C&O Canal Hike 17

Fort Frederick State Park to Hancock

This section of the canal is dominated by two large lakes, Big Pool and Little Pool. The first was formed by taking advantage of a natural ridge to create a lake. Instead of having to dig a trench, all engineers had to do was cut through the ridge and let the river flood the low area behind it. Little Pool was formed by routing the towpath onto an island. Both these areas are excellent locations for birding and other wildlife.

Beyond Big Pool the canal is lined with cornfields. Watch for deer in the evenings here. Just past Big Pool Ernstville Road is crossed in the community of Ernstville. A sign here directs hikers to the Western Maryland Rail Trail 100 yards to the north. That trail will parallel the C&O Canal all the way to Hancock with a direct connection at the east end of Little Pool. Further on, Licking Creek Aqueduct is crossed providing the backdrop for a campsite by the same name. Just beyond, the 255 mile long Tuscarora Trail joins from the north. The two routes coincide to Hancock. Just before town the woods end and houses are passed on the berm. The trail crosses another aqueduct at Tonoloway Creek This segment ends at a footbridge just off the main street of Hancock, MD.


Trip Planner

Start: Fort Frederick State Park
End: Hancock
Miles: 11.7
Points of Interest: Fort Frederick State Park, Big Pool, Licking Creek Aqueduct, Tuscarora Trail, Little Pool, Western Maryland Rail Trail, Hancock
Parking: Fort Frederick State Park (0.0 mi.), Hancock (11.7 mi.)
Water: Fort Frederick State Park, Licking Creek campsite, Little Pool campsite, Hancock, (water at campsites normally turned off November-April)
Restrooms or Privy: Fort Frederick State Park, Licking Creek campsite, Little Pool campsite, Hancock
Provisions: Fort Frederick State Park (snackbar open daily April-September and weekends in October. 0.4 miles from canal in the sutler shop near Fort Hancock)
Camping: Fort Frederick State Park, Licking Creek campsite, Little Pool campsite


Hike Data

Mile Navigation
0 Fort Frederick State Park. To visit the park turn right at canal milepost 112.4. Fort about 0.5 miles north on park road.
0.1 Big Pool. The pool was formed by cutting through a ridge and allowing the area to fill with water.
2.1 Ernstville. Access to Western Maryland Rail Trail. No services here.
3.6 Licking Creek Aqueduct.
3.8 Licking Creek campsite.
3.8 Tuscarora Trail joins from the north. It follows the towpath west to the US 522 bridge in Hancock.
7.4 Little Pool. This is an old channel of the river. You can access the Western Maryland Rail Trail here via a set of steps just across a footbridge.
10.6 Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct.
11.7 Hancock. Shops, restaurants and motels are all within a few blocks of the canal. Turn right at canal milepost 124.1. The state of Maryland is barely a mile wide here. Hikers can access the southbounf Tuscarora Trail via US 522 bridge.


Explore the PHT

Tuscarora Trail
This trail links to the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Virginia and Pennsylvania to form a 450-mile loop. It was built in the late 1960s as a potential replacement route for the existing AT when trail planners were concerned that development and military installations might disrupt the route. Today the Tuscarora offers a rugged 255 mile route to explore.

Western Maryland Rail Trail
This 23-mile trail offers a unique chance for a different view of the canal area. Historic markers along the route tell the stories of villages and stations lost to time. The numerous access points allow for loops of different lengths to be incorporated into a thru trip. Despite the proximity to the canal the rail-trail offers an entirely different experience. West of Hancock, the trail climbs rapidly through massive rock cuts. Soon it will be open all the way to the village of Pearre, near canal milepost 136. Groups are mounting efforts to extend this trail even further west.

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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