The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park follows the north bank of the Potomac River and the North Branch of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. The C&O Canal National Historical Park was established as a national monument in 1961 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to preserve the remains of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and its towpath. The park famously conjoins with the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail at Harpers Ferry, WV.
C&O Canal History
The canal was designed to connect the coastal waters of the Chesapeake Bay with those of the Ohio River, though construction ended when the canal reached the foot of the Allegheny Mountains in 1850 when railroad transportation rendered the operation obsolete. The canal was closed in 1924 after a series of devestating floods.
Recreation on the Canal
More than three million recreational visits are logged in the national park annually. The National Park Service operates visitor centers along the canal in Maryland near the West Virginia border at Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland. The towpath now accommodates hiking, biking, and wildlife observation and provides access to the Potomac and its north branch. Part of the towpath near Harpers Ferry doubles as a section of the Appalachian Trail.
C&O Canal Communities
Along its 184.5-mile route, the park passes alongside the West Virginia communities, with which it is connected by bridges that accommodate bike and pedestrian access. The park in its course from the upstream flanks parts of eastern Mineral County, northern Hampshire County, northern Morgan County, northern Berkeley County, and eastern Jefferson County.
Harpers Ferry, WV
Paw Paw, WV
Wiley Ford, WV
Other important communities located in West Virginia near the canal but without immediate access include Martinsburg, Hedgesville, and Berkeley Springs.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
COCNHP Park Service Information
Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in West Virginia may be found in our guide to travel in the Potomac Branches Region and in the Eastern Panhandle Region. Canal recreation areas near Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown will be found in the Eastern Panhandle. Those upstream near Paw Paw, Wiley Ford, and Carpendale will be found in the Potomac Branches.