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.
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.
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.