A majority of the Great American Rail-Trail host route in Maryland pays homage to the state’s days as a central player in the Canal Era, which peaked in the mid-19th century. Carried by the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (C&O Canal Towpath) for some 180 miles, the Great American Rail-Trail route through Maryland features hundreds of locks, lock houses and other canal structures that once transported coal, lumber and agricultural products to market and provided opportunities for employment and commerce in the Potomac River Valley.
Winding northwest from Washington, D.C.—the C&O Canal Towpath trail terminates in Cumberland, Maryland, where it meets up seamlessly with the iconic Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org).
The “Great American” Route Through Maryland
RTC’s route analysis defines the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail through Maryland as 200 miles and 100% complete. The route is hosted by two key trails in the state: the towpath of the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org). Click the links below to view full trail descriptions on TrailLink.com.
Live from Williamsport, Maryland, along the historic C&O Towpath Trail with the C&O Canal Trust
Trails Along the Route
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park—100 Years of History
Better known as the C&O Canal Towpath, this pathway parallels the Capital Crescent Trail coming out of D.C. Beginning a stone’s throw from the National Mall and the White House, the 184.5-mile trail that runs along the Potomac River to Cumberland, Maryland, brims with rich history (read about more historical connections along the Great American Rail-Trail here). George Washington used his Revolutionary War cred to successfully lobby for the creation of the precursor “Potowmack Canal Company,” which was ceded to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company in the early 1820s. Their C&O Canal would become an important transportation line for a century, and hundreds of relics [and canal structures] still line the trail today. The trail offers a peaceful ride to Cumberland, Maryland, with hundreds of original features to see along the way, including canal locks, lock houses, aqueducts and their canal structures.
Be a Part of the Movement to Complete the Great American
Like you, we can’t wait to see the Great American Rail-Trail vision come to life—but we can’t do it alone. Help us reach 1 million pledges for the Great American, showing the strength and solidarity of the trails community.
Completing the Great American Rail-Trail: Catalyst Initiatives in Maryland
In every state along the preferred route of the Great American, needs for completing the trail vary. To spur trail completion, RTC has identified initial catalyst initiatives—projects or challenges that would most benefit from RTC’s national breadth of resources. (View the complete list of catalyst initiatives and criteria here.) Through these initiatives, RTC will support local and state partners, investing time, expertise and organizational resources in specific projects that are critical to the ultimate completion of the Great American Rail-Trail.
The C&O Canal
RTC will monitor and advocate for continued trail surface improvements along the historic corridor to ensure the highest-quality trail-user experience. In addition, RTC will pursue public funding for a comprehensive hydrology study of the C&O Canal Towpath to determine the status and condition of the 19th-century culverts beneath the canal that carry water through its substructure and into the Potomac River, including recommendations for costs to modernize the culvert system.