The C&O canal offers visitors a chance to step back in time with two unique canal boat ride experiences. I took my youngest children to Great Falls Park in Potomac, Maryland, to ride a historic mule-drawn canal boat. We experienced riding a canal boat up and down the lock, and got a small glimpse of what life must have been like in the late 1800s on the C&O canal.
History of the C&O canal
The C&O canal runs for 184.5 miles and has 74 locks that moved boats up and down the river. Construction of the C&O canal began in 1828, and the canal operated for nearly 100 years. In its peak season, as many as 800 boats navigated the canal. This crowded thoroughfare moved commodities and people up and down the Potomac River Valley at a leisurely pace of about 4 miles per hour.
Tips for the C&O canal boat ride at Great Falls Park
1. Arrive early and explore the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center.
We left for our canal ride promptly at 11:00, and I enjoyed having a few extra minutes beforehand to explore the interesting displays in the visitors center. It is small but well done and worth 15-20 minutes of your time.
2. Plan for a leisurely outing.
Nothing moves quickly on the C&O canal, which is the beauty of this excursion. I immediately noticed how quiet the ride was–no engines, motors, or humming to add noise as the boat moved along the canal. The C&O canal would be a perfect place to come in October to enjoy spectacular fall foliage in a peaceful setting.
The workers on the canal dressed in period costume and told stories of the canal boats. Our guide was delightful and full of knowledge. He spoke to the children as well and made sure they understood the canal system. At the end of the ride, he passed out homemade instruments and let the children participate in their own canal band.
3. Spend time exploring the park and towpath.
Tables are available for picnicking, and there is a small food stand that sells hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. Walk to see Great Falls from the Maryland side just about 15 minutes away from the C&O canal boat ride. The towpath is popular for biking, jogging, or walking.
Good to know
Where: Along the C&O canal near Potomac, Maryland. Purchase tickets at the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center (11710 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac, MD)
How Much: $8/adult, $6/senior (62+), $5/child (ages 4-15). Children three and under ride free.
How Long: The C&O canal boat ride lasts about an hour.
Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, food stand, and historic Great Falls Tavern visitor center.
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington in Washington DC and the Gaylord National in National Harbor Maryland. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews atTripAdvisor or Booking.com.
Save money on your Washington D.C. trip! Learn more about our FREE Travel Deals Email Club HERE.