It is a question we hear often. Is e-biking allowed on the C&O Canal towpath?
Until recently, the answer was a definitive no. The C&O Canal is part of the Potomac Heritage Trail System, and only unassisted bicycles could enjoy the C&O Canal’s Towpath. This changed in August 2019 when regulations came into effect allowing e-bikes on designated paths in national parks.
Does that mean that e-biking is allowed on the C&O Canal towpath?
We believe so. E-biking is allowed on the C&O Canal Towpath where other types of bicycles are allowed and prohibited where other types of bicycles are prohibited. But, be aware of the small print. E-biking on the C&O Canal Towpath is allowed only if you pedal to propel your e-bike and if the e-bike meets the following requirements:
Below is text from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park 2019 Superintendent's Compendium, in case you want to read the text allowing e-bikes on the C&O Canal Towpath.
E-bikes are allowed in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park where traditional bicycles are allowed. E-bikes are prohibited where traditional bicycles are prohibited.
Except where use of motor vehicles by the public is allowed, using the electric motor continuously to move an e-bike without pedaling is prohibited.
An e-bike is a two- or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than not more than 750 watts (1 h.p.) that provides propulsion assistance.
Amended per the October 2, 2020 and November 2, 2020 updates. It is to expected that the 2020 compendium will include amendments pertaining class 2 e-bikes, made on November 2, 2020.
About Class 2 e-bikes, the C&O Canal Trust states that “ . . . e-bike users must pedal at all times while in the Park. Using an e-bike motor without pedaling is prohibited in the Park.” Also note that the electric motor cannot be not more than 750 watts.
Amendments to NPS e-bike regulations made in November 2020 now state "that Class 2 e-bikes [are prohibited, eds.] from exclusively using the motor to propel the e-bike for an extended period of time without pedaling, except in locations that are open to public motor vehicle use."
Most e-bikes sold in the US have a motor of less than 750 watts, operate with functional pedals and have two wheels. Unless regulations change, e-biking on the C&O Canal Towpath is permissible if you meet the requirements as stated above.
Note: If you buy an e-bike conversion set, ensure that the motor is not more than 750 watts and doesn't go faster than 28 mph to gain access to NPS trails when permitted by the superintendent of the park.
Interested in E-biking on the C&O Towpath?
Explore our growing collection of self-guided e-biking trail descriptions.
As usual, please check the latest regulations before heading out to the C&O Canal Towpath, as we do not provide legal advice on this website.
Gregory discovered e-biking after 20 years of overseas work as project manager for the World Bank and USAID. He writes about e-mobility and e-biking in the DMV area, and loves the outdoors (white water kayaking, hiking and biking). He lives with his wife, Janet and Queenie the cat, in Washington DC. He recently e-biked 4,685+ miles across America and raised $180,000 for a charity.
Favorite e-bike: Riese & Muller Super Charger Class 3 touring e-bike.
Dr. Gregory F. Maassen
FOUNDER E-BIKE LOVERS
C&O Canal Trust (2020). E-Bikes on the Towpath – C&O Canal Trust. [online] Canaltrust.org. Available at: https://www.canaltrust.org/2019/10/e-bikes-on-the-towpath/ [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].
Nps.gov. (2016). Hiking and Biking - Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service). [online] Available at: https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/hikingandbiking.htm [Accessed 2 Sep. 2020].
United States Department of the Interior National Park Service Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Title: 2019 Superintendent's Compendium.
Doi.gov. (2020). Trump Administration Paves Way for More People to Experience Bicycling on Public Lands. [online] Available at: https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/trump-administration-paves-way-more-people-experience-bicycling-public-lands [Accessed 6 Oct. 2020].
Nps.gov. (2020). Electric Bicycles (e-bikes) in National Parks - Biking (U.S. National Park Service). [online] Available at: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/biking/e-bikes.htm [Accessed 3 Sep. 2020]
Nps.gov. (2020). Electric Bicycles (e-bikes) in National Parks - Biking (U.S. National Park Service). [online] Available at: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/biking/e-bikes.htm [Accessed 14 Dec. 2020].