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Top 10 Tips for Visiting C&O Canal

Plan Your Trip Like a Park Ranger

Summer is here and we are expecting an especially busy season in 2021. A little trip planning can ensure that your only surprises are happy ones. To help everyone have a great experience, C&O Canal rangers share their top 10 insider tips to #PlanLikeAParkRanger.

Check out more Top 10 lists from other national parks to get the most out of your summer vacation.

The arch of the Conocheague Aqueduct spans over head as we look at a bridge in the distance.
The Conocheague Aqueduct in Williamsport

Margaret J Clingan

1. Visitor centers have moved outdoors

We have moved our visitor services outdoors! Our friendly interpretive rangers are staffing tables outside the Great Falls Tavern in Great Falls and the Cushwa Warehouse in Williamsport. Our visitor centers are currently closed.

Learn more > Check out the calendar for hours and upcoming events

2. Know where you’re going

Our park is 184.5 miles long! Destinations along the canal are further apart then you might expect. Plan ahead and know what region of the park you are interested in visiting and the closest parking area.

Learn more > Check out the park maps and planners ahead of time

3. Pack your patience

Expect crowding and have a back-up plan in case parking lots are full. Some crowded areas are Great Falls, Carderock Recreation Area, Anglers, and Fletchers Boathouse. Keep surprises to a minimum and know where to park ahead of time! Pro tip: Great Falls has a $20 entrance fee.

Learn more > Check out the Canal Trust website for a list of parking areas

Three hikers with backpacks and bedrolls walk on the towpath.
Get ready to grab your backpack and hiking boots!

Jim Kerby

4. Have a water plan

Well water along the trail has been treated with iodine. WARNING, do not drink well water if you have any iodine allergies or are on medication for an overactive thyroid, including anti-thyroid medications. In general, well water is clean and able to be used without additional treatment. But visitors may wish to boil or treat the water before use for their own protection. Pro tip: Water availability is subject to change. Always bring plenty of water with you as a backup option.

Learn more > Check out the Current Park Conditions website for updates on closures, well water, river conditions, and more

5. Have a trash plan

We are a trash free park! If you bring it with you into the park, be sure to take it with you when you leave. This includes food waste and dog poop. Pro tip: Be sure to keep your dog on a leash!

Learn more > Curious about other park rules? Check out the Superintendent's Compendium

A three story, brick lockhouse surrounded by lush trees
Pack your bags. You're sleeping on the canal this summer!

Margaret J Clingan

6. Check the weather

Check the forecast and current park conditions before you leave. Wear the right clothes and bring extra water for the heat. Know the signs of heat stroke and what to do should you get it.

Learn more > Check out the Current Park Conditions website for updates on closures, well water, river conditions, and more

7. Prepare for the worst

Many places along the canal are isolated with no cell reception. Help can be a long way away. Bring extra supplies in case your gear breaks, such as a tire repair kit. If you’re going a long distance or to a remote section of the park, let people know your final destination and timeline. For general information or to report a non-life threatening issue, please email choh_information@nps.gov. To report a non-life threatening emergency call 866-677-6677. For medical assistance or a life threatening emergency, call 911.

A great blue heron stands on a rock.
Great Blue Heron

Bruce Lemieux

8. Celebrate with us

We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary of becoming a park! Join in the celebration and use #CAndOCanal50 and #50for50 to share your park experiences with us.

Learn more > Check out the calendar for hours and upcoming events and go watch our 50th anniversary video!

9. Spend the night on the canal

Want to spend the night on the canal? Rough it at a campground or step back in time in a fully furnished lock house. Plan early as spots fill up fast! Pro tip: Going to bike the canal? Free hiker-biker campsites are located every 5 to 7 miles in the park, but be prepared to ride extra miles to find one that is vacant during the busy season.

Learn more > Make reservations for the Canal Trust's Canal Quarters and drive-in campgrounds on recreation.gov


10. Take only pictures, leave only footprints

...in permitted areas! Help us preserve the park for future visitors. We know that you can find some interesting artifacts in the park, look with your eyes and leave it where you found it. Ecosystems along the towpath can be fragile, stay on the trail to help us keep them safe.

Learn more > Check out the seven principles to leave no trace

Last updated: May 30, 2021