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.
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.
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.
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!