Stretching 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood to Cumberland, Maryland, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is a reminder of the country’s pre-railroad era when coal, lumber and grain were moved in barges pulled by mules. The canal and its 74 lift locks operated from 1850 to 1924, linking East coast industrial centers with what was then considered the “West” — Ohio. It was made a national historic park in 1971, and is beloved by Washingtonians, many of whom spend weekends biking and hiking along its towpath.
In lower Georgetown, visitors can experience what life was like for working families along the canal by jumping aboard one of the National Park Service’s “living history” boat rides. The boats are pulled by mules and cruise through locks where you’ll rise eight feet as the water rushes in to lift the boat. Park rangers in period dress man the boats and field questions about life on the canal in the 1800s.
The one-hour boat rides are offered April through October, Wednesday through Sunday. Call the Georgetown Visitor Center for specific times and dates; canal boat season can vary.
The National Park Service also offers ranger-led walking tours along the canal — on topics like “Hollywood and the C&O Canal” — during spring, summer and fall, on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:15 p.m. (see web site for schedule). Periodic “Meet the Mules” days are also a hit with kids.
For those interested in biking the towpath, daily bike rentals are available at Big Wheel Bikes at 1034 33rd St. in Georgetown, just one block from the canal. Bike rentals are also available at Thompson’s Boat Center, near the intersection of Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue.
For more, visit www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm
C&O National Historic Park
Hours: The park is open during daylight hours. Some of the park’s six visitor centers operate on a seasonal schedule. Call the Georgetown Visitor Center for current hours of operation.
Parking: There is limited two-hour zone parking on nearby streets in Georgetown.
Metrorail: The Orange and Blue Line stops for Foggy Bottom-GWU are closest to Georgetown, but it’s a good walk.