April 23, 2016

C&O Canal Historic Trail - Chain Bridge to Georgetown (DC) (Apr. 2016)


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C&O Canal Historic Towpath Trail
April 11, 2016

Start point: 38.930117, -77.112300
End Point: 38.904201, -77.059261
Washington, D.C.
70° F - it was beautiful outside!
All photos made on my OnePlus One phone


This is the second post of my DC Week of Hikes from April 2016. After hiking a four-mile portion of the Potomac Heritage Trail, I went back to the city via the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath Trail. The flatness of the towpath was a relief from the semi-strenuous workout I had just done on the Potomac Heritage as dinnertime approached and the sun started to set. The angled sun also helped me out by providing some nice light for photos!


Like the Potomac Heritage Trail, the C&O Historic Trail is another large network that spans multiple states. It measures 184.5 miles along the Potomac. Constructed to haul products and people to provide a means of transport for towns based on the river, it now exists as a pretty trail system with a well-kept (although at times a bit overrun with sludge and algae) waterway surrounded by trees. It can be accomplished via horseback, bike, or on foot.

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I started my hike on the DC side of the Chain Bridge after finishing my westbound trek on the Potomac Heritage Trail. The hike back down the canal was much smoother. The calm waters of the canal greeted me, as if they knew I was ready for a serene walk back to the district.

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The sun's angle down the canal illuminated most of the path in a beautiful way. The yellows and greens were quite vivid.

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Alongside the towpath, the Capitol Crescent trail runs parallel at this segment. Many runners and bicyclists prefered the crescent trail to the C&O. The capitol crescent could come later, I decided. For this hike, I was interested in taking in the canal's views

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Fletcher's Cove is a stop about halfway down this walk. I took a break on the path to refill my water bottle and talk to the man running the boat rental shop. He was able to give me a brochure on the canal. An old white house that used to service the canal still stands. Visitors can rent boats of all kinds from the Fletcher's Cove staff.

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A line of canoes was ready for visitors to rent them.

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Along the path, I spotted many cardinals, blue jays, and sparrows. Each time I saw a cardinal land close to me, a let a brief smile as the bright bird fluttered close by.

Some turtles even found some comfort in the beaming rays of the evening sun.

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Another interesting sight was the relatively uncommon, but definitely eye-catching silk havens that many large caterpillars had formed in some trees. One of these white silk blobs had recently "hatched," with seemingly hundreds of wormy caterpillars crawling around its many layers.

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Closer to Georgetown, signs of the old hilltop culture began to show as a crew group was out practicing on the Potomac.

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Not too far out, Healy Hall poked its university peaks past the treeline.

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As I got closer to downtown, the Key Bridge revealed its glory in the evening glow, as Rosslyn's towers reminded visitors of the trail's urban ties.

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Once you actually get back to civilization, the towpath in Georgetown gave way to a narrow canal with brick buildings on each side. It is always fun to walk between all of the historic architecture. When I lived near Georgetown, this was actually a portion of the C&O that I frequently walked.

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A series of bridges helped to connect walkers with the towpath and streets.

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Many locks still exist within the canal system down at Georgetown, and water is still being held in many. The sound of rushing fountains filled the towpath as the canal drained its contents into each successive lock system.

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Next to one of the locks, the Georgetown canal ferry looked more run down than I remembered. I learned more at the Great Falls visitor center (link to be included shortly) that these canal boats moved many people up and down the system regularly. Now they are just an artifact of the canal's busy past.

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My hike terminated at what I thought was the Georgetown C&O Canal Visitor Center. However, this office was permanently closed. I was informed by the NPS staff at the Old Stone House up the street the next day that the center was closed due to lack of funds and not being able to hire staff. Sad. A "closed indefinitely" sign now greets visitors.

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As far as the canal was concerned, water flow had been reduced to just a trickle by the time I had reached the now-historic-itself visitor center. At the least, a small park sits at the formal end of the towpath where the visitor center once greeted people. It was nice and calm when I visited as I sat for about 20 minutes and enjoyed the sound of moving water.

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I am interested in studying the canal more for a more long-term trek. The brochure I got indicated that there are multiple campgrounds along the canal in the three states it spans.

The NPS passport stamps for this portion are retrievable at the Great Falls Tavern visitor center up-river. I got these stamps later that week on a subsequent visit up the canal (a link to that trip's writeup to be included here later).

The visitor center also sold a C&O patch. This patch is provided by the Boy Scouts from a council (Mason-Dixon Council I think) that operates a hiking program for the C&O. If you do so many miles of the C&O, you can earn some additional segments to surround the patch, as well as a trail medal. Sounds fun!

C&O Canal Towpath Historical Trail Patch


Photo Album

Note: the image below is a photo album. Hover over or tap the image to gain slideshow controls.
C&O Canal Trail - Chain Bridge to Georgetown (MD/DC)


Map of Hike

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