Just Felt Like a Ride Through the Trees: C&O Canal From Sharpsburg to Milepost 92

The Friday of the July 4th holiday weekend brought typical July 4th hot, humid weather to the Washington DC area. On early morning outings Friday I got in a nice 4 mile hike with my wife and her friend and on Saturday a 61 mile road ride along the Chesapeake Bay and Southern Maryland. By Sunday morning I just felt like riding through trees and avoiding the bulk of the crowds.

I decided to do one of the more interesting sections of the C&O Canal Towpath, heading upstream from the Lock 38 parking area at the Ferry Hill area in Sharpsburg MD.

C&O Canal Towpath Ride from Lock 38 to Towpath midpoint at milepost 92

I reached the Lock 38 parking area and got one of the close-in parking spots (with porta-potties) which meant I was ahead of a lot of the crowd. The Towpath resurfacing to crushed stone pretty much ends at this area but as I headed upstream the Towpath surface was in great shape – bumpy because of the rocky cliff areas, lots of double track, but only a few wet spots. There was one downed tree that require a bit of river side detouring.

In thre first 3 miles you pass the Snyder caves and the Killiansburg cave , but closer to Taylor’s Landing I passed this big cave – not sure what it is called or if it even has a name.

Not long after Taylor’s Landing you reach Dam 4 that was used to collect and supply water for this stretch of the Canal and essentially turned the upstream stretch of the Potomac in a narrow lake that in Canal Terms is called Big Slackwater. Big Slackwater is bounded by steep rock walls on the Maryland side and Hurricane Agnes in 1972 wiped out a long section of the Towpath. For many years there was a road detour between Williamsport and Dam 4. Back in 2004, when my wife and I rode the entire Towpath, we enjoyed a nice lunch on the rocks here – doesn’t look any different 16 years later.

A few miles north of the dam you reach the restored section of the Towpath with many stretches of a concrete boardwalk cantilevered over between the cliffs and the Potomac. A bit more crowded here as boats anchor near by and families bike to it from upstream and downstream to use a rope swing or just jump into the water.

Looking downriver from the start of the restored section of the Towpath

I had no real destination planned, thought I might go all the way up to Williamsport for a 50 mile round trip. But the downside of Towpath riding is it is pretty much table top flat and does get monotonous. The entire Towpath is roughly 184 miles long so when I saw milepost 92 (and had emptied one of my two water bottles by then,) I decided that would be my turn around point.

On the way back, I stopped to take a picture of shady McMahon’s Mill, which like most of the Canal is chock-full of history.

A few miles later I was back at the car where many families were starting to arrive to fish or jump in the river. Nutters Ice Cream wasn’t open yet, so I just drove through Sharpsburg/Antietam/Boonesboro to get home and wash the dust off the bike.

Avid cyclist, sometimes touring cyclist. My main road bike is a Trek Domane SL6, my touring/unpaved riding bike is now a Jamis Renegade. I'm located in Maryland, about midway between Baltimore and Washington DC.

4 response to "Just Felt Like a Ride Through the Trees: C&O Canal From Sharpsburg to Milepost 92"

  1. By: The Navigator Posted: July 7, 2020

    Looks like a really nice ride and good way to spend the holiday weekend. I could see how that wouldn’t be as pleasant when crowded though.

    Do people kayak-tour the towpath like people do on bikes?

  2. By: jpescatore Posted: July 7, 2020

    Before tearing my rotator cuff in 2012,I used to do a lot of kayaking on the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay. There are only a few sections of the Canal that are actually watered, and even if the entire length was watered there are 74 locks you’d have to portage!

    At the DC end there is a fairly long watered stretch and you can rent canoes or launch your own boat at Fletcher’s boat house and do some paddling and can make a loop since Fletcher’s sits on both the Potomac River and the Canal. Above the fall line at Great Falls (at about Towpath Milepost 13) There are a few watered stretches that connect with easy connections to the Potomac and you can also do loops of Canal and Potomac.

  3. By: Bill Stone Posted: July 7, 2020

    Thanks for the tour on the C&O. I gotta get back there next time I’m in Virginia.

    By the way — WAY off topic — when I was about five (1955 or 1956) my father took me to Fletcher’s Boat House and we went fishing in a rowboat on the Potomac. I caught my first fish and was so proud of it I took it home where my mom was kind enough to allow it to swim around in the kitchen sink for awhile. Not sure if that fish ended up being named “Dinner.” Thanks for the memories.

  4. By: jpescatore Posted: July 8, 2020

    Back in 1980 or so, I was biking on the Towpath (on my old Schwinn 10 speed bike…) past Fletcher’s heading upstream and I saw three friends of mine in a canoe in the Canal. I decided I wanted to see how it felt to be a Canal mule – they threw me their rope, I tied it to my rear rack and I sloooowly pullled them along while they used the paddles as rudders to stay off the bank.

    Ten years later I would pull a Burley trailer with my infant daughter and a friend’s son in it past that same spot and think how much easier that was than pulling a canoe in the water – let along a canal boat filled with coal and a few adults!

    If I remember right, 1 horsepower is about 750w – those mules had pretty high Functional Threshold Powers!

Leave a Reply