Celebrating 50 years as part of the National Historical Park Service, the park and neighboring towns offer travelers a wealth of nature, culture and history for a fresh start in post-pandemic life.
After a year of uncertainty, many people are eager to move forward. About 90% of vaccinated travelers now feel ready for a getaway, while about 87% of U.S. residents plan to travel this summer. For those in the DC area in particular, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park is an ideal destination for this moment. Accessible by car and offering 20,000 acres of peaceful nature, hundreds of historic structures and bustling neighboring towns to explore, the park is steeped in the past while providing inspiration for the future.
In addition, this year marks the 50th anniversary from the C&O Canal National Historic Park joining the National Historic Park Service, and celebratory events and activities this summer range from a photo exhibit to a beer, wine and spirits trail. The park stretches 184.5 miles, from DC to western Maryland, so visitors can base their stay in one of the many neighboring counties. Whichever setting they choose, travelers can enjoy their desired blend of history, culture, and the outdoors, without having to book a flight or drive for hours.
Visit thriving downtowns and an agricultural reserve in Montgomery County
Travelers with less time to spare on a summer getaway can reach Montgomery County, Md., just 45 minutes drive from DC In addition to being nearby C&O National Historic Park, Montgomery County is a fantastic option for visitors wanting to shop safely and dine in person after a year of virtual boating and dining at home. The county’s thriving downtowns and downtowns offer a wide range of outdoor venues where visitors can find unique gifts and enjoy memorable meals. From the trendy restaurants and specialty shops of Pike & Rose in North Bethesda to the pedestrian plaza with shops and outdoor art exhibits in downtown Silver Spring, the options are endless.
For some fresh air, visitors can head to Montgomery County’s 93,000 acres Agricultural reserve, offering pickable fruits like strawberries, tart cherries and tomatoes. Others might prefer to hike to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain for a view of “the pastoral patchwork of farms and villages in the county,” said Cory Van Horn, director of marketing for Visit Montgomery, MD. Then, tired hikers can sit down for an alfresco meal at the Comus Inn at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, complete with an outdoor dog cafe and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Outdoor stops are also included along Montgomery Tastemakers Trail, which features more than 20 local craft beverage producers, such as the Waredaca Brewing Company, an agricultural brewery from Laytonsville which offers food trucks on Saturdays.
Kayak under a historic aqueduct and stop for a farm ice cream in Frederick County
Also located less than an hour from Washington, DC, Frederick County, Maryland offers a wealth of family attractions and is steeped in Civil War history. Like other counties, C&O Canal National Historic Park runs through it.
“It’s not just a nice place to drop by quickly. It’s a place you’ll want to spend a few days exploring, ”said Melissa Muntz, Marketing and Communications Manager for Visit Frederick.
the Monocacy Aqueduct is a good place to start exploring the county. Completed in 1833 and measuring over 500 feet long, this historic site is the largest structure in the C&O Canal National Historic Park. Visitors can walk through the white stone structure, observing how its color subtly changes depending on the time of day.
History buffs and children alike will enjoy the Brunswick Railroad Museum, with a model railroad depicting the B&O passenger line. The railroad is what ultimately drove the C&O Canal to bankruptcy, according to Muntz, and museum visitors can better understand how the two transportation systems influenced the region.
Afterward, travelers can stop for lunch at Beans in the Belfry, a cafe located in a restored century-old church in downtown Brunswick, a short walk from the C&O Canal. Another must-see spot is Rocky Point Creamery, located a mile from the canal towpath and serving farm-fresh ice cream and dairy products. Flavors include Mule Food, a special ice cream created for the 50th anniversary and named after the mules who worked so hard to keep the canal running. The flavor has a sweet cream base and is mixed with chocolate chunks and oatmeal cookies.
Live at the crossroads of history in Hagerstown County / Washington
Washington County is only 70 miles from the district and Baltimore, but the area several national and state parks feel away from the hustle and bustle. There is Civil war battlefields to explore, as well as attractions that offer a closer look at the C&O Channel. Cushwa Basin and Conococheague Aqueduct in Williamsport, for example, takes visitors to the past with an array of restored and functioning canal structures, including a lock, re-watered aqueduct and lock, while the nearby towpath offers stunning views of the Potomac River.
“We believe this is the only place in North America where this variety of historic canal features can be seen in one location,” said Daniel P. Spedden, president of the Hagerstown / Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For more canal history and traditions, travelers can visit the Bowles House in Hancock, Maryland, the westernmost town in Washington County. Located on the Potomac River at Maryland’s narrowest point, the Bowles House reveals what life was like in the heyday of the canal.
After filling up on history, visitors can make their way to the Potomac River with the help of River and trail outfitters. The adventure company offers guided rafting, tubing, kayaking, and canoeing tours in Knoxville, MD, as well as paddling tours with beer and wine tastings.
Explore the “mountain side” of Maryland in Allegany County
Traveling further west to Maryland, about two and a half hours from Washington, DC, will bring visitors to Allegany County. Known as the state’s “Mountain Side”, the county is teeming with public land and makes an ideal base for adventurous visitors.
Green Ridge State Forest, Maryland’s largest contiguous forest, provides access points to the Potomac River, where people can kayak or swim. They can also cycle along the famous Great Allegheny Passage, a scenic 150 mile cycle path that ends at the end of the canal, in Cumberland, MD, and extends to Pittsburgh, as well as connects to the towpath of the C&O channel that leads all the way to DC Travelers can take in the Mason-Dixon Park at Mile Marker 22, or stop at Mile Marker 4 to see the Cave of Bones, where researchers have discovered the remains of an Ice Age saber-toothed cat.
After a long bike ride or a day of kayaking, visitors can take part in the self-directed Mountain Maryland Tap & Pour Tour, complete with wineries, distilleries, and breweries. This year, the tour will feature a new beer, Douglas’ Ditch, which the four county breweries have created together as part of a state-wide Canal Libations trail that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the C&O Canal. as a national park site. And there’s more history to soaking up the county’s transportation heritage sites, including Mile Marker “Zero” of the United States’ first federally funded highway, the Historic National Highway.
“It was Thomas Jefferson’s idea and the gateway to America’s westward expansion, so you could say Mountain Maryland was the birthplace of America’s very first road trip,” said Ashli Workman, Director of Tourism for Allegany County.
Wherever they choose to stay in Maryland, visitors exploring the C&O Canal National Historic Park this summer can take a moment to remember the region’s progress. For nearly a century, the main purpose of the canal was to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington, D.C. It is an area teeming with culture, history, and opportunities for adventure in the midst of air is the perfect setting for an inspiring and memorable vacation after the pandemic.