C&O Canal Towpath

Trail Overview

The C&O Towpath (or just “the towpath,” as many locals call it) is managed by the National Park Service as part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park. The park spans just under 185 miles from the zero marker in Georgetown (in Washington, DC) to Cumberland, MD. The towpath itself is a combination of well-graded dirt and is generally smooth and flat, particularly in the highly traveled sections between Georgetown and Glen Echo, MD (rougher and hillier terrain is more common northwest of this segment).

Be advised that there are no trash facilities in the park. Runners should pack out any trash that they generate during their workouts.

Water and Lighting

The vast majority of this park is wooded and is very much “in nature.” Runners should not expect any lighting except for whatever might be available at the towpath’s intermittent visitor centers and any residual lighting from the metropolitan areas with which the path intersects.

Water is frequently available at dedicated locations in the park, though runners should be advised that these locations may be subject to seasonal closings and restrictions. Runners within the vicinity of Washington, DC can routinely get water at Fletcher’s Cove Boathouse, Lock 5, and just inside the Washington Beltway.

Access Points

Many, all along the trail. Ironically, access is slightly more difficult in the miles just outside of Georgetown. If starting in DC, runners can easily access the trail from most any cross street in Georgetown, as well as from the Capital Crescent Trail, which runs parallel to the towpath for several miles heading west of the city.

However, after Georgetown, the next main access point—travelling northwest—is Fletcher’s Boathouse (parking available), followed by a footbridge descending from Chain Bridge Road (nearby parking available on Clara Barton Parkway), and at Lock 5. From this point out, into Maryland, access becomes slightly more frequent via trail and footbridge access at many of the park’s lockhouses.

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