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Tags:
Level: Easiest
Length: 183 mi (294.5 km)
Surface: Fire Road
Configuration: Out & Back
Elevation: +125/103 ft
Total: 144 riders
 

Mountain Biking C&O Canal

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#2 of 2 mountain bike trails in District of Columbia
#11528 in the world

The trail is a great, cheap, 3 day weekend (or less, depending how fast, and how far you want to go) getaway that runs the length of the C&O Canal, which would have extended to Ohio if it weren't for the railroads. It is primarily flat, with a slight upgrade to Cumberland from DC. The trail is about 183 miles long (one way), and past Great Falls (great scenic point), there are water wells at intermittent trailside campsites, as well as port-a-johns. The water is a little discolored, probably due to rust and iodine used to purify the water - it is safe to drink. The best view I've ever seen from a Port-a-john is a the Paw Paw Tunnel, where the trail goes 3/5 miles through a mountain - have a light - it's longer than it would seem, trust me. Best times to go are late spring, early fall for unreal seasonal color changes - bring a tent, your significant other, maybe a camera, and marshmellows. We rode the trail in a little over 2 days, camped trailside, bathed in the river (really friggin cold water), ate MRE's. There's food in Cumberland, Hancock, and Harpers Ferry primarily - plan to take at least 3 days to really take in all there is to see. Historic Harper's Ferry, the rapids along the Potomac, especially at Great Falls, the museums, canal locks, historic houses, trestles, etc. It's worth it - screw Disney. You can also purchase reading material dedicated to this trail - I'm not exactly a historian. For me, it's a great escape from the concrete jungle I live in. Avoid weekends when it's nice if tourists, and family scrimmage lines on the trails annoy you - up to Great Falls, the trail is very popular. As you head west, watch for deer, black snakes. Bring paniers, and have fun.

Before you go
  • No Drinking water 
  • No E-bikes permitted 
  • No Fat biking allowed in winter 
  • No Fee required 
  • No Lift service 
  • Night riding allowed 
  • No Pump track 
  • No Restrooms 
Getting there
The trail terminates at two points; Washington DC at Georgetown (27th and M NW), and Cumberland Maryland on the other end. Depending on where you're starting, use mapquest or similar service.
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C&O Canal Trail map

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Cavey (on Oct 19, 2019)
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Trail conditions

Good (on Aug 21, 2019)
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C&O Canal videos

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GAP and C&O Canal on a…
 
Bike Trip on the C&O Canal
 
Biking the C&O Part I
 
Biking the C&O Part II
 
 

Mountain Bike Trails Near Washington, District of Columbia

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Reviews

  • catdaddy1972
    *

    C&O canal North of Point of Rocks in currently impassible. The first bridge North of Point of Rocks is completely washed away and impassible at the moment. Also look out for some serious sinkholes on either side.

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  • BigBenG
    *****

    Wonderful trail close to DC for a quick ride. The scenery along the Potomac is absolutely beautiful.

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  • rangelinenaturepreserve
    *****

    We rode our mountain bikes from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington DC. We started downtown Pittsburgh on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and rode southeast to Mile 0 in Cumberland, MD (backwards according to the mile markers). The trail follows the scenic Youghiogheny and Casselman rivers. We then picked up the end of the C&O Canal Towpath (in Cumberland) and followed the Potomac River to mile 0 in Georgetown, Washington DC (backwards again per the mile markers). There were so many great sites to see along the way. It was truly a beautiful ride full of history. See the video "Pittsburgh to Washington DC, 374 miles off-road" posted in the video section. This is a must-do ride.

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  • bastian
    *****

    This trail runs from George Town D.C. To Pittsburgh P.A. I've only ridden from the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center to George Town and back, That alone is about 35 or so miles. Although the trail there is nothing more than a wide gravel road, mostly flat, it's just enjoyable. It's very scenic on both sides. On one side you have the Potomac river and on the other side you have the C&O Canal. It works, Weather you're on a cyclocross, a mountain bike, gravel/road, or hybrid. Perfect for family outings or if you are training in speed and distance. Rain or shin. If one decides to do the whole trail there are hotels and camp sites along the way. One can get a group of friends together ride to George Town to grab some burgers and brews and ride back or shuttle... Worth checking out at least once.

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  • Team_Rubythroat
    *****

    Not many MTB trails inside the district. Rode this trial a couple years ago. I want to ride it again. Nice Beginner trail.

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  • Team_Rubythroat
    *****

    Someday, I will ride this whole trail. I rode parts of it and its pretty good.someday, I will be i n the calleva c&o biking trip. I could go now becvause I am 12 years old but unfortunately, I didn't singn up for it.

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  • AJ711
    ****

    Hit this trail up today while letting a potential buyer test ride my old bike. Trail was a blast to ride due to the snow, ice, and other cold weather occurrences. And not many people on it either. All told, I'll likely ride here if singletrack in the area is jammed up due to weather. A great place to get a long workout in and keep the heart rate up.

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  • dhlake
    *****

    The C&O canal offers excellent scenery from the Potomac river to the Blue Ridge Mounatins. The trail is almost entirely flat and much is under a tree canopy. Over the 184 mile length there is a variety of wildlife and history. The canal construction with locks, dams, and tunnel offers views of the battle between the railroad and the canal with major engineering challenges for the time.
    There are numerous Civil War Sites including Antietam and Harpers Ferry. At Great Falls a side trail offers hiking opportunties and views of the falls and frequently kayakers.
    If a ride that is best enjoyed over three days with climbing only requred when you leave the trail and great seasonl views is your gosl, the C&O canal is the best choice in the east.

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  • jfigel76
    **

    170+miles of level dirt trail. Pretty remote in some spots. Shaded in a lot of spots. Plenty of places to park and camp. Bring your cyclocross bike for maximum speed.

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  • theUfan
    **

    This is a paved trail. Good for running and getting some miles. No singletrack or much in the way of MTB.

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  • TheWVPedaler
    **

    I have never ridden the whole trail but I usually do about 10-20 miles. Depending on who is with me. I ride here with my grandfather in-law and we have a good time. Smooth fire road so it is pretty easy to run a good pace. Great scenery where I ride it. It is also a great family trail.

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  • John Fisch
    *

    Nice scenery for the area, but definitely not mountain biking. VERY busy, mostly with walkers the closer you are to DC. There are a few short singletrack spots that go from the path to the river, but they're not really worth the detour and I can't vouch for their legality.

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  • mikespons
    *****

    Great trail for a beginner like me, especially if you start on the "uphill" end. I am 55 and had never ridden more than 20 miles at one time in my life. I used a 3 speed comfort bike for the 204 mile trip, which shows how easy it is. Best tip. If you plan to start at Cumberland, MD, drive an extra few miles and start at Deal, PA on the Allegheny Passage bike trail on top of a mountain ridge and you can start your ride downhill all the way into Cumberland. Its an old RR so the grade is not too steep and the road surface is great (limestone dust that is almost as smoogh as asphalt). It has 2 long tunnels, you cross the eastern continental divide and Mason Dixon line and see some spectacular overlooks. Once you get into Cumberland you start the C&O trail which is a slight downhill all the way to DC. It has plenty of water stops and hiker biker campgrounds. You travel through a tunnel of trees all the way. There are historic sites to see too. To mix things up, take the parallel Western MD trail which is asphalt. For lunch we recommend Bill's in Little Orleans, the Downville, MD general store off of the detour, Kerrigan's general store in Point of Rocks [the store owner is very friendly and the sandwhiches were great] and we capped off our adventure in Martin's Tavern in Georgetown! If you don't want to camp there are usually inexpensive motels to stay in [Red Roof in Williamsport was great]. Skip Paw Paw WV its run down with few amenities.
    For a beginner, this is the trail to start on. However that is not to say you wont have a sore butt. * Review edited 8/6/2010

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  • power_seen
    ***

    I've been on this trail tons of times and it's more of a cruiser than anything. No obstacles or challenges in the southern section of this (between Georgetown and up to Great Falls). Certainly good to stretch the legs and get some great views. Definitely recommend taking a pit stop about 5 miles up the trail (after the Chain Bridge) and checking out the little trail to the left that will take you down to the river and let you get into the rocks on the banks.

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  • erictw83
    ****

    This isn't really a "mountain" biking trail. Its flat, its wide, its smooth, its a dirt road. But it is a great trail if u want to get out and spin with out dealing with cars. I gone for numerous 60-70 milers along here. The scenary is fantastic as the trail hugs the river. It's beautiful in the spring and fall. Yes it does get crowded with mother pushing baby strollers, but that's only if you ride near DC on a weekend afternoon. Try starting up near Poolesville and you get out there alone real quick in beautiful scenery.

    Bottom Line: Do this when you want a full day trip (or weekend) when u want to spin and relax somewhat or are looking strictly for a cardio workout.

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  • kltbo
    ***

    The C&O canal is a good family trail, no singletrack that I know of and very little of an incline. Gets crowded on weekends and such days. All in all a decent trail.

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