HFA Gears for Good C&O Canal Tour (Eastbound), 3 days, Paw Paw - Washington, $1,000 Minimum Charity Fundraising Pledge


WHERE: Paw Paw Tunnel, MD to Georgetown (Washington, DC)

WHEN: September 22-24, 2017.

Trip begins with charter transportation from near Georgetown, Washington, DC to the C&O Canal Paw Paw Tunnel, departing Georgetown area at 8:00 a.m. and arriving in Paw Paw approximately 11:00 a.m., where bikes are setup and the ride begins over the next 2.5 days.  The trip ends on the third day, at the same place where the charter transportation originated three days earlier.

30-65 miles per day, with shuttle options to shorten daily distances.

WHO: OPEN TRIP. Register via HFA Website.

TERRAIN:  Level to 1% grade (See profile elevation map on tour highlights page).  Packed dirt and crushed stone surface.  6-8 feet wide.  Mountain, hybrid or cyclo-cross bicycles required.

RATING:  Easy-Moderate.  The terrain is easy, but the distance on the canal surface requires a moderately high fitness level.

LIMIT:  50 cyclists.

DISTANCES are as follows:

Eastbound - 3 days


Paw Paw Tunnel, MD to Hancock, MD

32 miles

Hancock, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV

64 miles

Harpers Ferry, WV to Georgetown, DC

61 miles

  Total: 157 mi.

Trip Overview

This tour on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, provides a scenic, exhiliarating, adventure-packed three days on the trail, where one may explore civil war battlefields, Harpers Ferry, and Great Falls. The tour originates with shuttle from Washington to Paw Paw, where we start down the C&O Canal by passing through the Paw Paw tunnel and into the Green Ridge State Forest. After 20 miles and one Rest GO, choose whether to ride the last 12 miles on the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail or the C&O Canal, before ending in Hancock, MD.  On Day 2, you can see Fort Frederick, an early stone fort, and Antietam Battlefield, if you choose, before riding into Harpers Ferry for over-night. On your final day, see the Monocacy Aqueduct, White's Ferry, and Great Falls National Park, ending in Washington, DC in the afternoon, where you can spend time sightseeing Washington, DC.  Whether one spends an evening in town, or a few days, there is much to see and do in Washington, and fall is nearly crowd-free, compared with the spring and summer.

Construction began on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal in 1828, the same year as the B&O Railroad was begun.  The railroad won the race to the west, beating the canal to the Ohio Valley by 8 years.  The 184-mile canal cost $22 million, and includes 74 lift locks, and 11 stone aqueducts over Potomac tributaries.  The first canal boat to travel end-to-end along the canal did so in 1850, more than 150 years before us.  The canal was used commercially until 1924 when floods destroyed it for the second time.  The towpath, although no longer used to transport tobacco, furs, iron ore, and other goods, is currently maintained as a National Park with trip highlights including historic Harpers Ferry, Kilian’s Cave (and others), and the Paw Paw tunnel.  The variation between the rail-trail and the canal are felt in the surroundings, architectures, and the water routes that align each trail.

Spring rides offer nice views through budding hardwood forests to the Potomac River.  Summer offers a shade canopy from typically hot temperatures, and fall trips offer cooler temperatures with stunning views of hardwood forests normally reaching peak color in the second week of October.  All year long, there are breathtaking vistas of the raging Great Falls of the Potomac River, as well as serene, peaceful moments along quiet stretches of the river. 

DAY 1 – Shuttle and Tunnel through the Mountain - Rivers and Rails

Day one will begin with shuttle from Washington, DC to the Paw Paw tunnel on the C&O Canal, where bikes are readied and riding begins. Right away, you go through the Paw Paw tunnel, arguably the highlight of the C&O Canal Tour. Continue through the tunnel with your flashlight, and take notice of the rope burns in the original wood railings, from canal boat tow ropes. After the tunnel, the tight mountain cut will open up to colorful trees in the most remote section of the C&O Canal trail through the Green Ridge State Forest, to the Lunch Go at Little Orleans (Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct). You will also want to stop and check out some of the culverts that carry crossing streams underneath the Canal. Soon after this stop, you will have a choice of continuing the canal towpath surface, and seeing the Round Top Cement Mill ruins from eye level, or switching to the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail for the final 12 miles into Hancock (in that case, only the chimney of the cement mill is easily seen). In Hancock, hot showers, buffet-style dinner, and comfortable hotel beds will be waiting.

DAY 2 – War and Peace - Passsing Fort Frederick and Antietam Battlefield to Harpers Ferry

On Day two, you will again have an opportunity to ride the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail, completing the ten miles to the east end, or stay on the canal surface and see the remains of a stone lockhouse and cross another aqueduct. You can take a left turn off the trail to visit Fort Frederick State Park and tour the historic fort for a few dollars. Big Pool, an area where canal boats wintered, turned around, or waited while other traffic cleared, follows. At Four Locks, you will see the remains of a small town and four closely spaced locks, as you stop for your first rest "go" of the day. Leaving there, you will curve back and forth along the Potomac River, and will pass the remains of Charles Mill, the flatwater area above Dam #5 and more aqueducts, into Williamsport, MD, where Cushwa Basin and one of the C&O Canal visitor centers are found, as well as the lunch "go." Here, you'll also find unique bridges, including a rare Bollman bridge, and a railroad lift bridge, as well as restored canal features.

Several more historic locks, buildings, aqueducts, and culverts are seen after lunch. Other attractions include the newly opened (2012) Big Slackwater trail section that avoids the road detour of the past 40 years, a series of caves in the bluffs along the canal.  The most interesting cave is Killiansburg Cave, reached in the afternoon, which was used as shelter during the Civil War.  It and another small cave just after it can be explored.  If planning to explore the smaller cave, bring clothes you don’t mind getting mud stained, a good, bright working flashlight with new batteries, and be prepared to slither on your stomach for sections.  This small cave has some narrow crawlways that open into rooms large enough for a couple people to stand together.  The longest cave appears at mile 83.5.  You can walk/crawl into this cave for a few hundred feet, if it isn’t too wet. 

Antietam National Battlefield is a short ride from the towpath, and is an historically significant Civil War site, highlights of which you can see in an hour and a half side trip. Harpers Ferry serves as the night's oasis, after a full set of experiences on the trail. Harpers Ferry includes the Harpers Ferry National Park, where people dress in period clothing on weekends, and where numerous historical events took place, including John Brown's raid on the Union Armory, which touched off the U.S. Civil War. We end the day with a group restaurant dinner.

DAY 3 – Into Washington via Great Falls National Park

On your final day, you'll cross the foot bridge across the Potomac River from West Virginia to Maryland, and continue east. The trail passes by 30 locks and lock houses, several aqueducts, including the longest on the trail, Monocacy Aqueduct, with its seven arches, just before lunch at Whites Ferry, where you can take the ferry across the Potomac River and back. After lunch, you will reach Seneca Creek, and the last aqueduct of the trail, then enter a 20 mile re-watered section of the trail—into Great Falls National Park. Enjoy the reflections at Widewater, explore the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center and C&O Canal Museum, and enjoy views of the Falls from the National Park, Washington’s most impressive natural area.  After a scenery filled day, the crowds and fitness enthusiast's presence will increase, as you complete your ride into the nation's capital, and celebrate with a real barbeque cookout..

COST:  $1,000 per person minimum fundraising pledge includes:  Trail maps; extensive cue and Rail Trail/Canal historical fact booklet; custom luggage tags; tour leaders; 2 breakfasts, 3 large picnic style lunches, 2 dinners; tour snacks and drinks; six nights lodging (double occupancy) in hotels in Hancock, MD, and Harpers Ferry, WV; baggage shuttle between hotels; periodic support along trail; and chartered transportation from Washington, DC to the Paw Paw starting location, including bike transport.

NOT INCLUDED Rental Bikes. Quality rental bikes are available from Get Out & Go Tours for $75 per trip.

See Frequently Asked Questions at the "FAQs" link, for answers to common questions.