• Historic Shot of Canal Boat on the Canal

    Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

    National Historical Park DC,MD,WV

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  • Towpath Reroute!

    6/14/14- Towpath breach at MM 106, just below Dam #5. Towpath Detour in place (this detour does not leave park property). Please be aware of possible towpath hazards due to heavy rains.

  • Water Pump Handles Temporarily Removed

    Purslane Run, Stickpile, Evitts Creek Hiker-Biker Campgrounds and Paw Paw Campground water pump handles have been removed due to bad water samples. Handles will be installed when good water samples are received.

  • Parking Lot Closure

    CSX is now beginning a phase of their bridge project that requires the closure of the Lock 74 parking lot for approximatly 18 months. Access to visitor parking near Lock 75 is now re-opened with a gravel parking lot at the site.

  • Boat Rides at Great Falls

    Regularly scheduled tour times for the mule-drawn canal boat at Great Falls have changed. In July and August 2014 tours will be offered Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00, 1:30 and 3:00. Please call the Visitor Center for more info: 301-767-3714. More »

Nature & Science

Photo Potomac River along the C&O Canal

Potomac River along the C&O Canal

C&O Canal Natural Resources

Although the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal never achieved its goal of linking Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River, it provides for us today a window into the North American continent’s geologic past and a pathway through the rich natural system of the “Nation’s River”.

The Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park includes 19,236 acres paralleling the Potomac River from the densely urbanized Washington D.C. upriver for 184.5 miles through pastoral farm country and forest to Cumberland, Maryland. Many of the park’s three million annual visitors come here to enjoy the outdoors, access the river, hike and bike, jog, ride horses, and observe wildlife.

The natural resources provide scenery and backdrop to our daily lives. Found along the second largest tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, these natural resources are also an important part of the larger bay ecosystem. Much of the park preserves floodplain forest and wetlands that contribute to the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay. The forest and wetlands can act as a “sponge,” slowing down the flow of water during floods. Plants in the forest and wetlands can also absorb (and use for their own growth) some of the many nutrients that run off surrounding lands in the Potomac River watershed. This can lower the amount of “excess nutrients” that can harm the river’s and bay’s ecosystems.

The canal begins on the Upper Coastal Plain and as it winds westward transects portions of the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, and Ridge & Valley physiographic provinces. This landscape, with the influences of the Potomac River, results in the rich geologic, ecological, and biological diversity found within the park's boundaries. Interesting geologic formations exist in the park such as the Great Falls of the Potomac and limestone caves, as well as native plant communities such as mid-Appalachian shale barrens, limestone forests, floodplain forests, and wetlands and some of the very best examples of scoured bedrock terrace habitat in the eastern U.S. Plants and animals in C&O Canal NHP common to these habitats as well as significant numbers of state and nationally rare species are represented here.

Did You Know?

Photo upstream entrance Paw Paw Tunnel.

The Paw Paw Tunnel is 3,118 feet long and is lined with almost six million bricks. The 2/3 mile long tunnel saved the canal builders almost six miles of construction along the Paw Paw bends of the Potomac River. The project took twelve years to complete. The tunnel was only wide enough for single lane traffic. More...