Dear PoP – Ice Skating on the Canal

skating - old photo 004

“Dear PoP,

One good result of all this cold is ice skating on the C&O Canal. Has anybody been out there to check it out & report back yet? Maybe we should get together a PoP skating party on Saturday!

Here are a few tips & best places. The closest good, safe places to skate, with good parking are Fletcher’s Boathouse and Chain Bridge, both reached from MacArthur Blvd. driving north/west from Georgetown. Lock 8, which is about 1 mile past (north) of Glen Echo, is also good, but can only be reached from southbound Canal Road, so from DC you have to drive north to Seven Locks road, cross over and get on the southbound side. Of course, for hardy folks, you can bike along the towpath and just look for good spots.

Further north of Lock 8 is beautiful, but the canal is narrower, with lots of downed trees and debris. The canal near Georgetown is also nice and open, but so many people throw rocks on the ice while it is freezing that it often ruins the surface. Plus you’re close to the road and hear traffic.

Ice should be at least 4 inches thick. The canal is pretty shallow, but may be 6 foot deep in the center, which can make it tricky to escape with wet heavy clothes if you fall through. I know some people bring along a stubby screwdriver, the handle wrapped with rubber bands to loop around your wrist to use as an ice pick if needed, but be careful where you carry it, so you don’t fall on it and impale yourself. Best not to skate alone, though I do admit I’ve done it lots. The most likely danger aspect is hitting debris and crashing – knee pads are nice.

Most of all please remember that the Potomac river – every bit of it – even close to shore is ALWAYS dangerous. Currents are strong and all you need is one foot to break through to get in serious trouble (Despite the above photo of my sisters and me out in the middle in 1969!)”

Update: I agree with Nichole in the comments, please consider the sculpture garden which is a much safer option!

15 Comment

  • Please don’t skate on the canal. There were several news reports about this last night. It gets cold too quickly for the ice to get thick enough to be safe. Even when I lived in Massachusetts we’d lose a kid a season to falling through the ice.

  • Exactly, don’t go out there unless you know without a doubt it is safe. The last thing we need is a bunch of dumb drunk hipsters falling through the ice.

  • Agree with the above and think this post is somewhat irresponsible. But then again, if you’re going to go skating on the canal because an anonymous email-writer said you should, maybe you deserve what you get…

    [Not death or hypothermia, to be clear. Just soaking wet and very cold.]

  • Yeah, I have to say, this is such a bad idea. We live in DC not Ottawa (where skating on the canal is lovely and the average January high is 20 degrees F, as opposed to DC where it’s 43).

    The news stories last night were actually about the Potomac, which is wholly different than the canal, but a couple of weeks of cold temps do not safe canal skating make. Go to the sculpture garden.

  • The (shallow & narrow) C&O Canal is not the same as the (very dangerous) Potomac River. If you can manage to die falling through ice on the canal the gene pool is probably better off without you.

    A. It is pretty easy to tell safe ice on the canal.

    B. There are worse things to be than soaking wet and very cold – like sheltered, dull and suffocatingly safe.

    Go f**ing skate already!!

    • Your comments here make me consider reexamining Intelligent Design as viable.

      • Intelligent Design (God) created ice. And skates. And joy. Then man rejected all that and became timid and feeble and lost. If God is not willing to scoop you out of the possible perils of the joy he has created, what the hell good is he?

        • No one – God or otherwise – has created ice thick enough or long lasting enough inside the beltway that I’m strapping on skates and risking it. When you grow up someplace where people skate on creeks as a matter of course, you never forget all the kids (and pets and drunken morons) who go out too early and find themselves hypothermic and on the evening news. Pass. I left that shit behind when I moved here, thanks.

  • I skated on the canal a few years ago, far north of Georgetown but below widewater. The water’s not very deep up there, and the canal is narrow. It was really fabulous to have a long skate, and then turn around and come back, rather than going round and round. It did wipe out hard on something stuck in the ice.

    Like anything in DC, you won’t be the first and it may be hard to park, but at least you’ll know the canal’s frozen.

    The Park Service used to have a phone number whether it was frozen, but no longer.

    In fact, last year I saw tracks that someone had skated on the Rock Creek near the Candy Land playground area. I’m not sure if I’d try that, though.

  • btw, ice skating in the sculpture garden is open until 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights!

  • I just wish DC govt would provide us residents with some DC rinks scattered throughout the city, I can envision a nice one at Clark Elementary! Perhaps just a hose and a flat spot would do the job. Hockeeeey!

  • Why don’t they have the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument set up for skating anymore? That might be the perfect place for ice skating in all of DC! I haven’t skated in years and I’d go out right now and buy a pair of skates if that happened. Unfortunately, the last time I was down there, it was drained.

  • I am taking my son now to find a good skating spot now, making him the third generation of this family to skate on the canal. We havn’t lost one yet!

  • Oh my god, we’ve got a bunch of Debbie Downers in here. Tighten up people!

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