It was a day to go outside. The C&O Canal in the Carderock Recreation Area was the destination. Turns out, we also discovered the Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River. As much as I love winter and long for a beautiful peaceful snowfall, we embraced the warm December day and headed out on the backroads of Maryland.

C&O Canal – A Bit of History

The best way I can describe the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is that it was a man-made waterway on which cargo canal boats transported goods and coal. The original game plan was to construct a canal that would connect the tidewaters of the Potomac River with the headwaters of the Ohio River in Pennsylvania. A total distance of 185 miles.

One of the locks on the C&O Canal. The towpath runs alongside the canal and the Potomac River is to the left of the towpath. A great place to take a good long walk or ride a bicycle.

Considering the canal project began in 1825, it’s extraordinary that so much of the canal is still standing. The canal is compromised of 74 locks, 11 stone aqueducts, 7 dams and a 3,000+ foot tunnel that runs through a shale rock formation. Of course that is a very oversimplified description. Suffice it to say it is well-worth visiting as it really was an impressive feat of engineering.

Another view of the lock. Quite ingenious for the time. Can you guess who started the original Potomac Company?
Great Falls National Park

As I mentioned, the C&O Canal runs alongside the Potomac River. And, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, one can visit Great Falls National Park. We visited the park back in 2017 (seems so long ago) and guess what we found?

This is an excerpt from our post about Great Falls:

  • George Washington envisioned a systems of canals that would allow the transportation and trade of goods between the east and the Ohio Valley, which would in effect tie the country together.  A series of five canals were constructed in order to navigate the Potomac River.  Where the river could not be navigated, at the point of the Great Falls and rapids, locks were built. The design and construction of the canals and locks took place between 1785 – 1802 and the canals were in use for 26 years transporting flour, corn, whiskey, etc. 
The remnants of the canal engineered by George Washington over 230 years ago!

The C&O Canal was significant to the economic growth of the region, and as such exploring the canals is well-worth the time and effort. If history isn’t exactly your thing, the Potomac River is beautiful and it is a great place to get outside for a big dose of fresh air and exercise.

Speaking of the Potomac River… while we were walking the towpath and exploring the canal, we came across the Billy Goat “C” Trail. Ya gotta love the name.

C&O Canal
The towpath entrance to Billy Goat Trail.
Billy Goat Trail

At just 1.6 miles it’s a fun trail that skirts right alongside the bank of the river. As we understand it, there are three sections of the Billy Goat Trail, A, B, and C. We found C. On our next outing we’ll be heading to the Maryland side of Great Falls National Park which is where sections A and B are located. Maybe we’ll see a Billy Goat on the trail!

I suspect, the name Billy Goat originates from the climbs in sections A and B, because C was relatively easy. There are a couple of spots where one has to do some rock hopping to get across little steams falling in to the river, but overall it’s a comfortable hike. It doesn’t get much better than hiking right alongside the Potomac.

If You Go:
  • Visiting Carderock Recreation Area, walking the towpath, exploring the C&O Canal and hiking the Billy Goat Trail is a fun day trip from Washington, DC. There is so much more to visiting the DMV region than most visitors realize.
  • There are two parking lots near the pavilion and picnic areas, which by the way are very nice for social distancing. Once off the main road and just past the entrance sign, one can turn right to park (that is where the restrooms are) or one can turn left to park, which is the end or beginning of the Billy Goat Trail as it is a loop.
  • Once parked, walk back to the entrance and look for the gravel towpath, which is off to the right. This path will follow the canal. You can either keep walking for a nice long walk, or you can veer off at the entrance to Billy Goat Trail.
  • There is ample parking in off season, however I suspect on the weekends and during the summer months, parking may be challenging.

So, did you figure out who started the original Potomac Company?

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