“The stretch of 185 miles of country from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD is one of the most fascinating and picturesque in the Nation…It is a refuge, a place of retreat, a long stretch of quiet and peace…a wilderness area where we can commune with God and nature, a place not yet marred by the roar of wheels and the sound of horns.” Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal transported coal and other items for 184 miles from the Alleghenies to Washington between 1831 to 1924. Nicknamed the Grand Old Ditch, the construction required 74 locks, 11 aqueducts, and one 3,000 foot tunnel. Today the Canal is a National Historical Park, with the 184 mile towpath connecting Washington, DC. to Cumberland, Maryland. Continuing on, the Great American Passage connects Cumberland with Pittsburgh for an additional 150 miles.
Photos from the 1890s
Several years ago, just north of Harper’s Ferry, Justin and I walked a couple of miles on the towpath where it overlays with the Appalachian Trails and goes into the town. Other than that, we had never taken a step on the towpath. In anticipation of planning a bike trip later in the fall with Super Scout and the Mighty Excellent Elliot, we needed to research the path.
At the Riley Locks and the Seneca Creek Aqueduct, milepost 23, with heavy cloud cover and rain in the forecast, the change in weather dropped temperatures into the seventies, we began our walk to the Angler’s Inn at milepost 12.
With the Potomac River to our right, we headed towards Washington. The Canal on our left, at this point contained very little water, but shortly the water level began to rise .
To our left in the canal, a canoe appeared.
To our right, on the Potomac River, rafters searched for faster moving waters.
Then the wildlife jumped out at us.
There were logs filled with resting turtles..
Great Herons fishing along the banks….
Deer playing in the fields…..
Green herons fishing along the water’s edge….
The Canal Trust maintains several of the old lock keeper homes. At this one, Lockhouse 21, we used their bench for our lunch, enjoying the view in a light rain. You can rent the building for overnight lodging.
After lunch, the rain intensified a little, as we reached Great Falls and the Great Falls Tavern. We were so happy not to be walking in the same intense heat as yesterday. Walking under an umbrella was no problem.
The Great Falls Tavern was an extension to the original lock keeper house. With the Great Falls as a tourist attraction, the Tavern was added on to accommodate the tourists. Canal boats were used to give rides as an added activity.
The walking path proved to be flat and comfortable. At the end of our walk, the Old Angler’s Inn lies just a few hundred yards from the towpath. Their catch of the day, branzino, a Mediterranean white sea bass fish, turned out to be one of the best meals I have ever eaten, truly spectacular. Heirloom tomatoes and spinach accompanied the fish. After eleven miles, the beer was also a welcomed menu item.
Driving from the Inn to downtown Washington took about thirty minutes, most of the time fixating on the meal just consumed. Total miles walked 11. Traffic was not normal, so it was easy. With Congress on vacation, nobody home at the White House, and a minimal amount of tourists, we were able to get where we headed with no detours.