Ride the C&O Canal, feel like a part of history

WASHINGTON — Take a journey back in time at Great Falls Park in Potomac, Maryland.   Experience what it was like to cruise the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (C & O) on a reproduction 19th Century Mule drawn boat.

Led by volunteers and park rangers dressed in period costumes, visitors on this unique tour will hear tales of what life was like for families who lived and worked the canal.

“We give a history of the park, talk about life on the canal and give people a better understanding of how the whole operation works”, says Park Ranger Rebecca Jamison.  And they spare no detail.

Riding the old time canal boat -- an experience that can be recaptured in the C&O canal tours this summer. (Courtesy National Park Service)
Riding the old time canal boat — an experience that can be recaptured in the C&O canal tours this summer. (Courtesy National Park Service)

“Part of the trip here at Great Falls is going through a lift lock which raises the boat about eight feet and they operate it just using water power and the force of gravity to fill the lock, raise the canal boat and continue onto the next level of the canal,” says Jamison, adding it’s still pulled by mules.

“There’s no motor on board.  So you’re getting the experience exactly as it would’ve been during the time the canal was in operation,” she says.

It took 22 years to construct the C & O Canal which hauled coal, lumber and other goods from 1850 until 1924.  Today, the entire 184.5 mile long towpath is open to visitors.  “We’re kind of like a hidden treasure, a lot of people don’t know about the canal or the fact that the boat runs.  Sometimes they think it’s just a large prop we have on site”, says Jamison.

The one-hour tours operate several times a day on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer. For weekday school group reservations, call 301-714-2213 or e-mail cocanaleducation@nps.gov.

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