C&O Canal Hike 19

Little Orleans to Paw Paw

This is the wildest, most beautiful and remote section of the Towpath. At Little Orleans the trail crosses 15 Mile Creek Aqueduct and clings to the river as it heads upstream. For the most part the berm is folded rock. In some sections the abandoned Western Maryland grade looms over the canal. At three different places massive trestles carry the grade across to West Virginia. Because of beaver activity, many miles of the canal are watered. Look for turtles basking on snags on sunny days.

Further west the mountains close in. Near Tunnel Hollow, the route enters a deep cut leading to the Paw Paw Tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel our journey ends at MD Route 51, just across the river from Paw Paw, West Virginia.


Trip Planner

Start: Little Orleans
End: Paw Paw
Miles: 15.4
Points of Interest: Little Orleans, Green Ridge Hiking Trail, Tunnel Hollow, Tunnel Hill Trail, Paw Paw Tunnel
Parking: Fifteen Mile Creek campground (0.0 mi.), Paw Paw (15.4 mi.)
Water: Fifteen Mile Creek campground, Devils Alley campsite, Stickpile Hill campsite, Sorrel Ridge campsite, Paw Paw Tunnel campsite (water at campsites normally turned off November-April)
Restroom or Privy: Fifteen Mile Creek campground, Devils Alley campsite, Stickpile Hill campsite, Sorrel Ridge campsite, Paw Paw Tunnel campsite
Provisions: Little Orleans (limited supplies plus meals), Paw Paw (limited supplies plus meals across the river 0.75 miles)
Camping: Fifteen Mile Creek campground, Devils Alley campsite, Stickpile Hill campsite, Sorrel Ridge campsite, Paw Paw Tunnel campsite


Hike Data

Mile Navigation
0 Little Orleans and Fifteen Mile Creek campground (drive-in). Turn right at Fifteen Mile Creek campground, pass under the Western Maryland viaduct and enter the past at Bill's Place. The town took this name because Orleans Crossroads was across the Potomac on the B&O Line.
0.1 Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct.
2.5 Western Maryland trestle. This is the first of nine trestles that cross the Potomac between here and Cumberland. Groups are negotiating to extend the current Western Maryland Trail to include them. There would also be 3 incredible tunnels!
3.1 Lock 58 and Green Ridge Hiking Trail. You are now passing Green Ridge State Forest.
3.7 Devils Alley campsite. The origin of this name just might be for the cold winds that blow here.
6.4 Western Maryland trestle.
8.6 Stickpile Hill campsite. The campsite takes its name from the nearby Western Maryland Stickpile Tunnel. The story is that a hobo was killed along the line and that he was buried under a pile of sticks in a lonely grave.
10.4 Western Maryland trestle.
13.3 Sorrel Ridge campsite. Nestled in a wild place next to the ruins of an old lockhouse. At night, if you listen closely you might hear the boatmen yell "Lock Ready!" as they come out of the tunnel.
13.7 Lock 63 1/3. Odd numbers at this and the next lock were used because lock 65 was never built.
13.8 Lock 64 2/3.
14.0 Tunnel Hill Trail. Interesting 1.5 mile route passes over ridge with good views of Paw Paw Bends in winter. Trail rejoins canal at west portal of tunnel.
14.4 Paw Paw Tunnel. This is a special place at any time of year, but especially when massive ice hangs down in Tunnel Hollow.
15.1 Paw Paw Tunnel campsite.
15.4 MD Route 51. The town of Paw Paw, West Virginia has a convenience store and a restaurant about 0.75 miles from the canal. To reach town, turn left and cross the river.


Explore the PHT

Green Ridge State Forest
More than 44,000 acres make this Maryland's second largest state forest. The Green Ridge Trail winds for nearly 20 miles between Lock 58 and Lock 67 where it rejoins the C&O. The trail winds in and out of deep hollows through a mixed pine, oak and hickory forest. The hollows feature canyons of slate and shale where old logging grades are utilized for the route. Shelters are available here for a fee. This region is home to all manner of wildlife including black bear. Seven miles north of Lock 58, the Pine Lick Trail leaves the main loop and extends north 6 miles to the Pennsylvania line. Here it links to the Mid State Trail which extends 261 miles to Blackwell, PA. Work is underway to extend this trail to New York. A 36-mile loop hike can be created using the trail between Lock 58 and Lock 67, plus the towpath.

Paw Paw Tunnel
This is one of the most amazing areas you'll find on any trail. Tunnel Hollow and the tunnel took nearly 14 years to dig and finish. Finally, in 1850, it was done, and the canal was open to Cumberland. The work they did was magnificent. Tunnel Hollow is a massive cut through shale that is held in place with rods embedded in the rock. Springs seep everywhere creating spectacular ice formations in the winter. Just before the west end of the tunnel, a trail climbs away from the towpath. This was actually built during the 1830s as a tunnel construction road, making it one of the oldest trails in this country. The tunnel itself is lined with bricks six deep. At 3,118 feet it was the second longest canal tunnel ever built in the US, trailing only the 3,180 foot "Big Tunnel" on the Sandy & Beaver Canal in Ohio. In 1989 a canal worker named Leon from the last years of the canal was asked what he liked most about living and working on the canal. His response: "We always thought that the tunnel was the most wonderful part of the canal. I'm so glad I lived to see it." He added "You know today they wouldn't bother building anything that nice."

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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Harpers Ferry, WV 25425


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