« Back to Archive

C&O Canal Closed during Government Shutdown.

C&O Canal trail is closed, being as it is a national park. The NPS website redirects to a page with this info: "Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to" C&O Canal trust has this info: During the shutdown, the Park is closed. This includes the towpath and all facilities. Visitation is strictly prohibited. *Visitor traffic, whether on foot, bike, or horse, is strictly prohibited. *Bicyclists planning rides from Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP and C&O Canal should plan to turn back at Cumberland. *All Visitors Centers are CLOSED. *Hiker/Bikers and campgrounds are CLOSED. *The Canal Quarters lockhouses are CLOSED. *All restroom facilities, both permanent and portable, are CLOSED. *Handles have been removed from all well pumps. *The only Park staff that will be on duty will be law enforcement rangers. *The portion of the Capital Crescent Trail that runs parallel to the towpath in DC is managed by the C&O Canal NHP and is CLOSED. *All access roads to the Park are CLOSED. This means you will not be able to trailer boats to boat ramps along the towpath. *Interpretive and educational programming in the Park will be temporarily suspended. School field trips to the Park will need to be rescheduled once Park staff has returned. *Volunteer events and events requiring special use permits will not be able to take place. *All volunteers working in an official capacity should cease volunteer activities immediately and not enter the Park's premises. More info at C&O canal trust
2013-10-03 10:30:35
I have seen people heading to DC on the local trails nearly every day this week. They will be in for surprises.
2013-10-03 12:19:32
They may be able to hop on Amtrak at Cumberland and get to Union Station that way. But they'd need to find a way to get their bikes shipped (probably a bike shop in Cumberland can do this), since the station there doesn't have checked baggage. I don't think there's a good way to get to DC from Cumberland riding a bike, with the C&O closed.
2013-10-03 12:36:30
If I were trekking, I'd just ignore the "shutdown." It's kind of silly since there are next to no services provided along the C&O anyways. How does this shutdown affect the average biker? The only thing I can think of is that there is no one checking the water quality at the 5/10 of the pumps that actually work. I imagine it will be a while before the porta-johns get backed up. Still, one more example of how this shut down bs actually does impact my life.
2013-10-03 13:44:30
Agree with @Drewbacca, if I had a ride scheduled I'd persist. The impact is: no waterpumps or portapotties at the hiker-biker sites, so a bit more pre-planning and logistics is in order. I get that the justification is, they're securing the pumps and the johns because - who knows, they could be shut down for months and don't want to be responsible for a health problem, gosh! - but it seems a bit contrived and over-the-top. However, the whole damn thing is contrived and over-the-top, and none of my displeasure is pointed at the National Park Service.
2013-10-03 15:44:38
The C&O canal trail is difficult at best. I wouldn't want to ride it dodging law enforcement rangers and without water.
2013-10-03 15:47:05
I can't stand the iodized water... last time I went through I filled up a 3L camelbak which was plenty of water to get through the desolate 60mile section. You can cross the bridge at the Paw Paw tunnel and go into the WV town of the same name to stock up along the way.
2013-10-03 16:00:34
yeah, I didn't care for the iodine water - with 2x20oz bottles plus another for Gatorade I was fine (I filled up in the am and wherever we ate lunch). no porta-johns would kinda suck but there's the woods... although, there are some gates and if they somehow blocked that cantilevered section it would be hard to get past. I dunno, the guy in the other thread apparently just finished, we'll see what he says. I didn't even consider this and would have been pissed as hell if my trip had been ruined by it, I finished on Monday.
2013-10-03 20:42:19
There goes our plans to ride there finally.
2013-10-04 03:35:20
We have been planning this trip for a while now. Since the shutdown, I have been trying to find some info, it looks like this is the best source for up to date info. We were planning on leaving PGH on Friday, are we going to be able to pass through? We are not camping, just passing through on the trail. It the Paw Paw tunnel open? Any stories from people who have done the trial in the last few days? I ran into a gentleman at Thick Bikes who was leaving to camp on the trail this past Friday. I wish I would have asked for his info.
2013-10-07 20:00:26
Jason, if you'll pm me some contact info, I'll pass it along to a group that's a few days in front of you. (In Rockwood Monday evening) You might also call one of the bike shops in Cumberland.
2013-10-07 23:48:45
PM sent I will call some shops today.
2013-10-08 06:07:17
The shop in Hancock is probably a good bet, they offer shuttle services all over the place and are likely very aware of any changes in conditions.
2013-10-08 09:03:11
You should be fine to ride, and ride only. If you try to camp, use the bathrooms, "liberate" the waterpumps, etc. you'll get hassled. The rangers have been quite fair in not messing with riders as long as they're not taking advantage of the situation. If you're planning on camping, don't. If you're just planning on riding, you'll be fine. Be nice to the rangers you do see, they're not the problem and they've got a good perspective on the situation.
2013-10-08 13:43:03
grrrrr. i haven't ridden the C&O since 2001, finally planned a trip leaving saturday, and the stupid government ruins it. please keep posting info if you hear of any, and i'll do the same, although haven't heard anything different
2013-10-08 14:09:24
why isn't the federal highway system closed down? this stupid shutdown will end immediately
2013-10-08 14:13:07
Sarapgh2: that is exactly what we want to do. We have hotel reservations made. I will pack enough water and food for the days ride. Just passing through.
2013-10-08 14:24:47
@erok The water thing isn't too bad. Just bring some extra bottles. You can probably figure out what to do about the PortaPotties being closed. Not being able to camp is annoying, but you could stay in Hancock at the C&O Bike Store (they have cheap beds, which are better than camping, somewhat) and there's probably someplace people can recommend between there and DC.
2013-10-08 14:25:27
erok wrote:why isn’t the federal highway system closed down?
Because the states run the roads of the Interstate Highway System, not the feds. Much like all the bike trails built in part with federal money but owned by some more local group, and still open. (ETA: Wait, was that one of those "rhetorical question" thingies that all the kids are talking about these days?)
2013-10-08 15:27:21
The C&O is where I decided that my next set of panniers will have a pocket to carry an extra water bottle... I think that four or five would be optimal. It was a mistake on my part not to mount my third bottle cage on the frame before my ride. That was in early July, it's much cooler now so I'm sure water will last. I filled my 3L camelbak at the bike shop in Hancock before riding solo back to Cumberland to join family for a hiking trip. That bike shop is a real treasure! I have to agree that it is only "somewhat" better than camping LOL but for $10 you get a fire pit, a shelter, a shower, electrical outlets, insect netting... I can't complain about sleeping on a yogamat over plywood (in other words, a sleeping pad is helpful... but they have a few so if you are the only one staying, there is plenty of padding). Then I lost my camera a few miles outside of Cumberland :( DOH! But it was found via Reddit and is now back in my hands! :D :D
2013-10-08 15:29:08
there are definitely a few commercial campsites near the trail, although that obviously limits your itinerary choices. I definitely remember one in Little Orleans (MP 140) and another in Harper's Ferry (MP 60). I camped at the Inn in Frostburg ($22 for 2 people, totally worth it for the showers) but that's on the GAP.
2013-10-08 18:20:03
@Jason, someone in Cumberland who might be able to give you info is Gail Hall. She and husband own a nice B&B (Inn on Decatur), local bike shop and trail tour operation (Mountain Side Bikes). Her number is 301-722-4887 (office) or 240-727-7039 (mobile). Jim
2013-10-08 19:33:12
erok wrote:please keep posting info if you hear of any, and i’ll do the same, although haven’t heard anything different
Erok, if you follow @ramblingrider on twitter, they've arrived in Cumberland Tuesday evening, departing on the C&O Wednesday morning. They know there' folks interested in what's happening and they'll be tweeting reports. Cheers, V.
2013-10-08 19:36:59
Following @ramblingrider and also @crossvino on Twitter, they departed Cumberland for DC a few hours ago. Local bike shop reports that nobody is being asked to leave the trail. Carrying extra water and TP.
2013-10-09 11:10:54
Erok: did you cancel your trip or are you still going? As it turns out, we are leaving Saturday also.
2013-10-09 12:39:39
still doing it. the guesthouse in cumberland where we're staying says that people are still riding it. our plan: Connelsville->Cumberland->Hancock->Harper's Ferry->DC
2013-10-09 15:56:20
i'll be on a red salsa vaya with red/black panniers and red/black helmet. funny how that worked out.
2013-10-09 15:57:42
Cool, have fun. That's pretty close to what we did which was Connellsville (60) -> Frostburg (75) -> Little Orleans (60) -> Antietam Creek (70) -> DC (70) - you're doing a lot longer day 2 and getting shorter days 4/5 in return. FWIW, we rode from 10 to 7:30 on day 2, but we took a lot of breaks:
2013-10-09 17:06:24
Just saw @RamblingRider tweet that they rode Cumberland to Hancock today without any incident.
2013-10-09 17:11:23
Glad to have stumbled upon this. We had planned our C&O trip months back for this Friday. Based on what I am reading here, there doesn't appear to be any reason to put it off as long as we aren't camping (we aren't) and are courteous to any rangers we come across. Happy trails and thanks for the info all!
2013-10-09 20:02:46
Erok: I'll be on a specialized Sirius with bamboo fenders, rear rack and bags, front basket. Black helmet. Sally will be on a trek pilot with a rack and bags, yellow helmet. We are taking a more leisurely trip, PGH > Connelsville > Rockwood > Cumberland > Hancock > Harpers Ferry (spending an extra day there) > DC
2013-10-09 22:09:38
Sounds like a fun trip Jason! Remember that Harpers Ferry exhibits will be closed since it's a national park as well. :( some fav food stops on the C&O - Hancock-Weavers; Williamsport-Desert Rose Cafe; Shepherdstown-Mellow Moods Cafe; Brunswick-Beans in the Belry. The Shepherdstown stop is well worth it if you can; really great food there. Brunswick also great for lunch. For the HF-DC section that will be your best bet for food on the trail since the concession stand at Great Falls will also be closed. Enjoy the ride.
2013-10-10 08:32:02
We went to Blue Moon cafe in Sheperdstown, the food was great and they have one of the most spectacular patio/garden areas I've ever seen at a restaurant. Definitely seems like a cool little town in general. The only downside is it's a pretty steep climb to get there from the trail. We set up camp and rode our unladen bikes but it would be tough loaded down. There is a switchback trail up to the bridge, or you can take the road which is more direct but steeper.
2013-10-10 09:14:03
salty-nice Blue Moon Cafe pic:) I thought the switchback was pretty easy, even with a loaded bike. No reason to take the road. Then you can just cruise through the university campus and come up right behind all the restaurants.
2013-10-10 12:31:30
I saw a bunch of loaded cyclists heading out this morning when I was riding in to work. I am guessing it was some of you. I rang my bell for all of you- have a great trip!
2013-10-10 12:38:37
sara - not my picture (i just found it on the internet), but i liked it... The degree of difficulty of getting there was greatly increased by the fact that it was pitch black and between the two of us we didn't have a decent light. The battery for my Cygolite apparently vibrated loose and fell out at some point (FWIW, the replacement I ordered fits a lot more snugly than the old one did). I had a backup light but it was pathetically inadequate, so we had to ride <10mph and I actually missed the switchback on the way up (I saw the gate, but it was closed). My friend doesn't ride at night, so his light was even dimmer. We also had no idea where we were going to eat; we asked some random person on the street who recommended it. It was definitely the best meal we had on the whole trip.
2013-10-10 17:29:40
Erok and I made it to Connellsville. Cumberland tomorrow. Fingers crossed on the C&O. Anyone else out here?
2013-10-12 16:19:45
Glad I found this thread. I am leaving Pittsburgh tomorrow for a through trip to DC. Staying in hotels/B&B's/hostels the whole way. Stops = Ohiopyle - Frostburg - Hancock - Harpers Ferry - Arlington. Good to see so many people still going through in spite of the shutdown! I still am concerned about riding the C&O, but it looks like many people are going through without incident. Has anyone heard of any issues with the rangers? I haven't seen any reports of anyone getting stopped. I checked out the feeds from ramblingrider and crossvino and it looks like they had a safe, but wet, trip. :) Anyone else departing from Pgh this weekend?
2013-10-12 17:40:43
Sally and I are in harpers ferry. We spent an off day here yesterday. We got lucky the government decided to open things back up. This is a cool town with lots of history. Today we are going to finish off the ride to DC. Then we are gonna spend a bit of time in DC exploring. Lots of people whom I have spoken to said the C&O is rough and awful. We have enjoyed it. I like it better than the GAP. It can be rough here and there. There are a few mud puddles, rocks and roots. It is a great ride though.
2013-10-18 06:19:23
Jason wrote:Lots of people whom I have spoken to said the C&O is rough and awful. We have enjoyed it. I like it better than the GAP.
I think it depends on a lot of things. I'm not a fan of a massive amount of insects which are overwhelming on the first leg of the C&O. There's also the issue of bike setup; I was riding my road (touring) bike, while my hybrid would have done better on the C&O. If I ride it again in the future, I'll be using wider tires. Honestly, I hated the C&O so much, that I'd seriously consider taking roads next time. To each their own... Have fun in DC!
2013-10-18 11:00:12
Drewbacca wrote:I hated the C&O so much, that I’d seriously consider taking roads next time.
Me too, but I've been unable to find anything like a good alternative. There are some back roads there which seem like there might have some nasty traffic issues, and even those peter out around the PawPaw tunnel, as I recall. There's also US 40, which at least has a shoulder, but at some points it becomes limited access. So if anyone figures out a way around using the C&O from Cumberland to DC I'd like to hear about it.
2013-10-18 11:16:28
if only they made bicycles and/or bicycle tires suitable for rough terrain... I didn't think the c&o was too bad for the most part. the roughness itself didn't bug me as much as the random roots and rocks sticking up to give you pinch flats (which I got twice). those were present even when the surface was otherwise nice, and tough to see with the light coming through the trees. I was running 32s, next time I'll probably go 37 or wider, or I might even take my MTB for a nice plush ride.
2013-10-18 17:04:29
salty wrote:if only they made bicycles and/or bicycle tires suitable for rough terrain… I was running 32s, next time I’ll probably go 37 or wider, or I might even take my MTB for a nice plush ride.
It would be a great place to have a suspension fork with lock out... assuming you don't want front racks or are willing to fudge around and make one work. OK... just for the record, I'm kidding (it would be nice, sure, but not remotely necessary). I would say 32s at bare minimum. I was running 28s and it was giving me a lot of hand discomfort. Part of that was my saddle being too far forward (until that trip, I followed the K.O.P.S. or knee-over-pedal-spindle approach to bicycle fitting). I also had my tires pumped up close to 100psi. If I ride it again, I'm going to shoot for 35's at 60psi max. I need to get my other road bike set up so that I can use my touring bike as a dedicated tourer... in which case, I think 35's would be a happy choice.
2013-10-18 19:28:13
I was running 38mm tires. Probably aired up a bit high because I slammed a few rocks and never pinch flatted. I think what also helped is we planned each leg to be about 60 miles. We would set out early and take lots of breaks to throw rocks in the river and take pictures. We were in no hurry.
2013-10-19 06:54:05
so we arrived and rode the trail with no problems. the potties had metal bands around them, and there was a sign up at every road crossing that "all national parks are closed" but didn't necessarily say don't ride the trail. we didn't see a ranger once, nor even had a stink eye from a cop. the trail was suspiciously empty, as it might be the only thing that was different
2013-10-21 10:04:33
cool... fwiw the c&o was pretty empty when we rode it pre-shutdown, aside from near a few trailheads with huge parking lots...
2013-10-21 12:04:42
jonawebb wrote: So if anyone figures out a way around using the C&O from Cumberland to DC I’d like to hear about it.
I just banged together a route that might meet some of your criteria, Jon. The Oldtown-Orleans Rd section might be dirt, and it involves some climbing, but on the other hand it should provide a great view of "General Washington’s Horseshoe Bend" in the Potomac River.
2013-10-22 21:42:12
paulheckbert wrote:The Oldtown-Orleans Rd section might be dirt, and it involves some climbing, but on the other hand it should provide a great view of “General Washington’s Horseshoe Bend” in the Potomac River.
I rode the Oldtown-Orleans Rd once. The trail in light rain was so mucked that I was going less than half the speed I would expect for the effort. Soul sucking. I left the trail about 5 miles East of Oldtown. Too thick woods to be much of a view. I don't recall seeing the river at all after the first quarter mile. You miss the Paw-Paw tunnel completely I'd seen the tunnel before and I was making a round trip, so that was not a huge concern to me. Oldtown-Orleans is a graded, unpaved road for much of the distance. Paved, it would be sweet rolling hills up on a ridge. As it is, at the bottom of each roller coaster, there is serious, spine-shaking, wrist-numbing washboard. I have hefty wheels and had 700 X 38 tires, but it was still too much. I'd brake before hitting them, losing the energy that I had to work so hard to acculmulate going up. Maybe with a good front suspension you could keep some of your momentum. The road is so little traveled that I used extreme caution. Break a leg next to the road, and it might be a day or two before anyone comes by to scrape you up. Iffy cell phone coverage. Zero traffic issues, once you get off of "Oldtown Road" (State rd 51) to David Thomas road. Literally zero - no one passed me for 15 miles or so. Rt 51 has trucks, but I dont' recall it being a white knuckle experience or anything. Looking at Google, there seems to be "Shellhorn Rd" which is an alternative to Rt 51 and the canal for part of the route between cumberland and oldtown - My guess is that traffic wouldn't be an issue on that road. Western MD along the Potomac seems unpopulated compared with the Yough & Castelman Valleys. (Wiki county population densities DISconfirms this, though) *** Paul Heckbert's route include the Washington and Old Dominion trail From Leesburg to the DC area trail. That is a sweet paved ride (but you miss Great Falls on the Potomac).
2013-10-23 11:48:21
Route 15 north of Leesburg is quite treacherous, I respectfully suggest you avoid it as you look for transitions into the trail at Leesburg. I made the mistake of riding it with two friends a few years ago when we thought the C&O was too muddy for human travel. Route 15 was much worse in terms of risky behavior (and we're all road riders). I mean, wow-worse. My friend Mike said it was the most harrowing experience he's had. It's a narrow two-lane, 65-mph road with no shoulders and rushed DC drivers.
2013-10-23 12:49:50
Rt 15 from the White Ferry to Leesburg isn't bad (and the ferry is a really cool way to spend one dollar). Taking 15 from Point of Rocks would be ill-advised . Also I was under the Rt 15 /Point of Rocks Bridge waitng out a thunderstorm, once. But after a while, there seemed to be some kind of ... rendezvous ... there between, like, Tony Soprano's boys and the local methedrine cowboys. The black Cadillacs and battered pick up trucks were converging. Under the bridge. I decided that maybe I could brave the thunderstorm anyhow.
2013-10-23 13:49:41
Mick wrote:
I rode the Oldtown-Orleans Rd once... Too thick woods to be much of a view.
I haven't tried it, but I think you need to take Carroll Rd some to get to Point Lookout. In case you didn't see it, this is the commentary I put on that route ( and click ">>" tab in upper right) Follows Oldtown Rd out of Cumberland, Oldtown-Orleans Rd from near Paw Paw to Little Orleans (parts of this road are dirt), all of the Western Maryland Rail Trail (paved) to near Fort Frederick, crosses the Potomac at Williamsburg, then thru the Virginia towns of Martinsburg, Charlestown, and Leesburg, where it picks up the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD, paved) to Arlington VA. The hilliest portion would be on Oldtown Orleans Rd. There is a historic overlook (on Carroll Rd very nearby) called Point Lookout: "From the overlook can be seen 243 acres of land that was once owned by George Washington." I have not ridden this route, except for the WMRT. If you try it, please let me know!
2013-10-24 10:49:17
I hit up some of my friends in the DC Randonneurs for alternate-to-C&O route suggestions, specifying scenic, low-traffic, and (mostly)paved. Here's a really good response from Crista Borras:
Here's a route that works, all on roads well ridden on by a lot of DC Randonneurs. MD144/Scenic 40 from Cumberland to Hancock is really very quiet. Very mountainous, but the climbs aren't terribly steep. If you stop in Clear Spring the first night that's just 56 miles, or you could go on to Williamsport at 65 miles. There is a little detour to visit the Antietam battlefield, but it could be skipped if necessary. The next day to Leesburg would be 68 hilly miles (from Clear Spring) or 59 miles (from Williamsport). The last day to DC is all on the W&OD and Custis Trails and is only 35 mostly flat miles. You didn't specify exact start/finish. This route starts at the Amtrak station in Cumberland and finishes at the Exorcist's steps in Georgetown.
2013-10-24 11:02:53
@reddan, that looks excellent, with bonus mountains!
2013-10-24 11:13:21
Check out strava's new route planning feature As a route planning tool, it really sucks. I can't seem to get it to route the way I want it to, ever. Also, It doesn't allow you to route to non-streets (most of the off-street trails that I use frequently). It also doesn't show bike-map overlays from openstreetmaps or google. However, it does have a heatmap overlay using track data uploaded by users, and that's pretty freaking cool. It gave me ideas of routes that I had never even considered, but are apparently well used. I'm going to use that while actually doing my mapping with ridewithgps, since that's the best route planning and editing tool out there and nobody will convince me otherwise.
2013-10-24 11:50:40
Note that there's a yahoo news group, , that would be a better place for these discussions. I bet this topic has come up; you could search their history.
2013-10-24 13:55:17
Garmin's routeplanner apparently also provides heatmaps. I've never used it myself, but have noticed them on the Flock routes @MrMarvelous posts...
2013-10-25 07:39:31
Friday is a deadline for another gov't shutdown.  If one happens, I can only assume closures as mentioned above by @benzo will happen again.
2017-04-24 06:37:26