Perhaps a half mile below Snyder’s Landing, the canal butts up against a series of limestone cliffs, and the area between the towpath and river is nothing more than a steep drop to the narrow river bank. It makes for a tight, claustrophobic squeeze, but the steep rock formations and the close vicinity to the Potomac makes for some of the more unique scenery along the C&O Canal.
Thomas Hahn (in his Towpath Guide) states that there may be as many as twenty openings in the cliffs between Snyder’s Landing and the Killiansburg Cave hiker/biker campsite. I didn’t see anything close to that total, but there are some fairly large caves that appear to penetrate a significant distance into the earth.
This picture shows three openings in a very close proximity to each other. There are two at ground level and one that looks like a window above the narrow passageway on the right. The opening on the right is tight at the entry point, but it widens before heading deeper underground in a circular pattern about as big around as a large barrel. Whether or not these passages connect is anybody’s guess. The National Park Service no doubt frowns upon amateur spelunkers having a go at these caves, and this time of year it’s hard to tell what kind of critters might be holed up in their depths.
The picture above shows a large, yet shallow opening relatively high on the ridge above the canal. It’s said that some of the citizens of Sharpsburg hid out in these caves during the Battle of Antietam, and this one shows signs of hosting campers in the not-so-distant past. As stated, it’s well above the canal bed, but the caves in pictures one and three are a short jaunt up the bank from the bottom of the canal, and when the C&O was watered (approximately 6′ deep) it appears that they would have been hard to reach, if not partially submerged. While they are tempting, I would discourage anybody from taking a side trip into any of the deeper caves. There are way too many things that can go wrong.