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C&O Canal Towpath update

Old 05-22-17, 01:14 PM
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C&O Canal Towpath update

I'll be doing a weekend trip over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Saw that the Paw Paw tunnel will be closed soon for maintenance of the boardwalk area downstream of the tunnel. All bikes will need to traverse the footpath. This will be a disappointment for some, as it is one of the highlights of the canal. Apparently you can still access the tunnel from the upstream side.

https://www.nps.gov/choh/learn/news/...paw-tunnel.htm

Also, if anyone has ridden it in the last week or so, any reports on conditions? Is it a mudpit or in fairly good shape? We are getting a decent amount of rain this week, so hopefully the ground is not already too saturated.

Last edited by alan s; 05-22-17 at 01:17 PM.
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Old 05-23-17, 07:38 AM
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Last I read the tunnel would be closed some time in early June -- okay, I see the text they use there is "on or around the beginning of June." Still, I would expect/hope that that means "no earlier than June 1st." which would put you in the clear.

That's what I've been hoping, anyway. My trip is a little dicier as I hope to pass through on June 2nd, I think. Fingers crossed. Let us know how you find the trail.
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Old 05-23-17, 08:37 AM
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Rain last weekend. Rain yesterday. Rain today. Rain Thursday. Possible rain Sunday. I have a feeling it will be a mess, but the weather will be ideal otherwise. I usually do my annual towpath ride later in the summer, but this time of year is nice for humidity and mosquitos.
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Old 05-23-17, 08:45 AM
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My guess is it will be very crowded.??
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Old 05-23-17, 08:46 AM
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Looks like I'll be on the detour as my annual ride is the week of July 4...
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Old 05-23-17, 08:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Squeezebox View Post
My guess is it will be very crowded.??
I anticipate having to share a hiker/biker site with another tent or two. The only place I would consider crowded is Great Falls on a nice weekend. Other than that, you can go for miles without seeing anyone.
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Old 05-23-17, 09:27 AM
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Just did solo northbound from Whites Ferry to OhioPyle in 3 days starting Saturday and ending yesterday. I was supposed to be riding right now and get off in West Newton today but I had to get picked up last night in Ohioplye for a family emergency. PawPaw tunnel was open on Sunday. It was my first time so I have nothing to compare relative conditions with and others opinions may very. In my opinion, the toepath and railtrail was in awesome condition, I was averaging 14.5 mph "moving" speed for most of the way on the canal. I went though several areas that were chunky hardpack that I could see as being mud if there was a lot of rain. Based on my perception of the popularity of the trail I think there was eerily very few people out on the trail except for Cumberland and Ohioplye and almost all of them were going southbound. Example.. I did the entire climb out of Cumberland to the divide and only saw one group of two people (broke down, I gave them my spare tube), a lone hiker, and a group right at the top. There were points I could go an hour+ and see nothing but squirrels. Maybe Memorial weekend will be different.

Last edited by u235; 05-23-17 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 05-23-17, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by u235 View Post
Just did northbound Whites Ferry to OhioPyle in 3 days ending last night. PawPaw tunnel was open on Sunday. It was my first time so I have nothing to compare relative conditions with and others opinions may very. In my opinion, the toepath and railtrail was in awesome condition, I was averaging 14.5 mph "moving" speed for most of the way on the canal. Based on my perception of the popularity of the trail I think there was eerily very few people out on the trail except for Cumberland and Ohioplye and almost all of them were going southbound. Example.. I did the entire climb out of Cumberland to the divide and only saw one group of two people (broke down, I gave them my spare tube), a lone hiker, and a group right at the top. There were points I could go 10-15 miles and see no one. Maybe Memorial weekend will be different.
That's great news! Thanks for the update. You'll see the greatest number of people out on weekends in the fall, but the rest of the year, that's pretty typical. More people near the towns along the route, but in between, you almost have it to yourself and the wildlife.
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Old 05-23-17, 10:28 AM
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I'm riding uphill (dc-pgh) 3rd week of September looks like I will be riding the detour. Sounds like a better alternative than the last time I rode through there 4 years ago when you had to drag your bike over a steep narrow trail to bypass the tunnel.
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Old 05-25-17, 09:19 AM
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Pulling the plug on this trip. It's been raining on and off for the last few days in DC, and even more so in Western Maryland. More rain predicted for the weekend. I can basically hop on the train after work on any Friday and be in Cumberland by 7 pm. Ride a couple hours and set up camp. Not going to ride for three days in the mud. Not sure what Plan B is.
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Old 05-27-17, 09:23 PM
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Oh well, can't blame you for not wanting to risk lots of mud. C&O near DC seems to drain fairly quickly but don't know about the outer parts.
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Old 05-29-17, 07:42 PM
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Went on a day trip to Hancock, MD today to ride the Western Maryland Rail Trail with family. It's about 75 miles from where I live, so just over an hour's drive. The paved trail was still covered in wet leaves in many places. Saw a bike tourer riding by, and his entire backside, bike and panniers were covered in mud. No fenders, of course. Pretty sure I made the right call in not going this weekend. In the last week, it rained nearly every day, and for substantial periods some days. I'll wait for a dry weekend.
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Old 05-31-17, 08:51 PM
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Sounds like a fun family ride, hadn't heard of the Western Maryland Rail Trail before. Have you guys tried the Williamsburg-Richmond Virginia Capital Trail? I haven't rode it yet but it's smooth & flat, 82 km/51 mi length could be nice 2-day ride round-trip with fitter kids or w/little kids shorten up the ride.
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Old 06-01-17, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by DropBarFan View Post
Sounds like a fun family ride, hadn't heard of the Western Maryland Rail Trail before. Have you guys tried the Williamsburg-Richmond Virginia Capital Trail? I haven't rode it yet but it's smooth & flat, 82 km/51 mi length could be nice 2-day ride round-trip with fitter kids or w/little kids shorten up the ride.
The WMRT parallels the C&O for its length of 20 miles, with Hancock in the middle, which has a couple restaurants and shops. Hancock is a popular place to overnight on the canal. I always take a respite from the towpath for the smooth pavement. Western Maryland Rail Trail, Hancock Maryland

I was in Williamsburg this spring and rode to Jamestown and back, but haven't ridden the trail from Richmond yet. May do it soon, but the biggest issue is the traffic from D.C. south, which on weekends is usually horrendous.
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Old 06-01-17, 08:06 AM
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...mud...
...mud...
...mud...
I've seen well backed arguments that the lowest lifecycle cost (maintenance) and lowest environmental impact surface (erosion, widening around low spots) for a well used trail/path/road is a raised, crowned & drained hard surface.

Has the NPS ever floated hard surfacing the C&O? Something like a polymer soil stabilized surface could be sensitive to the history/environment/aesthetic of the path.

I know, I know, all it takes is money.

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Old 06-01-17, 08:35 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
I've seen well backed arguments that the lowest lifecycle cost (maintenance) and lowest environmental impact surface (erosion, widening around low spots) for a well used trail/path/road is a raised, crowned & drained hard surface.

Has the NPS ever floated hard surfacing the C&O? Something like a polymer soil stabilized surface could be sensitive to the history/environment/aesthetic of the path.

I know, I know, all it takes is money.
Areas that have been resurfaced in the last few years are in pretty good shape and drain well. Many areas I ride close to home have been redone recently and are not a problem after it rains. I think a better technique has been developed within the past several years, using finely crushed stone and a thicker, more compacted layer, and most importantly, no dirt. But, there are still close in sections that become immediately muddy and do not appear to be a priority. Resurfacing outlying areas is a work in progress. The muddy areas are considered to be "self healing," which means after they dry and are used for a period of time, they become smooth again. So I would guess in the next decade the entire towpath will be resurfaced, which will be a huge improvement. In the meantime, it's part of the charm.
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Old 06-01-17, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
In the meantime, it's part of the charm.
Of course, you live nearby and can decide whether or not to ride the C&O on a given weekend (re: this thread). Nearly all of the rest of us would need to plan a trip long before we'd know the immediately preceding weather.
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Old 06-01-17, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
I've seen well backed arguments that the lowest lifecycle cost (maintenance) and lowest environmental impact surface (erosion, widening around low spots) for a well used trail/path/road is a raised, crowned & drained hard surface.

Has the NPS ever floated hard surfacing the C&O? Something like a polymer soil stabilized surface could be sensitive to the history/environment/aesthetic of the path.

I know, I know, all it takes is money.
My opinion.... Stick with what it is, if you don't want to get dirty, time your ride if you can or just plan to get dirty. . If portions of the C&O is too muddy for you, drive to Cumberland/Frostburg and do the PA portion of the rail trail.
I've ridden many community paths through the woods that were paved. Seems like a great idea but... In a short amount of time, the pavement cracks up and you get HUGE steep bumps from roots. It would have been better if they just left it gravel. Another one. My county has a lot of 8 foot wide asphalt trails that are next to major roads. They were in great condition for probably 10 years. Recently they came through to "fix" areas with cracks and gaps. Now there are tons of what are effectively 1 foot wide speed bumps. In the past few months they are starting to sink in getting better but... the cracks and gaps were better then the speed bumps. I often see dedicated roadies skipping the designated path and just riding on the adjacent 4 lane road. I know I am looking at those trails selfishly from only a biking perspective but I know that walking, running, or pushing a stroller over those huge bumps isn't a nice thing either, even worse in the fall when the bumps and root mountains are hidden by leaves. The answer to the muddy areas is if possible fix the underlying drainage problem as much as possible, put down course gravel and put finer on top. It seems they only really maintain with a top coat gravel which washes away.

Last edited by u235; 06-01-17 at 09:59 AM.
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Old 06-01-17, 02:29 PM
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Originally Posted by u235 View Post
My opinion.... Stick with what it is; if you don't want to get dirty, time your ride if you can or just plan to get dirty. .
"Good Roads!" - 19th Century Wheelmen
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Old 06-01-17, 08:33 PM
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Originally Posted by u235 View Post
My opinion.... Stick with what it is, if you don't want to get dirty, time your ride if you can or just plan to get dirty. . If portions of the C&O is too muddy for you, drive to Cumberland/Frostburg and do the PA portion of the rail trail.
I've ridden many community paths through the woods that were paved. Seems like a great idea but... In a short amount of time, the pavement cracks up and you get HUGE steep bumps from roots. It would have been better if they just left it gravel. Another one. My county has a lot of 8 foot wide asphalt trails that are next to major roads. They were in great condition for probably 10 years. Recently they came through to "fix" areas with cracks and gaps. Now there are tons of what are effectively 1 foot wide speed bumps. In the past few months they are starting to sink in getting better but... the cracks and gaps were better then the speed bumps. I often see dedicated roadies skipping the designated path and just riding on the adjacent 4 lane road. I know I am looking at those trails selfishly from only a biking perspective but I know that walking, running, or pushing a stroller over those huge bumps isn't a nice thing either, even worse in the fall when the bumps and root mountains are hidden by leaves. The answer to the muddy areas is if possible fix the underlying drainage problem as much as possible, put down course gravel and put finer on top. It seems they only really maintain with a top coat gravel which washes away.
Good points, if path is paved one tends to speed up & then bumpy sections are even worse. My local paved bike paths have a lot of under-maintained sections. DC C&O has a short concrete section which is bumpier than the regular gravel part. Fixing C&O is a challenge even with money: canal side is inherently vulnerable to erosion & moving back trees & banks on the outside might be unpopular due to altering the leafy semi-natural condition.
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Old 06-01-17, 08:51 PM
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Originally Posted by DropBarFan View Post
Good points, if path is paved one tends to speed up & then bumpy sections are even worse. My local paved bike paths have a lot of under-maintained sections. DC C&O has a short concrete section which is bumpier than the regular gravel part. Fixing C&O is a challenge even with money: canal side is inherently vulnerable to erosion & moving back trees & banks on the outside might be unpopular due to altering the leafy semi-natural condition.

In my opinion, the C&O is a mixed bag with varying conditions. that is what I want and makes it fun! I've only taken it from Whites Ferry north and that was on purpose. I enjoyed the C&O more then the PA side to the burgh portion which I thought was boring although I was getting sore (another unrelated thread here).

I don't know if you are from the DC/NOVA area but I've taken the Fairfax CCT from Occoquan to Pickets and back many times. Same mixed bag but there are some sections of asphalt that are are severally rooted and it is brutal. I'd rather have mud, gravel and roots than that.

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Old 06-01-17, 09:41 PM
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Originally Posted by u235 View Post
In my opinion, the C&O is a mixed bag with varying conditions. In my opinion, that is what I want and makes it fun! I've only taken it from Whites Ferry north and that was on purpose. I enjoyed the C&O more then the PA side to the burgh portion which I thought was boring although I was getting sore (another unrelated thread here).

I don't know if you are from the DC/NOVA area but I've taken the Fairfax CCT from Occoquan to Pickets and back many times. Same mixed bag but there are some sections of asphalt that are are severally rooted and it is brutal. I'd rather have mud, gravel and roots than that.
I agree the GAP gets a bit tedious after a while, but you have to admit the path surface itself is unparalleled. Perhaps it gets boring because you aren't constantly entertained by the uneven surface of the C&O. I ride the paved CCT and MVT almost every day, and the only way to deal with the harsh root ridges is with wider, softer tires.
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Old 06-02-17, 07:54 PM
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Just saw that the Paw Paw tunnel is now closed and blocked off, supposedly until at least September. C&O riders take note! There is a detour. See link below.

See https://www.nps.gov/choh/learn/news/...paw-tunnel.htm
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Old 06-02-17, 09:59 PM
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Originally Posted by u235 View Post
In my opinion, the C&O is a mixed bag with varying conditions. that is what I want and makes it fun! I've only taken it from Whites Ferry north and that was on purpose. I enjoyed the C&O more then the PA side to the burgh portion which I thought was boring although I was getting sore (another unrelated thread here).

I don't know if you are from the DC/NOVA area but I've taken the Fairfax CCT from Occoquan to Pickets and back many times. Same mixed bag but there are some sections of asphalt that are are severally rooted and it is brutal. I'd rather have mud, gravel and roots than that.
I'm in NOVA. Thanks for the CCT tip--had assumed it was basically only for hiking, didn't know it was good for biking too. Have ridden down to Occoquan a few times on the road, trail would be an interesting challenge. BTW I see it's officially the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail
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Old 06-03-17, 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by DropBarFan View Post
I'm in NOVA. Thanks for the CCT tip--had assumed it was basically only for hiking, didn't know it was good for biking too. Have ridden down to Occoquan a few times on the road, trail would be an interesting challenge. BTW I see it's officially the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail
It's confusing the first time on the southern end and I made some wrong turns. It's a grouping of smaller neighborhood paths and there are some temp detours. The trail is marked in some places literally with spray paint arrows on the ground but great fun overall once you know where to go. Some spots are better then others but I make it fine and comfortable on my gravel bike with 40c. I usually detour off the gravel and do some singletrack loops in Wakefield by 495. The round trip from Occoquan to Pickets road is about 40 miles.

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