A few of you may know that I’m about to embark on several weeks of vacation. It’s not enough for me to completely go crazy, but enough time to get really excited about. Starting this Friday, I will be off for 4 weeks! Yes, you read right. 4 weeks! During this time, I plan to relax, hike, travel, see friends that I haven’t seen in months and generally do all kinds of stuff that I normally don’t have a chance to do during “regular life”. If you know me well, you have figured out by now that I’ve been planning to do way much than I will actually have time for. A few examples: I plan on hiking the entire C&O canal, travel to Pennsylvania to visit a few touristy things like Gettysburg and Hershey Park, go on the Eastern Shore to visit all the beaches that I haven’t been to yet, read all the books waiting for me on my bookshelf, clean my entire house and, perhaps, complete several major renovation projects in my home. I also should mention that all of these activities will be going on while I’m relaxing, lounging around and not doing much of anything. Ha! Obviously, that is not going to happen. The sad thing about all of this is that I really wish I could make this happen. If I could clone myself and keep one me at home and the other me hiking and traveling, I would totally do it. It's time to get back to reality.
Now that I only have a few days left before vacation, I’m starting to think more realistically about what I will and will not do during my time off. I don’t like being realistic one bit, but alas, being more truthful with myself about the exact length of my vacation time will also help me focus on the things I really want to get done and plan on doing some of the other things later. One thing that I definitely plan on doing during this holiday is exploring the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, better known as the C&O. The C&O Canal is 184.5 miles of hiking goodness. It begins in Georgetown, D.C. and ends Cumberland, Maryland. If this is not enough mileage for you, there is the option on continuing from Cumberland on the Great Allegheny Passage also called the GAP. The GAP is an additional 150 miles of hiking and biking trails ending in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. How exciting! The idea that you could start in the District of Columbia and end up in Pennsylvania by foot or wheels is truly fascinating to me. In addition, there is an insane amount of history around with the canal and so much nature to be seen while you are on it. Also, if you are looking for places to hike alone or are new to hiking this is generally a good one to try. The C&O towpath is pretty regularly visited, so you can count on seeing people on your outing. It can get crazy during the weekends, but it tends to be on the quieter side during the week. Another bonus is that it would be pretty hard to get lost on this trail since there is only one trail to follow.
So yesterday, I started my journey on the C&O. I have decided to make it a priority for me to complete the canal this year. Bit by bit. I can generally hike 10 to 15 miles pretty easily, but my progress along the canal will depend on how many one way versus out and back hikes I will be able to do. I will have to be creative and try to figure out if I can bribe some friends to drop me off or pick me up at strategic locations. This will definitely require a bit of planning, but hopefully it can be done it gets really cold out.
Sunday's hike was fun. I parked my car at the town of Brunswick, M.D. train station and made my way towards Point of Rocks, M.D. I started at mile marker 55 and made my way to mile marker 50 past the Bald Eagle Island Hiker Biker Campsite. I hiked 10 miles in total and my feet were really tired. Hiking seems a bit harder on the feet and legs on the C&O as the ground is really hard. Even if you are used to high mileage out in the woods, you may need to take it easy on the C&O due to the hardness of the ground. Take breaks, stretch and make sure you have a good pair of shoes. I would also suggest to start with a few less miles than you are used to doing just to make sure that you are not overdoing it the first day. Mileage is easy to track on the C&O with the great mile markers that are positioned at every mile.
Since the sky was quite overcast yesterday, I did not see that many people on the trail. I saw a few runners, but mostly passed cyclists. I could tell that a few of them were biking and camping as they carried backpacks and had panniers fitted to their bikes. How fun. There are several camping sites available on the C&O at roughly every 5 to 10 miles. They are all free and operated by the National Park Service. Amenities are very rustic and consist of a clearing with a picnic table, portable toilet, fire pit and a well-water pump. Please note that these campsites can be very crowded in the summer time. On the plus side, most of the campsites give you direct access to the Potomac River, which is quite nice.
I heard a lot of birds, saw fluttering butterflies, scampering squirrels and chipmunks, but what really left an impression on me yesterday was this great open log located in between mile marker 51 and 52. It was so huge and so impressive. It almost looked like there was an entire other world found inside of it. The colors were so beautiful with the varying colors of the wood and the plants and moss found inside. You could imagine this place being a shelter for all sorts of insects and small animals. It was truly lovely.
I would love to start a conversation this week. Tell me your favorite stories about the C&O. Are there some specific spots that I should be going to this summer? Please join in the conversation in the comment below. I would truly appreciate it.
Resources and notes:
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal map.
- Great Allegheny Passage map.
- There is a great phone app called C&O Companion that can help you track your current location and lets you know of all the amenities available in your area.
- The Canal Towns website has a lot of information on the towns that you will cross while on your journey.
- Great blog article on camping. This blog, called Eating the Elephant also has a lot of interesting posts about the C&O.
- Stay overnight in a canal lockhouse. Rate starting at $100 per night. For more information, visit the Canal Trust website.
- Looking for mile-by-mile information on the canal? Check out Bike Washington's C&O Bicycling Guide.