C&O Canal Hike 16

Williamsport to Fort Frederick State Park

North of Williamsport the trail crosses the Conococheague Aqueduct. In April of 1920 the sidewall of this aqueduct collapsed, sending a boat tumbling into the creek. This may have been the most visible signal that the end of the canal era was near. Across the aqueduct, woods are reclaiming an area that contained a number of homes. The homes were purchased and razed by the National Park Service. Few places along the canal have private land along the Potomac. This is because the Canal Company bought most of the lands between canal and river so that they would not have the expense of building crossover bridges for farmers.

Away from town, woods and cornfields give way to a distant roar as you approach Dam 5. For nearly 20 years this was the head of canal navigation, and the nearby community still boasts the dam's name. West of here the towpath enters "Little Slackwater." Unlike its "big brother" to the east, this area has been repaired and is one of the highlights of the canal. Next comes "Four Locks" and the McCoys Ferry area. The woods (and the deer) get thick as the hike ends just south of Fort Frederick State Park at the entrance to Big Pool.


Trip Planner

Start: Williamsport
End: Fort Frederick State Park
Miles: 12.6
Points of Interest: Williamsport and Conococheague Aqueduct, Dam 5 and Little Slackwater, Four Locks, Fort Frederick State Park
Parking: Williamsport (0.0 mi.), Dam 5 (7.0 mi.), Four Locks (8.7 mi.) McCoy's Ferry campground (10.7 mi.), Fort Frederick State Park (12.6 mi.)
Water: Williamsport, Jordan Junction campsite, North Mountain campsite, Fort Frederick State Park (water at campsites normally turned off November-April)
Restrooms or Privy: Williamsport, Jordan Junction campsite, Dam 5, North Mountain campsite, McCoys Ferry campground, Fort Frederick State Park
Provisions: Williamsport, Fort Frederick State Park (snackbar daily April-September, weekends in October. 0.4 miles from canal in the sutler shop near fort)
Camping: Jordan Junction campsite, North Mountain campsite, McCoys Ferry campground, Fort Frederick State Park


Hike Data

Mile Navigation
0 Williamsport. Village comes right down to the canal. Within a few blocks find groceries, cafes and restaurants. Motels are located about 1 mile north on US 11. Visitor's Center in old Cushwa's building.
0 Conococheague Aqueduct - north wall of aqueduct gone. Wall collapsed in April 1920, leaving Boat #73 in Conococheague Creek. Masonry never replaced. Temporary wooden wall used until canal closed in 1924. This may have been the first obvious sign that the end was near.
1.5 Jordan Junction campsite. Campsite sits in a nice location across from a cornfield.
7.0 Dam 5 - cluster of houses here is actually the community of Dam Number 5, Maryland.
7.0 Little Slackwater - very scenic area. Towpath has been restored and upgraded here.
7.5 Canal resumes.
8.7 Four Locks - canal cut across Prather's Neck here to avoid bends of the Potomac.
10.2 North Mountain campsite.
10.7 McCoy's Ferry Drive-In Campground.
12.6 Fort Frederick State Park - to visit park turn right at canal milepost 112.4. The fort is about a half mile up the park road.


Explore the PHT

See Hike 15.

Four Locks
This series of locks was needed because it was decided to cut across Prather's Neck to avoid a 4 mile bend in the Potomac. Today there is much to explore starting with the ruins of Charles Mill just east of the locks. Other structures here include a mule barn, four locks, a "Wait house," where locktender could get out of the weather and the lockhouse which is now used as a ranger station. There are picnic facilities here and good access to the river.

Fort Frederick State Park
This fort was built in 1756 to protect English settlers during the French and Indian War. It is almost unique for the period in that it was built of stone instead of earth and wood. By the 1920s the walls were near ruin. Fortunately, in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps restored the outer walls. Today, restoration activity continues inside the fort. Tours of the fort are available and the grounds feature paths to explore. Down by the river a boat ramp and campground are available. Boats are available for rent to be used in Big Pool only. For those who wish to watch deer, this area is probably the best place to watch deer on the towpath. Just 0.5 miles west of the park, in the village of Big Pool is the eastern terminus of the 23 mile Western Maryland Rail Trail.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Potomac Heritage NST Office
P. O. Box B

Harpers Ferry, WV 25425


(304) 535-4014

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