Biking around Town Vol. 7 – The C&O Canal

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRide

Biking around Town is written by Josh Nadas (@dcliterate), a daily bike commuter & avid rider who works for the National Park Service, and lives in Mount Pleasant.

We are pretty blessed in Washington DC to have the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath available to us to ride on pretty much whenever. The path is car free, relatively flat, and generally uncongested – it has the makings of a great ride. It’s hard to write a lot more about the canal trail itself, because there is not much new to say.

One of the things I like about the canal is the opportunity to see wildlife. When I rode out on the trail, it was a bit drizzly and cool. The upside of which was the trail was nearly deserted and there was a ton of avian life. I was able to spot several different kinds of bird, and when I stopped for a snack, a turtle.

The trail itself is really easy to ride. It’s perfect for just about anyone, and any type of bike. The only bike I would not put on the trail is a skinny tire road bike. Pretty much anything with a flat bar is going to be okay, as long as you have reasonably fat tires. The path is a mixture of crushed gravel and sand, so having a slightly wider tire or some tread is desirable. The perfect bike is a cyclocross bike if you have one. I rode my single speed mountain bike, which was a little bit less than ideal but still fun.

Continues after the jump.


One of the best parts of the C&O is that you can start pretty much anywhere, I started in Georgetown pretty close to the Mile zero, because you can access it directly from the Rock Creek trail. However, it’s a 180 mile trail, you can pretty much put in and take out wherever you like. Keep in mind that if you are doing an out and back – only ride out half as many miles as you want to ride total. Otherwise, you’re in for a long ride.

Ride Notes:

Be sure to pump your tire up before you head out, and bring a flat tire repair kit and a pump. Chances are better than normal that you catch a flat tire on the trail.
When riding on a beautiful day, there are parts of the trail that can get very crowded. Be sure to announce your presence to others wearing headphones and pass at a modest speed.

2 Comment

  • I just wanted to drop in to let PoP and Josh that I enjoy these biking around town posts. Please keep them coming, and happy riding!

  • randomduck

    I ride the C&O Canal Towpath on my skinny-tire bike fairly frequently, and it’s not bad at all! Proper tire pressure is key, and while 23mm or narrower tires may by too skinny for many, almost any road bike can handle 25mm tires, which have no problems with 99 percent of the trail surface. It all depends on the confidence and handling skills of the rider, I suppose…

    Note that it is the law to have a bell or horn on your bike when riding the Maryland portion of the towpath. I’ve received verbal and written warnings about this in the past.

Comments are closed.