Four Fabulous Days of E-biking on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath
The 184.5-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) canal runs along the Potomac River from Georgetown at the historic Milepost 0 to Cumberland in Maryland.
This section of the ride combines the C&O Canal Towpath with the asphalt Western Maryland Rail Trail. We will pass through the famous Paw Paw tunnel and arrive in Hancock via Little Orleans near Green Ridge State Forest.
The second day is a short 32-mile expedition from Hancock to Williamsport on the C&O Canal towpath and the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Add 6 miles to the tour to reach Hagerstown.
The group cycles 47 miles on the C&O Canal Towpath to reach Brunswick. We will stop for lunch in Shepherdstown and enjoy the views of the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry. Add 6 miles to the tour if you stay over in Hagerstown.
Our last day brings the group to the majestic Great Falls for outstanding views of the Potomac river. We will have lunch at Whites Ferry, and arrive at Fletchers Boathouse and Milepost 0 in Washington DC.
An E-biking Opportunity of a Lifetime
E-bike Lovers' self-guided e-bike tour is divided into four days of outstanding e-cycling adventures. Each e-biking day has distinctive characteristics and offers unparalleled diversity with historic sites, towns, campsites, overlooks, locks, lock houses, aqueducts, waterfalls, tunnels, and hiking trails.
The four days of cycling provide unlimited e-biking opportunities on gravel cycling paths protected from motorized traffic.
Friday, 14 July 2023: Arrival in Cumberland from Washington DC and overnight
Saturday, 15 July: Cumberland to Hancock (or Berkely Springs) - 61 miles
Sunday, 16 July: Hancock (or Berkely Springs) - Williamsport (or Hagerstown) - 32 miles
Monday, 17 July: Williamsport (or Hagerstown) - Brunswick - 47 miles
Tuesday, 18 July: Brunswick - Washington DC - 55 miles
Book accommodation soon in Hancock (or Berkely Springs), Williamsport (or Hagerstown), and especially Brunswick as options are limited.
How You Can Participate
Visit E-bike Lovers' Meetup page to register for the 2023 C&O Canal Towpath E-bike Expedition
Nope, everything will be coordinated at actual costs. A commercial vendor-organized trip can set you back over $1,200. Adventure Cycling charges $2,200 for the GAP and C&O tour.
See for alternatives:
Understandably, tour operators have limitations and operating costs, including double occupancy requirements, cancellation fees, biking with people you don't know and possibly dislike, no e-biking with class 3 bikes, etc. We have none of these limitations.
Your Costs. If you only camp and have two batteries, this trip can cost around $300.
Transport to Cumberland: $80
Camping with electricity: $35 per night (2x)
Camping without electricity: $0 per night (1x)
Cumberland Hotel: $80
Other costs: $70
We will rent a U-Haul truck to transport the e-bikes. Transport of the e-bike and yourself from Washington DC with a truck is approximately $80 PP. Each truck has two or three seats. So, if we have 3 e-bikers, we rent one U-Haul truck. If we have 4-6 additional e-bikers, we rent another U-Haul, etc., Each group needs to drive the U-Haul trucks themselves.
You can arrange transport by yourself. There is no requirement to join an "U-Haul" group, but we encourage you to do so to share costs of transportation.
Amtrak allows e-bikes, but they have a maximum weight limit of 50 lbs. Depending on availability, a ticket from DC costs between $43 - $100 one-way tickets (not much of a cost saving and comes with the potential hassle of hauling the bike on board, etc.).
See more information here: https://www.amtrak.com/bike-faqs
You are responsible for booking your own accommodation, but we will be happy to provide recommendations. Book as soon as you can as accommodation is limited along the route.
It depends on what you want. You can book the most expensive hotels along the route or camp. It is up to you. We will overnight in places where you have a choice. BTW, we don't suffer while camping. It can be very comfortable if you know what you're doing.
Yes, please RSVP if you have any interest in the tour. You will need to commit to paying shared transportation costs two weeks before departure in July 2023.
Please contact Gregory or Nathan if you have any questions.
I love Backroads, the tour company. Can I expect the same from you? Nope. We don't provide bicycles, food, shuttles along the route, guides, etc.
This is not a guided full-package event. You will need to book accommodation and coordinate transportation yourself. Of course, we will help everyone as much as we can before, and on tour, as we are E-bike Lovers and have biked the C&O Canal before, but we are not a commercial touring company and cannot take any responsibility for the safety and well-being of participants in this self-guided tour.
Everyone is welcome even if you plan to cycle the C&O Canal Towpath with a regular bicycle.
The park has 31 hiker-biker campsites and five drive-in campsites with potable water pumps treated with iodine.
Drinking water is generally available from mid-April (around the 15th) to mid-November (around the 15th) at Hiker/Biker and Drive-In Campsite locations, approximately every 5 to 7 miles. Potable water may not be available at each hiker/biker campsite. Please plan to bring water purification tablets with you if you plan to use this unpleasant tasting water. We will not, but you certainly can if you like to!
Well water within the park is treated with iodine - do NOT drink if you have any iodine allergies or if you are on medication for an overactive thyroid. In general, well water is clean and able to be used without additional treatment. However, you are advised to boil or treat the water before use for your own protection.
Water availability is subject to change. Always bring plenty of water with you when camping as a backup option. Please plan your trip accordingly.
There are plenty of restaurants along the C&O Canal Towpath in the small canal towns. Bring snacks!
The park has 31 hiker-biker campsites and five drive-in campsites and each camping site has sanitation facilities ranging from portable restrooms to toilet blocks. We also stop along the route in canal towns.
There is no requirement to stay with the group. This is a self-guided adventure and you decide how and when you like to e-bike. You set your own pace and distance each day. We solely provide a recommendation on how to organize the ride. If you like to stay overnight in Little Orleans between Cumberland and Williamsport, and add an extra day, you are most welcome to do so. If you want to go faster and bike the C&O Canal Towpath in fewer days, you are most welcome to do so.
We will have a sweep and lots of equipment to keep your e-bike going. We love to tow and we hope you will give us the pleasure to do so in case your e-bike breaks down.
You should bring a minimum of two batteries as the longest distance is 61 miles if you find accommodation in Williamsport. The nearest accommodation in Berkely Springs is 6 miles from Williamsport. So, this is close to 67 miles that you will need to e-bike on the first day and have not booked accommodation in Williamsport.
That is a very good question. We will have to charge the batteries. Such is life with e-bikes.
Depending on how many batteries you have and how much you want to bike in eco mode, you will have to find accommodation with electricity.
Hagerstown has a KOA camping with electricity. Brunswick also has a camping site with electricity. If you stay in a hotel or B&B, you charge there.
The Elevation Profile of the C&O Canal
The C&O Canal has a gradual elevation decline from Cumberland to Washington DC. The towpath is nearly flat as towing the canal boats required a leveled pathway. The 74 water lift locks raise the canal from sea level in Washington DC to 605 feet in Cumberland. You will be cruising "downhill" for 184.5 miles on a 12 feet wide towpath.
Our route includes the beautiful 28-mile Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) that parallels the C&O Canal Towpath for its entire length if you have a class 1 e-bike. Class 2 and 3 e-bikes follow the C&O Canal.
Gravel Path Quality
The quality of the gravel path varies. The C&O Towpath Rehabilitation Project of the C&O Canal Trust, is making excellent progress, but not all sections are in perfect condition yet. The section between Cumberland and Hancock especially needs more work.
The National Park is not paving the pathway. The base layer of the new towpath surface is crush and run gravel, also known as CR-6. You will recognize the new smooth surface in sections that are rehabilitated.
About the C&O Canal
"Operating for nearly 100 years, the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway for discovering historical, natural, and recreational treasures."
Also check out the C&O Canal Trust, the wonderful organization in charge of many restoration projects.
Meet The Team
Gregory Maassen, E-bike Lover's resident long-distance e-biker (he just biked 4,700 miles across America), and Nathan Merris, E-bike Lover's Chief Technology Officer will be your mentor and "guide" on this unique self-guided group expedition.
founder e-bike lovers
Dr. Gregory F. Maassen
Gregory is a multimedia, strategic digital marketing specialist, videographer, and former manager of IFC/World Bank and USAID programs. He is an active long-distance e-cyclist and founder of E-bike Lovers.
chief e-bike technology officer
Nathan is a former Mercedes Benz automotive master technician and is currently a software developer. He is an active member of the E-Bike Lovers' leadership team and the organization's chief e-bike technology officer.
Points of Interest and Accommodation Along the C&O Canal Towpath
Click on the icon in the top left corner to filter points of interest including camping grounds, hotels, and overlooks. Click on the icon in the top right corner to see the map in full size.
Friday, 14 July 2023
Saturday, 15July 2023
Super 8 by Wyndham Hancock MD
118 Limestone Rd, Hancock, MD 21750
Sunday, 16 July 2023
Hagerstown / Antietam Battlefield KOA Holiday
11759 Snug Harbor Ln, Williamsport, MD 21795
Warning - This is a Camping Site
You don't need to camp. There is plenty of accommodation in Hagerstown and some in Williamsport.
Monday, 17 July 2023
Brunswick Family Campground
Airport Dr, Brunswick, MD 21716
Warning - This is a Camping Site
You don't need to camp. There is accommodation in Brunswick, but not much. Book soon! There is accommodation in Harpers Ferry, but the Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway across the Potomac River is accessible only after climbing steep steps. It is not e-bike friendly.
Tuesday, 18 July 2023
Home, Sweet Home.
Are E-bikes Allowed on the C&O Canal Towpath?
The term “e-bike” means a two- or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less not more than 750 watts (1 h.p.).
- 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 to move an e-bike without pedaling is prohibited. The Superintendent has designated these areas open to electric bicycles:
- Trail areas where the e-bikes are allowed include the Towpath, Berma Road, and the Capital Crescent Trail (Pedaling required). The maximum speed on these routes within the park is 15 m.p.h.
- Public roads and parking areas used by motor vehicles
Although the C&O Canal is 184.5 miles, you will need to e-bike to accommodations. Expect a minimum of 195 miles, possibly more, of e-biking during the tour.
Are E-bikes Allowed on the Western Maryland Rail Trail?
Electric Bicycle Policy
The operation of electric bicycles is permitted in all State Park areas where motorized vehicles are allowed, e.g. interior public-use roads, parking lots, etc. Except as described below, electric bicycles are prohibited on State Park trails and other areas not designated for motorized vehicles, regardless of trail width or surface (paved, gravel, natural surface).
Class 1 (only) electric bicycles are permitted on the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail and the Western Maryland Rail Trail. On the two permitted rail trails, Class 1 electric bicycles are regulated the same as all other bicycles, and are subject to all applicable bicycle rules and regulations regarding operation and safety equipment.
As per § 11-117.1 of the Transportation Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, a Class 1 electric bicycle is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour.
Paw Paw Tunnel
"The Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the most significant engineering features on the Canal. To save building six miles of canal along the river, the C&O Canal Company decided to construct a tunnel through a steep topographic ridge now called Tunnel Hill.
When work began on the tunnel in 1836, the builders estimated the project would be completed within two years.
The tunnel ultimately required 14 years to complete due to labor issues and violence, funding shortfalls, work stoppages, and the challenges of digging a 3,118-foot tunnel through the hard, loose shale.
The tunnel opened in October 1850 with rockslides continuing to be a challenge throughout the tunnel’s history."
Front and Rear Lights
The Paw Paw Tunnel is dark, very dark. You will need a light. You could use a cellphone light to find your way through the tunnel.
Most e-bikes come with lights installed. Make sure to check your lights before e-biking the C&O Canal Towpath. WireCutter recommends this headlight and taillight if your e-bike has no lights or needs an upgrade.
Reflective Safety Vest
The greater your visibility, the better. Consider e-biking with a lightweight safety vest.
The years it took to complete the Paw Paw Tunnel.
The distance of the Paw Paw Tunnel.
The year the Paw Paw Tunnel opened after 14 years of construction.
The number of bricks used to construct the Paw Paw Tunnel.
Other Facts About the Paw Paw Tunnel
- 1The construction of the Paw Paw Tunnel nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.
- 2There were occasional fistfights between boatmen who refused to afford each other the right-of-way.
- 3There are rumors that the Paw Paw Tunnel is haunted.
- 4The Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the greatest engineering feats of the C&O Canal.
- 5The paw paw tree is common throughout the Eastern United States. The name of the tunnel was associated with a Potomac crossing in the area that dates back to colonial times.
About the C&O Canal Towpath
"The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth. It operated as a conduit of eastern coal, suffered extensive and finally fatal flooding, and then resisted being paved as a highway."
The goal was ambitious: to improve on nature with a navigable waterway from tidewater at Georgetown to the Ohio River.
In 1828, amid Fourth of July fanfare and canal fever across the nation, ground was broken for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Before construction ended in 1850, the C&O Canal was obsolete. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad completed the link to the West, while the canal stopped far short of the Ohio River.
Source: NPS C&O Canal Brochure
The C&O Canal Path's elevation varies from some 650 feet in Cumberland to sea level in Washington DC. The elevation of the Towpath doesn't drastically affect local weather patterns and the temperatures are stable throughout most days. Maximum temperatures reach up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
As we bike at an average of some 14 mph and are mostly under the shade of the canopy of trees along the canal, you can expect fine e-biking conditions in the month of July.
Although the chance of rainfall is less than 40%, you should be prepared and pack pants and jackets. We recommend the watertight Adidas Five Gore-TEX mountain bike cycling shoes, the Showers Pass Transit Rains Pants and L.L.Bean's Pathfinder Gore-Tex Shell Jacket. These products were used by Gregory during the 4,700-mile cross country cycling tour and performed extremely well.
The greatest chance of rain is in July when it is the warmest on the C&O Canal Towpath
Expect some fog very early in the morning.
E-biking on the C&O Canal towpath is pleasant during the summer as the canopy provides shade and protects e-bikers from the wind.
The C&O Canal National Historical Park is the 11th most visited National Park in the nation, with over 5 million visitors a year – that’s more than Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon! Featuring a 184.5 mile towpath, the Park is popular with hikers and bikers, as well as paddlers who enjoy the neighboring Potomac River and its offshoots.
The C&O Canal Travel Planner App
The C&O Canal Explorer app (Google, Apple) includes over 600 points of interest mapped for you in a searchable format, allowing you to find hiking trails, campgrounds, history, trailheads, parking, and more at a glance.
The app also calculates the distance from your location to nearby amenities and points of interest.
This $0.99 app is published to help visitors to fully enjoy their C&O Canal Towpath experience. If you buy the app, you also support the C&O Canal Trust, the wonderful organization in charge of many restoration projects.
Ever Wondered What It Means to E-bike the C&O Canal Towpath?
Our Take on The Video:
It is always great if someone has made a good short video of the tour, so we don't have to.
There is plenty of water available along the C&O Canal Towpath, but the taste of iodine is not to our liking. It is horrible, but safe (allegedly)! We always bring plenty of our own water. The video gives a good idea of the different surfaces of the towpath. Yes, we can expect a few fallen trees blocking the path. There is no need to be miserable if you come prepared with the right gear.
Warning: It may rain! Pack warm clothes. Stay dry!!! WE REPEAT, ....
We recommend (again) the watertight Adidas Five Gore-TEX mountain bike cycling shoes, the Showers Pass Transit Rains Pants and L.L.Bean's Pathfinder Gore-Tex Shell Jacket. These products were used by Gregory during the 4,700-mile cross country cycling tour and performed extremely well.
If this is not within your price range, buy something similar for a lower price. Regardless of your budget, warm clothing and rain gear are required to join us on this expedition. Really? Yes, really!
How You Can Participate
Visit E-bike Lovers' Meetup page to register for the C&O Canal Towpath e-bike expedition