Mules played a vital role in the construction and operation of the C&O Canal in the 1800’s. In an age before highways and planes, mules were the “engines” of the boats that traveled along the canal waterway, hauling goods and people between Georgetown and Cumberland. Mules were suited to pull boats along the 184.5 miles of the canal because of their strength, intelligence, and easy-going temperament.
What Is a Mule?
Mules are a perfect example of the hybrid principle: crossing two species to produce a third, often better, species more suited for certain conditions or work. Crossing a female horse (a mare) with a male donkey (a jack) produces a mule. George Washington had ambitions of breeding an "excellent race of mules" in North America. He mated his prize mares with donkeys at Mount Vernon and introduced a powerful breed of mules to the continent.
Discover the world of mules. Explore the history of mules as the "engines" of the C&O Canal, meet the park's current mule team, and learn about the different types of care that mules need to be healthy and happy.
Volunteer With Us!
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is looking for dedicated and dependable volunteers that can assist our mule care specialist. Mule Care Volunteers assist with the feeding, grooming, care, and public interpretation of our working mules. This is the perfect opportunity for someone who is looking to refine their large animal care skills, has a desire to share their knowledge with less experienced volunteers, and is enthusiastic for our mules and the programs they help facilitate. Visit Volunteer.gov for more information and to apply.
Caring For the Mules
Mules need consistent and thorough care. Learn more about how the park cares for its team of mules.
View the calendar of events for scheduled boat and 'Meet the Mules' programs.
View photos of the current mule team and mules that have since retired from working in the park.
Last updated: February 11, 2023