The best days on the C&O Canal Towpath are ones that cover short distances, allowing you time to experience what’s along the way. The few stops and short mileage of this short trip add up to a wonderful day outside and immersed in history.
What you will see: Within Glen Echo Park and the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Montgomery County, MD. Begins at C&O Canal mile 7.6 and extends to Great Falls Tavern, at mile 14.4.
Things to do: Join Potomac Conservancy on a canoe trip from Lockhouse 8; take the kids to the attractions at Glen Echo Park; hike the trails and see the visitor center at historic Great Falls Tavern. At Great Falls there are seasonal concerts and performances that celebrate the canal era.
Glen Echo. The main attractions for canal travelers are Glen Echo Park and Clara Barton National Historic Site, also known as Clara Barton House. The current incarnation for Glenn Echo Park encompasses all of its varied history, first as an educational and cultural center of the Chautauqua Movement, then as an amusement park. Today the famous, colorful carousel gets top billing, but the dance hall, art classes and performances are the heart of the park. Clara Barton House memorializes the founder of the American Red Cross who lived and worked from the house next door to the park—the house was built by the brothers who launched Glen Echo. Both are reached from the canal via footbridge at C&O mile 7.6; a path on the other side of the bridge leads a half mile to Glenn Echo.
Travel upriver about a half mile to reach Lockhouse 8 River Center. Of all the lockhouses open to the public, Lockhouse 8, located at C&O mile 8.3, has the most active schedule of programs. It’s more of an arts and activity center than a house museum. There are musical performances, readings by nature writers, and educational events. The lockhouse serves as staging area for outdoor trips presented by Potomac Conservancy, which manages the house.
Great Falls in Maryland. And easy 30-minutes by bicycle up the canal, the drama of the Great Falls of the Potomac lies nearly as much in the setting as in the water flow. The river cascades 77 feet through Mather Gorge. The towering, craggy cliffs of schist and meta greywacke make a stunning backdrop. The center of activity is Great Falls Tavern, where there is a museum and visitor center. Add to that several miles of trails that connect to the C&O Canal towpath and lead to wildflowers, abandoned gold mines and floodplain forests, and these falls truly live up to their name. The tavern is at C&O mile 14.4.
Extend Your Day: White’s Ferry. At C&O mile 35.5. The ferry, store and grounds themselves make a worthy trip. It’s the last operating ferry on the Potomac River, a ride that takes a few minutes but give kids a buzz that lasts all day.
Want to learn more about the C&O Canal and ways to get involved? Check out the C&O Canal Trust.