• Historic Shot of Canal Boat on the Canal

    Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

    National Historical Park DC,MD,WV

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  • Water Pump Handles Temporarily Removed

    Evitts Creek Hiker-Biker Campground water pump handle has been removed due to bad water samples. Handles will be reinstalled 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 Tours at Great Falls

    Due to low water levels in the Great Falls area, call the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center (301-767-3714) in advance of your trip to confirm the mule-drawn boat tour schedule.

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?

Monocacy Aqueduct along C&O Canal.

Aqueducts are water filled bridges. Aqueducts carried the canal and boat traffic over major waterways, like rivers. Of the 11 aqueducts built along the canal, the Monocacy Aqueduct is the longest at 516 feet, its seven arches constructed mainly of stone quarried from nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. More...