C&O Canal Hike 9

Foundry Branch to Great Falls Tavern

Trip Planner

Start: Foundry Branch
End: Great Falls Tavern
Miles: 12.8
Points of Interest: Fletcher's Boathouse, Abner Cloud House, B&O Railroad trestle, Guard Lock 1, "Seven Locks", lockhouses, Widewater, Great Falls, Great Falls Tavern and museum
Parking: Fletcher's Boathouse (1.6 mi.), Chain Bridge (2.7 mi.), Lock 5 (3.5 mi.), Lock 6 (3.9 mi.), Lock 7 (5.5 mi.), Cabin John Bridge (6.0 mi.), Lock 8 (6.8 mi.), Lock 10 (7.3 mi.), Carderock Recreation Area (8.9 mi.), Widewater (10.8 mi.), Great Falls (12.8 mi.)
Water: Fletcher's, Lock 5, Carderock, Great Falls
Restroom or privy: Fletcher's Boathouse, Lock 5, Carderock, Great Falls
Provisions: Fletcher's Boathouse: limited snacks March-November, Great Falls: snackbar in season
Camping: Marsden Tract: groups only, permit needed


Hike Data

Mile Navigation
0 Foundry Branch. Trail passes under canal. Turn left up steps to towpath. Turn left again to head west. NOTE - access to a PHT segment in George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia, is _ mile to right on towpath via Key Bridge.
1.6 Fletcher's Boathouse. Snacks, boat and bike rentals available here from April - November.
1.6 Abner's Cloud House, oldest structure on canal, stands across from Fletcher's on the berm.
2.1 B&O Railroad trestle. Stairs here provide access to Capital Crescent Trail (CCT). Trail leads 3 miles back to left to Georgtown, or turn right and cross trestle to follow trail 7.5 miles to Bethesda. This trestle and a tunnel to the north, on the grade, were built in 1910.
2.7 Chain Bridge, access to Virginia PHT segment across river.
3.5 Lock 5 and Guardlock 1.
3.9 Lock 6. This is one of the few lock houses on the canal in which people still live.
4.1 Little Falls Skirting Canal. Near this spot on July 4, 1828, President John Quincy Adams broke ground for the canal. That same day in Baltimore a separate groundbreaking took place - for something called a "railroad."
5.5 Lock 7.
6.0 Cabin John Bridge. When completed in 1864 this was the longest stone-arch bridge in the world.
6.8 Lock 8.
7.3 Lock 10.
8.9 Carderock Recreation Area. Water is available here.
10.0 Marsden Tract. Group camping is available by reservation.
10.8 Widewater. Bicycles should detour to right here for the Berm Road in order to avoid a rugged section of towpath. The Berm Road route rejoins towpath at the stop lock by the entrance to the Billy Goat Trail.
12.3 Billy Goat Trail, constructed by the Red Triangle Hiking Club in 1919, this is a rugged two mile path requiring sturdy footwear.
12.6 Olmstead Island Trail. Boardwalk and bridges lead 0.2 miles to overlook of Great Falls.
12.8 Great Falls Tavern. During the spring and summer a snackbar operates just to the west of the tavern and canal boat rides leave from the lock. The restored lockhouse features a museum.


Explore the PHT

Fletcher's Boathouse
There is something for everyone here. Canoes, rowboats and bicycles can be rented. There is access to the Potomac River and the popular Capital Crescent Trail (CCT). A bridge from the parking lot connects to a ramp which allows access to the CCT for wheelchair users. A snack bar, plenty of shade trees and picnic tables allow for leisure. The Abner Cloud House, open periodically, sits just across the Canal.

This unique area is really a river channel. Towering cliffs and dark forests make this seem more like the North Woods. There are actually three trails here. The Towpath follows a rugged route on a levee. The Berm Road traces a high route on the north or berm side (the side opposite the river) of the canal. This is a dark shaded route. You are actually walking on the 12 mile long Washington Aqueduct built by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in 1853.

Finally, the Towpath can be used in concert with the Billy Goat Trail to form a loop. This rugged trail follows cliff tops on Bear Island past enormous boulders. It is hard to believe you are only minutes from Washington.

Great Falls
This is the place that caused George Washington to both despair and dream. What if these falls could be surpassed? To that end he hired inventor James Rumsey as the first superintendent of the Patowmack Company in 1785. After a year of frustration Rumsey quit while working on a skirting canal here. Today you visit the falls by strolling across boardwalks and bridges to Olmstead Island. The old tavern is now a museum featuring two films about the canal. One is a silent film from 1916 and remains the only known film of the canal in operation. The other was filmed for the American Bicentennial celebration. During spring and summer, a barge ride is offered which features passage through Lock 20 in front of the tavern. Behind the lockhouse a series of trails leads to a goldmine ruin and along a historic trolley line. These trails also link to the Berm Road, making yet another loop possible.

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

Contact Us