The Carpendale Rail Trail and Knobley Tunnel

Phase One

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the C&O Canal NHP, but I always like to encourage people to get off of the towpath and explore some of the many trails that cross or merge with the C&O.  The Appalachian and Tuscarora Trails are hundreds of miles long, so it’s impossible to hop off of the towpath and see everything, but such is not the case with the Carpendale Rail Trail.

Bridge and Knobley Tunnel (Eastern Portal)

In fact, the Carpendale Rail Trail can be incorporated with the C&O Canal for an easy, relatively flat five mile hike.  Simply park at Canal Place in Cumberland and walk 1.5 miles to mile marker 183.  As the towpath’s scenery goes, this is more of an urban setting than what many canal goers are used to, but the Cumberland skyline is a nice combination of bridges, church spires, and nearby mountains.

Western Portal of the Knobley Tunnel

The Carpendale Rail Trail itself is only about a mile long, but it can be divided into three sections that are approximately equal in length.  For starters, there is a slight incline from the C&O Canal towpath that leads to a bridge over the North Branch of the Potomac River.  After crossing the bridge, there’s a quick, fairly-well lit walk through the Knobley Tunnel, which was, like many other tunnels in the area, abandoned in the 1970s.  Finally, after exiting the tunnel, the trail runs a few hundred yards further and ends on the outskirts of Carpendale, West Virginia.

Looking back from the end in WV

In all, the Carpendale Rail Trail packs a lot into its short length.  Several of the other abandoned tunnels in the area (Indigo, Stickpile, and Kessler) aren’t open for public inspection, so the Knobley Tunnel offers a great opportunity for a walk in the dark.  Also, the bridge over the North Branch offers a perfect view of Cumberland, and the mountains in the distance from the West Virginia side are bright and colorful on a cool autumn day.  It’s true that the C&O holds a special place in my heart, but it’s always fun to try new things.  Enjoy your next hike!

Cumberland from the C&O Canal towpath

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9 responses to this post.

  1. On the bottom photo, what is that on the mountain side in the background? I love these photos. I bet the wind can be quite entertaining here. I love to hear the different tunes it whistles on walks. Lovely photos Tom.

    Reply

  2. Posted by LevelWalker on November 10, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Missy,

    Funny you should mention the wind. It was a blustery day. I’m not sure what that is on the mountainside. It must be something just off of RT. 40. I go to Cumberland a good bit, but I mainly stick to Canal Place and the riverfront. Anyway, I’m curious now too! I will try to find out what it is.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Mayor Armentrout on January 14, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    The buildings on Will’s Mountain were the site of Artmor Plastics.It was formerly the Will’s Mountain Inn and originally the site of a sanitorium.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Mayor Armentrout on January 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Glad you enjoyed our trail.

    Reply

  5. Posted by LevelWalker on January 14, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks, Mayor Armentrout.

    I’ve often wondered about the buildings in the distance. I remember the guy on the WMSR train talking about Chief Will, Lover’s Leap, etc. I’m a huge fan of the Cumberland area! We definitely enjoyed the Carpendale Rail Trail. It does pack a lot of great things into a mile hike. The people around Carpendale should be excited and proud regarding the trail, tunnel, and bridge. At one time, we did a whole lot of biking and very little hiking, and we would have sped past your trail without giving it much thought. We’re learning that there are great things going on all around the C&O, and the Carpendale Rail Trail is a fine example. Thanks again for your great comments.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Steve Herbaugh on May 10, 2013 at 2:13 am

    I grew up, in 1960s Ridgeley, WV, just a mile north of the Western MD Railroad ‘tunnel-bridge’ and walked my beagle dog to there every day after school. Sometimes we’d walk through the tunnel to visit other kids in then Carpenter’s Addition on the west end (pure mountain limestone-filtered water to the left). Once in a while, we’d get ‘caught’ by a train coming through to the Western MD Yard, but we’d ‘hunker down’ between two of the great oak columns and wait for the train to go by us. Not quite as exciting as it was, in my youth (tripping over railroad ties and dodging trains in the dark), but it is a close, worthwhile sidetrip from the C&O Canal, just 1-1/4 mile south of Cumberland. Kudos to the, now Carpendale, WV, citizens for preservation of this early 20th Century ‘tunnel-bridge’.

    Reply

  7. Posted by LevelWalker on May 10, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Steven,

    That’s a great story. I get a kick out of railroad tunnels too and have checked out Indigo, Stickpile, and Kessler. The people of Carpendale definitely deserve a lot of credit for lighting up the tunnel and making it available to everybody. Candee and I have a limited knowledge of Cumberland’s transportation heritage, and I would certainly like to know more. Also, your email link could be very valuable to anyone who comes across this post.

    The thing I find amazing is that my grandmother grew up in Kitzmiller, and for all I know, as a ten year-old, she may have traveled to Cumberland and seen the canal boats in action. Much of this seems like “ancient” history, but there are (no doubt) a few people left in Cumberland who can remember some of what we find so interesting today.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Eric Lord on October 15, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Hello,
    I was directly involved with a previous employer for the design and development of the Carpendale Rail-to-Trail spur off of the C&O Canal Tow Path/ Great Allegheny Passage. It is so humbling to hear the enjoyment of so many trail users finally experiencing this true GEM. Within less then a half a mile ,from the Canal Place in Cumberland, MD, you can experience absolutely breathtaking views of Cumberland, MD from a 380 foot long trestle, and then gulp down ice cold spring water from outfalls at the western end of a 1,460 foot tunnel in Carpendale, WV. It truly doesn’t get any better when it comes to trail experiences!!

    I grew up in the old Carpender’s Addition which is now part of the incorporated Carpendale. I grew up walking along the road and collecting bottles to return for money to buy candy at “The Store” and to go over by the springs at the western portal to devour the candy before returning home and watch the trains come through the tunnel. Later in life, I continued through that same tunnel past bullies with my buddies to find any ‘pick up’ basketball game we could find in South Cumberland.

    After working in the Baltimore area for many years and finally having the opportunity to return home,
    the Carpendale Rail-Trail project surfaced and I offered my pro-bono services to solicit the appropriate funding and continue to provide the design services required to bring this stunning gem to fruition.

    Again, I AM SO GLAD YOU ALL HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO NOT ONLY ENJOY THESE NATURAL AND MAN MADE TREASURES BUT ALSO ENJOY THESE TRUE MARVELS OF STRUCTURAL HISTORY AND THE AMERICAN GRIT TO GET THE JOB DONE WHEN IT WAS NEEDED!!! Read into the history of the “Knobley Tunnel”, it will blow your mind, as many
    American tales do!!!

    Thank you for your time,
    Eric

    Reply

  9. Posted by LevelWalker on October 18, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Eric,

    Thanks for the great comment and your contribution. It’s a nice piece of work. As much as I enjoy the C&O (obviously), it’s also great to get off of the towpath and take in the surrounding area. The Carpendale Rail Trail and Knobley Tunnel make for an amazing side trip. As word gets out, the trail’s popularity will definitely grow.

    Reply

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