Posts Tagged ‘towpath’

Exploring Big Slackwater

'High Road'

While complaining about the dreaded detour, people often forget about the section of the C&O Canal NHP that lies between Feeder Dam 4 (Mile 84.6) and McMahon’s Mill (Mile 88.1).  Hikers and bikers doing long stretches of the canal are forced to bypass this area because of the washed out section between miles 86.7 and 88.1.  Here, the Potomac runs up against a cliff wall, which makes further travel impossible.  Fortunately, this area is being repaired, and the towpath will once again be intact sometime during the Summer of 2012.

Great view of the Potomac River!



Until, then, the area between the dam and the cliff makes for a wonderful four-mile round trip hike.  Like many other canal buffs, we’ve never really given much thought to this area, but it does have a lot to offer in regard to historical structures and its close proximity to the Potomac River.



'Low Road'



The hiker has the choice of literally taking the high road or the low road (towpath) up to the guard lock for feeder dam 4. Surprisingly, the towpath is mowed and well-maintained, and the guard lock and inlet mark the spot where boats once left the canal and entered the river for approximately two miles.



Dam 4 Guard Lock



Rope Guides???




A gate near the guard lock that has been sealed much like the guard lock itself. This closure serves to keep flood waters out of the canal
















River Access

View of the Big Slackwater Project



Naturally, we had an ulterior motive and wanted to get a look at the work area for the Big Slackwater Project.  We did manage to walk to walk within approximately .5 miles of the construction site, and we’re pleased to say that a lot of progress has been made.  We’re looking forward to riding the entire length of the canal once again next summer, and this time–hopefully, no detour!


Winch House at Dam 4

Lander Lock House (Lock 29)

First Snow of the Year!

Another View...



On October 30th, we took a trip to the Brunswick/Point of Rocks area of the C&O Canal as the remnants of a recent freak snowstorm slowly melted away.  The same snowstorm fell as a wet, heavy deluge two days prior and left branches and trees lying all over the Potomac River valley.



Culvert Near Lander Lock House




In fact, the C&O Canal Association’s Heritage Hike in Hancock was canceled on the 29th per request of the NPS rangers.  Snow can be a real nuisance, but it also made for a wonderful backdrop for our visit to the Lander Lock House.



Lock 29 is near mile marker 51 on the canal and can be accessed from Lander Road as one heads east from Brunswick to Point of Rocks (or vice-verse).  The lock house is a small, quaint structure that is in very good condition, and the parking lot serves as the point of debarkation for those who want to see the newly rebuilt Catoctin Creek Aqueduct.  Likewise, if one continues down the road, there is river access for boaters and fishermen.

Not Ready for Snow Yet!

In all, Lander is the perfect place to begin a twenty mile round trip bike trip in either direction.  Heading downstream, one can see the railroad station at Point of Rocks (mile 48) and the Monocacy Aqueduct (mile 42).  Heading upstream, one passes through Brunswick (mile 54) and joins the Appalachian Trail heading into historic Harpers Ferry (mile 60). A weekend spent doing both certainly takes in many of the more notable highlights to be seen on the C&O Canal.

Okay, So What Is a Level Walker?

When the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was in operation, employees known as level walkers plugged leaks in the canal, kept beavers and muskrats in check, and generally reported on the condition of the canal, towpath, and all of the structures along the way. Today, only about thirty miles of the canal are watered, so the modern level walker has a different set of duties.

Today’s level walkers are volunteers who are members of the C&O Canal Association. Memberships are $15 per individual or $25 per family or patron. Association benefits include a quarterly newsletter and numerous opportunities to participate in hikes, picnics, boating, biking, etc. Level walking isn’t a necessary activity for association members, as one can join the bike patrol, volunteer at the many visitors centers along the towpath, or simply enjoy any of the activities listed above.

One peculiarity of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP is that it stretches out over a distance of 184.5 miles. Granted, it’s very narrow, but the odd shape and many miles make the park volunteers a great addition to the rangers and maintenance staff.  For more information, visit the C&O Canal Association’s website at

Another Ride…

Preparing to ride the C&O as a three day trip is almost as difficult as the journey itself. It takes lots of miles of training to get ready, but we’re lucky that there’s plenty of great scenery and history to explore in the process. With that in mind, we decided to take a 40 mile (round trip) ride between Pearre Station and the Paw Paw Tunnel. The area between mile markers 137 and 156 have been described as being among the most scenic and secluded on the towpath, so let’s get started…

One of the Views from Level 52

A Strong Foundation!

In case you’ve missed the About Us page, we’re members of the C&O Canal Association, and we volunteer on what is known as Level 52, which lies between the Sideling Hill Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueducts. Here’s where we started. The usual 4.5 mile walk to Little Orleans takes a while, but on a bike it goes quickly. We decided that we felt pretty strong at that point and pressed on toward the tunnel.

Relaxing in the Sun!

A Little Color on the Trail...


'Water Fall' at the Paw Paw Tunnel


An itty-bitty light at the end of the tunnel

For those who haven’t heard, there’s talk of extending the Western Maryland Rail Trail from Pearre Station to Paw Paw, and the proposed route would go through two tunnels and cross the Potomac six times. We didn’t get a look at the tunnels, but it’s easy enough to spot where the trail will be crossing the river. Several high abandoned railroad bridges can be spotted from the towpath, and when everything is finished, the WMRT will–perhaps–be the premier rails-to-trails bike route in the eastern U.S.


'Peanut Butter on Toast'

All of that is in the future, but for now the C&O has plenty to offer. Fortunately, we caught the old canal bed during the wet period, and the area didn’t lack in either turtle sightings or beaver sign. Perhaps the most spectacular remnant of the recent rains is the waterfall near the Paw Paw Tunnel. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than this stretch of the canal, and we’re certainly looking forward to seeing it again in June!

'King of the Road'!