round-trip walk is on a flat surface. 

Trolley Barn (approximately 1 hour)

Students will learn about life on the canal through observation and discussion. Students will participate in a scavenger hunt to explore canal exhibits and hands-on materials. Students will work in teams to do a historic canal photograph analysis and a case study of real events occurring on the canal during the Civil War. This program takes place inside the historic Trolley Barn.

Earth Processes (approximately 60 minutes)

Weathering, erosion, and deposition shape our landscapes. Working in small teams, students will use an erosion table to discuss earth processes and how they changed the area around the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct. In small teams, students will explore the canal for examples of earth processes and discuss possible causes.

Nature Walk (approximately 60 minutes)

Students will investigate wildlife and plants and document their observations using iPads (provided by the park). Photos taken by students, limited to 4-5 per group, will be sent to the teacher following the field trip for an optional post-visit activity.

Pre-Visit Activities

Use this lesson as a stand-alone or as a pre-activity to a canal visit. This lesson addresses a host of objectives in both reading and social studies for the Maryland State Curriculum. Students will learn why the C&O Canal is an amazing accomplishment in Maryland's history, understand more about the genre of historical fiction, and describe what a typical nine-year old canal boy and family were like in the late 1800's. The lesson was designed for Washington County, Maryland, students who visit the Williamsport Visitor Center at the Cushwa Basin; but it is applicable for other locations along the canal as well.

Journey on the C&O Canal

A Civil War Dilemma 

Post-Visit Activities

Use these lessons as a post-visit activity.

C&O Canal Case Studies

C&O Canal Reader's Theater

C&O Canal Mapping Activity

Plan Your Visit

Download or print the Plan Your Visit Guide for more information. To schedule a field trip, email us


Canal Classrooms Rangers

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Please Note: We are taking reservations for the 2014-15 school year! If you are eager to get scheduled now, please e-mail us or call (301) 714-2213 to reserve a date. Include your phone number, class size, grade, and preferred date. We will confirm your reservation via e-mail or by phone within 3 business days. 


African American History and Culture, Biology: Plants, Civil War, Commerce and Industry, Conservation, Earth Science, Economics, Engineering, Environment, Family Life, History, Hydrology, Regional Studies, Science and Technology, Social Studies, Transportation, Westward Expansion
National/State Standards:
English Language Arts, Speaking and Listening, Comprehension and Collaboration:
ELA-Literacy W4.25.3
ELA-Literacy RI4.1, 2
ELA-Literacy SL4.1, 4

Next Generation Science Standards:
4-ESS2-1 Earth Systems
4PS3-1 Energy
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