Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

A historic towpath. Scenic canal views. Opportunities for adventure. Experience the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal for yourself through the quaint mountain towns of Almost Heaven.

Originally used as transport between Georgetown, Washington D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal can be accessed in two of the most charming West Virginia towns: Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown. Along its 184.5-mile stretch, visitors can explore the canal via several connecting bridges and a towpath suitable for biking and hiking. The towpath was originally used by canal mules to tow boats between Georgetown and Cumberland. A portion of the towpath also doubles as the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, a town that’s nationally recognized as one of the most beautiful towns in America. For a trip back in time, go with the flow of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Almost Heaven.

Exploring the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Almost Heaven

There are many ways to enjoy the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in West Virginia. The historic towpath along the canal provides bicyclists and hikers a scenic route to explore the hidden views around Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown. While your feet are peddling away or hiking on the smooth gravel, stop at these historic cities to get a feel for the vibrant culture of Almost Heaven.

Gateway Towns

Harpers Ferry

Travel on the same portion of the towpath that John Brown used to rally his men to raid the town in 1859. Located near milepost 60.7, Harpers Ferry lies at the intersection of the Chesapeake & Ohio canal and is the half-way point of the Appalachian Trail. If you’re bringing your bicycle by car, it is best to park and unload in the dedicated lot for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. You will have the option to either take the park service shuttle or walk on part of the Appalachian Trail. Nearby, there is a refurbished bike and pedestrian bridge crossing the Potomac River, leading to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. The Harpers Ferry Information Center has more information about the canal. Whether on pedals or foot, make a few stops and enjoy the scenic views.


Shepherdstown is a must-visit town with the history to back it up. For easy access to the C&O Canal Towpath, there is a small parking lot off Canal Road, adjacent to the towpath and across the Potomac River at milepost 72.8. Riders and hikers coming from Maryland can easily exit the towpath and cross the Route 34 Bridge to enter the town. This boasts a scenic view over the Potomac River into the Shepherdstown Historic District. For visitors looking to learn more about what this historic town has to offer, the Shepherdstown Welcome Center on South King Street can help with that. Bicyclists and walkers alike will enjoy taking in the views of this charming town.

What to Expect on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath in Almost Heaven


The towpath provides a very scenic experience for hikers and riders. Keep in mind that the path’s terrain can vary from gravel to patchy dirt. From Shepherdstown to about mile 31, the towpath has been resurfaced with crush-and-run gravel and topped with stone (an ideal combination that helps drain heavy rainfall). There are also footbridges, such as the Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway in Harpers Ferry, that make an appearance in your canal towpath travels in Almost Heaven.

Towpath Surroundings

Like the terrain, the surroundings vary greatly across from the towpath in West Virginia. Some sections get very narrow in wooded areas and may require extra care when passing others. There are also sections that have drop-offs varying in steepness along the canal. Expect heavier traffic near Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry, as they are must-visit destinations for towpath travelers.

9 Tips to Know Before Biking the C&O Canal Towpath

1. Wear Your Helmet

Even if you plan on taking the bicycle trip slow, wearing a helmet will benefit you in all riding conditions.

2. Speed Limit is 15 MPH

As always, ride with caution and be courteous of other bicyclists, walkers and horses along the towpath.

3. Ride in a Single File Line

Whether you’re alone or in a group, it is best to ride single file and merge left when passing other bicyclists.

4. Watch Out for Dogs

Be aware of your surroundings and let owners know you are around them. Keep your furry friends on leashes if you plan on bringing them.

5. Respect Wildlife

Animals such as snakes, small mammals and birds will often make an appearance on your quest. Be respectful and remember that you’re exploring their neck of the woods!

6. Follow Dismounting Rules

Some towpath sections may be crowded and have designated signs for dismounting. Walk your bicycle through these areas and then resume your previous pace.

7. Stay on the Towpath

Bicycles are allowed on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, Berma Road and Capital Crescent Trail. Hiking trails along the towpath are meant for journeys on foot.

8. Pedal Your Electric Bicycle

While it’s tempting to unleash the power of your electric bike, remember to pedal while riding it to control your speed on the towpath.

9. Bring Snacks

Even if you’re planning a quick trip on the canal towpath, always bring a bottle of water and a few granola bars to replenish your energy.

Guided Town Tours

In history-rich towns like Harpers Ferry, you will want to check out the Ghost Tours and get a feel for the historic “Lower Town.” This tour takes you across several blocks to building that supposedly have haunted histories. Shepherdstown Ghost Tours features their take on haunted building tours as well. Harpers Ferry Park Association also provides Certified Guide Tours, which are typically 2.5 hours long and bring you to locations related to John Brown’s raid and other historical events.

While You’re Here

For a taste of authentic French cuisine after your adventure-filled day in Shepherdstown, Bistro 112 will certainly deliver. Blue Moon Cafe is another favorite among locals and towpath travelers looking to fuel up. If you still want to extend your stay with a Western European twist, the Bavarian Inn has luxury suites that convince you that you have crossed the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re feeling an itch to read in the near future, independent bookstore Four Seasons Books has you covered. There are also many art galleries in town for you to explore, and with many pieces for sale, you could take some of Shepherdstown home with you. For a mid-1800s vibe, extend your stay at Thomas Shepherd Inn and enjoy one of their vintage rooms. Find your pace in this humble, quaint town.

Looking for adventures on the water in Harpers Ferry? Get on the Potomac River with River Riders, Inc. to go paddling, kayaking, canoeing and tubing. Explore John Brown’s Fort to learn about West Virginia’s early days and satisfy your cravings at Hamilton’s Tavern 40 afterward for a delicious dining experience. To extend your stay, rest your head at Town’s Inn or Angler’s Inn Bed and Breakfast for a rustic, relaxing experience. Cherish the culture and add this getaway to your history book.

Nearby Communities

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal passes along many small West Virginia communities connected by bridges. You can walk or bike through parts of northern Hampshire County, northern Berkley County, northern Morgan County, eastern Mineral County and eastern Jefferson County. Take some extra time to explore the humble towns of Paw Paw, Wiley Ford and Carpendale.

Plan your stay in Almost Heaven with the help of our free West Virginia Vacation Guide!

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