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Bike the Entire C&O Canal: One of America’s Most Distinctive National Parks

Program Number: 18629RJ
Start and End Dates:
4/7/2013 - 4/12/2013; 6/14/2015 - 6/19/2015; 9/20/2015 - 9/25/2015; 5/1/2016 - 5/6/2016; 6/19/2016 - 6/24/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Sharpsburg, Maryland
Price starting at: $968.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Bicycling; National Parks Activity Level: n (see description)
Meals: 15; 5 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 5 Dinners    
Meal Options: Low Fat; Vegetarian; Low Salt    

Tackle all 185 miles of the C & O Canal Towpath, a route teeming with history as it makes its way along the Potomac River Basin from Washington, D.C. through Civil War sites and forgotten hamlets to Cumberland, Md., the first gateway to the West.


• Delve into Chesapeake and Ohio Canal history as you ride along what remains of this engineering wonder.
• Enjoy a narrated canal boat ride that demonstrates the working of the locks and towing systems.
• Stop to explore on your own at Civil War crossing sites, Harpers Ferry and other small towns.

Activity Particulars

Biking 30-50 miles, up to six hours per day. The terrain is generally flat, but on an unpaved trail where some sections are bumpy and may become muddy in wet weather. Bicycles (hybrid 21-speed), helmets and mechanical assistance are provided. Participants should be active cyclists. However, everyone is allowed to enjoy the bike ride and scenery as they wish. We encourage everyone to go at their own pace.

The C&O canal is 184.5 miles long. The program is based at Shepherd’s Spring which is located in the middle, so biking the canal requires a bit of driving on any given day. Sag wagons (typically 15 passenger vans) will take you and your bike to the starting point each day. They will also pick up all bikers and bikes at the end of the day. NOTE: For a less strenuous biking experience, you may consider program #13306, Biking the C&O Canal Towpath, which offers a slightly easier level of daily bicycling activities along the canal, with an activity level of Moderately Challenging.

Date Specific Information


Meet the mules at Great Falls while the Canal Boat remains in dry dock.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Sharpsburg, 2 nights; bike to Hancock, 1 night; bike to Sharpsburg, 2 nights; departure.

Coordinated by Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center.


Situated at the narrowest part of Maryland (Pennsylvania and West Virginia are less than two miles apart), Hancock is best known as home to a section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which connects the town to the Revolutionary War-era Fort Frederick State Park.


Sharpsburg lies east of the Potomac River near one of its tributaries, Antietam Creek, made famous by the pivotal Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War. Sharpsburg is part of Maryland’s Washington County, which attracts history fans with its numerous Civil War sites and nature buffs with its many national, state and local parks.

Four nights in modern lodge; one night in newly remodeled motel. For information, call or go to website.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Paul McDermott

Paul McDermott has taught geography and cartography at schools including George Mason and the University of Maryland. His research interests include the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, on which he co-produced a four-map series. Paul was the academic consultant for two US Postal Service Stamps — The Louisana Purchase and the Earth Day 1972. He has been a visiting scholar to the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, and is a consultant to the Lewis and Clark Rediscovery Project in Montana. His current endeavors include an ever expanding list of award-winning books to which he has authored or contributed.
Karen Gray

Karen Gray worked for 20 years creating educational adventures for the Smithsonian in the mid-Atlantic region. In 2001, she moved Hagerstown because of her love for Western Maryland and Washington County's position midway along the C&O Canal's 184.5 miles. She took interest in the canal while hiking the towpath in 1977 and has been walking in the park and researching the history of the canal and the Potomac route west ever since.
Randy Anderson

Randy Anderson has lived his entire life in or near Williamsport, Md., which is at roughly mile 100 of the 185-mile C&O Canal Towpath. A train enthusiast, he has photographed in the Williamsport area extensively, using the same angles as historical photos of trains and the C&O Canal. Randy's multi-screen presentation allows us to simultaneously see the historical and present-day sites.
Meals and Lodgings
   Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
  Sharpsburg, MD 2 nights
   Super 8
  Hancock, MD 1 night
   Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
  Sharpsburg, MD 2 nights
 Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
Type: Conference Center
  Description: Situated at mile 83 along the C&O national park canal towpath, Shepherd's Spring has 220 acres of woodland and rolling meadows. Hiking trails and a natural spring are on the property. We are one of few host sites in the nation for a Heifer International Global Village.
  Contact info: 16869 Taylors Landing Road
Sharpsburg, MD 21782 USA
phone: 301-223-8193
  Room amenities: Rooms are simple and comfortable and include a luggage rack, dresser, desk, chair, and futon. Telephone and television are available in the common areas but not in rooms. Each room has its own private bathroom along with individually controlled heating and air conditioning. Linens are provided, though there is no maid service during the program.
  Facility amenities: Comfortable rooms, with the distraction of TV and telephones only in the common areas. A free basic wireless internet access is available in the common area also. Free parking available on site.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Additional nights prior: $45/ room Call ahead for availability at (301) 223-8193
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: $45/ room Call ahead for availability at (301) 223-8193
  Check out time: 1:00 PM

 Super 8
Type: Motel
  Contact info: 118 Limestone Rd
Hancock, MD 21750 USA
phone: 301-678-6101
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
2 p.m., at the Conference Center. You will be staying at Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center that night.
  End of Program:
12:30 p.m., at the Conference Center. You will be staying at Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Health form, Bicycle questionaire
  Parking availability:
Free parking at Shepherd's Spring.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Sharpsburg, MD
  Nearest city or town:  Sharpsburg, Hagerstown
  Nearest highway: I-70, I-81
  Nearest airport:  Baltimore Washington International
  From End of Program
  Location: Sharpsburg, MD
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details



From Airport




Hotel Shuttle
phone: 301-223-8193
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$75, discount for additional riders
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


1 1/2 - 2 hours 




approximately 70 miles


Easy access to and from 3 major airports - Baltimore/ Washington (BWI), Dulles International (IAD) and Reagan National. Flight service now available to Hagerstown Regional Airport from BWI - reduced rate of $25 for Hagerstown pickups.




From Bus Terminal




Hotel Shuttle
phone: 301-223-8193
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$25 per person, discount for additional riders
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


20 minutes 




12 miles


Service to and from Greyhound Bus Terminal in Hagerstown, MD




From Train Station




Hotel Shuttle
phone: 301-223-8193
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$45 per person, discount for additional riders
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


30 minutes 




22 miles


Service to and from the Amtrak station in Martinsburg, WV

Driving Directions
  From Baltimore/Washington Area Take I-70 West to the Route 65 interchange in Hagerstown (Exit 29.) Travel South on Route 65 for 7.1 miles to Taylors Landing Road - turn right onto Taylors Landing Rd. and drive 2.2 miles. You will cross a railroad track, pass houses, and then veer to the right. Stay on Taylors Landing Road. Drive along side a dry canal bed, and eventually cross a small creek. Pass 2 houses on the left, continue to the top of the hill. Look for a big sign on the left that says "Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministries Center Church of the Brethren." Turn left onto the paved driveway. The lodge is 7/10th of a mile from the end of the driveway. From Virginia-West: Go North on I-81 to I-70 east, to Rt. 65, and then follow above directions from where it says "Travel South on Rt. 65 for 7.1 miles..." From Virginia-East: Take I-495 to 270N to Frederick. Take I-70 W to Route 65, and then follow above directions from where it says "Travel South on Rt. 65 for 7.1 miles..." From Pennsylvania: Travel South on I-81 to I-70 East, to Rt. 65 South. Then follow the above directions from where it says "Travel South on Rt. 65 for 7.1 miles..."
Equipment Requirements: 21 speed hybrid bicycles are provided. If personal bicycles are used, a spare tire and repair kit should also be included. Bikes may be shipped toShepherd's Spring, 16869 Taylors Landing Rd, Sharpsburg, MD 21782 (allow 2 weeks)
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Arrival/ Registration/ Bike Fittings
(Sunday, April 7)
 Arrive To: Arrive at Shepherd's Spring Conference Center Lobby between 2 and 4 pm to get rooming assignment and detailed information about the ride. Bike selections and helmet fittings takes place at 4pm so bikes can be loaded for Monday's ride.
 Dinner: Enjoy dinner served buffet style with a wonderful salad bar and tasty dessert in the Lodge dining room
 Evening: Get acquainted with fellow riders, rules of the trail, and your ride guides. Introduction to the C & O Canal National Park by local park historian. Time for questions and answers on the Park and the ride.
Accommodations: Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Bicycling to Harpers Ferry, then on to Brunswick, ending at Edward's Ferry (40 miles for the day)
(Monday, April 8)
 Breakfast: Hot breakfast buffet including fresh fruit, and cereal selections in the Shepherd's Spring dining room.
 Morning: Bicycle from Dargan to Harpers Ferry. Take time to briefly explore historic Harpers Ferry - home of John Brown's fort, Storer College and the first interchangeable parts gun factory in the young nation. Bicycle on to the lunch stop in the historic railroad town of Brunswick (22 miles)
 Lunch: Enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch at the Brunswick Family Campground
 Afternoon: The afternoon rides takes us past the quaint, scenic train station in Point of Rocks, then on to the restored 7 arch Monocacy Aqueduct, the largest on the canal. The ride ends today at Edwards Ferry (18miles)
 Dinner: Enjoy buffet style dinner in the Shepherd's Spring Dining Room
 Evening: Discover how the canal became a National Park with an evening lecture by canal expert and enthusiast Karen Gray
Accommodations: Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Cumberland Terminus to Little Orleans bicycling (44 miles)
(Tuesday, April 9)
 Breakfast: Enjoy Hot buffet breakfast in the Shepherd's Spring dining room. Pack an overnight bag to take along for this one night out on the trail.
 Morning: Travel by van to the terminus of the Canal in Cumberland, MD. Time to explore the C &O Museum while the bicycles are unloaded and readied for departure. Begin today's ride with a scenic departure from the Queen City, traveling through Mexico Farms and Spring Gap on our way to a lovely picnic lunch at Oldtown, site of the only private owned bridge across the Potomac River.
 Lunch: Enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch along the Canal at Oldtown.
 Afternoon: The afternoon ride includes walking your bicycle through the Paw Paw tunnel (flashlights provided for your safety), an engineering marvel of the canal. Wildflowers line the path beyond the tunnel on this secluded portion of the canal. Continue bicycling to Little Orleans (33 miles) - home of Bill's - the only place in town! The transportation team will get us to Hancock for the night.
 Dinner: Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant after a quick shower at the hotel.
 Evening: Enjoy a relaxing evening at the hotel after a full day of trail riding.
Accommodations: Super 8
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Bicycle from Little Orleans, over the 110 ft single arch Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct, pass Hancock and end in Williamsport (53 miles)
(Wednesday, April 10)
 Breakfast: Enjoy continental breakfast in the hotel lobby. Gather your things for the return to Shepherd's Spring accommodations this evening.
 Morning: Bicycle from Little Orleans (yesterday's end point), across another single arch aqueduct, past cement mill ruins and into Hancock - a town shaped by the Canal. Our next section includes a short side trip to Ft. Frederick, the nation's only Revolutionary period stone fort. Picnic lunch is served at McCoy's Ferry (30 miles)
 Lunch: Enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch at McCoy's Ferry
 Afternoon: Our afternoon ride goes past the Four Locks area, where mule barns and locks created a small canal community. Then onward to slackwater, crossover bridge remains and Dam #5. Canal boats used the river in the slackwater and mules walked the edge of the riverbank - in places supplemented with a narrow plank walkway where the rocky cliffs met the river. Then on to Williamsport and the Cushwa Basin. See the Conococheague Aqueduct with one wall missing from a mishap with a canal boat, then pass an unique railroad lift bridge, a restored lock and lock house, on your way to McMahon's Mill, the end of today's ride. (23 miles) It is only a short ride from here via van (8 miles) back to Shepherd's Spring.Restoration work on the slackwater area above Dam #4 is scheduled to be completed which may change our itinerary slightly for this day. If time permits, a short guided tour of Antietam National Battlefield will be included before dinner.
 Dinner: Enjoy buffet style dinner in the Shepherd's Spring Dining room with a full salad bar and tempting dessert.
 Evening: Enjoy a slide show presentation of some of today's scenery as it looked during the operation of the canal with the same photographs taken in recent years. You'll recognize many of the sites from today's ride. Randy Anderson helps us understand the relationship of the nearby railroads and the canal.
Accommodations: Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Bicycling from Edwards Ferry to the begining of the Canal in Georgetown, with a mule powered ride on the canal boat in Georgetown. (30 miles for the day)
(Thursday, April 11)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a hot buffet breakfast complete with fruit and cereal selections in the Shepherd's Spring dining room before joining the morning commuter route towards Washington, DC
 Morning: Begin today at Edwards Ferry, bicycling past the great red rock locks of Seneca, and Violet's Lock to Great Falls. Explore the boardwalk trail out to the Great Falls. The unique landscape of the island in the middle of the river, puts you in the midst of the Great Falls and makes the need for a canal system very clear. The engine of the canal boats, mules will meet us just outside the Great Falls Tavern. Park rangers explain their care and talk about working conditions during the canal era. (16 miles)
 Lunch: Enjoy our picnic lunch at Great Falls or Lock #10 depending on weather conditions.
 Afternoon: Continue bicycling into Georgetown, catching glimpses of the Washington monument. The trail today goes under the Washington Beltway, and you may being to notice the traffic noises of the city. At Fletcher's boathouse we transfer to the paved Capital Crescent Trail for the last few miles of the journey. Paralleling the canal, it allows for a safer pickup point under the Whitehurst freeway with views of the Kennedy Center and Watergate Towers that now sit on what was once the start of the canal.
 Dinner: Return to Shepherd's Spring for a wonderful banquet meal on the last evening of the program.
 Evening: Join the local musicians at O'Hurleys General Store in nearby Shepherdstown, WV. Banjos, harp, dulcimer and guitars are blended by some very talented locals into a fun evening of entertainment.
Accommodations: Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Complete the last few miles of the C &O journey before heading home! (20 miles)
(Friday, April 12)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a hot breakfast in the Shepherd's Spring dining room complete with fresh fruit and cereal selections.
 Morning: Finish the journey by bicycling the last 20 miles from Dam #4 to Dargan. We will pass Civil War river crossing sites, caves and high bluffs mixed with farm fields along the berm side of the canal (20 miles).
 Lunch: Back to Shepherd's Spring with time to shower and pack up before a luscious lunch in the dining room. Departure after lunch.
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Free Time Opportunities
  Sharpsburg, MD Antietam National Battlefield
The Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg) on Sept. 17, 1862 greatly altered the course of the American Civil War. It remains as the bloodiest day in American History - there were some 23,110 casualties. Visitors can walk or drive by the Dunker Church, the North and East Woods, The Cornfield, the Mumma Farmstead, Bloody Lane (Sunken Road) Burnside Bridge, and Antietam National Cemetery. Antietam National Battlefield lies north and east of Sharpsburg, along Md. 35 and 65. Both routes intersect either U.S. 40 or 40A and I-70. The Visitor's Center is opening daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. All visitor center facilities and most tour route exhibits are wheelchair accessible. Antietam National Battlefield and Cemetery are adminstered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. P.O. Box 158 Sharpsburg, MD 21782 301-432-5124 For additional information, visit
  Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
The Chesapeake and 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. Today it endures as a national historical park - a pathway into history, nature, and recreation. The canal runs along the Potomac River from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown, Washington DC (184.5 miles) The canal abuts the property line of Shepherd's Spring at Mile Marker 83. It is popular with hikers and bicyclists. For general information about the canal, write: C&O National Historical Park, 1850 Dual Highway, Hagerstown, MD 21740 or call 301-739-4200. For additional information, visit\choh
  Foxcross Pottery
Del Martin, potter, lives and works at Foxcross with his wife, Carol. Their secluded rural home, overlooking the Potomac River, and pottery is both self-constructed and self-sustaining. They invite visitors to come glimpse their work and lifestyle. Foxcross pottery is just 5 minutes from Shepherd's Spring, and is open Saturday from 10 am - 5 pm and Sunday 1 - 5 pm or by appointment. The pottery is lead-free and uses stony reduction glazes. Address: 6640 Remsburg Road Sharpsburg, Md 21782 301-432-6692
  Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
The holdings contain over 6,000 works of art, and the museum is nationally recognized for its collection of 19th and early 20th century American Art. In addition, visitors can view 18th century to contemporary paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts. There are also holding of Old Masters, European, Asian, African, and Native American Art. Hours: Tues - Sat. 10 am - 5 pm, Sun. 1 - 5 pm. Located at 91 Key Street, City Park, Hagerstown, MD email: phone: 301-739-5727 the galleries are fully accessible to those with disabilities and wheelchairs are available. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

The C & O Canal Companion

Author: Mike High

Description: A complete guide to the history of the C &O Canal National Park and its attractions - from cycling and canoeing to hiking the towpath and exploring natural wonders.


Author: James Rada, Jr

Description: A fictitious account of life along the canal during the Civil War years of 1862. Fate takes canal boat captain Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife Alice to hold the family together. With the help of her children and orphan from Cumberland and a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Between Rail and River

Author: James Rada, Jr

Description: A sequel to Rada's "Canawlers", this tale takes the Fitzgerald canal boat family through the long winter of 1862-63 as they struggle to hold a family, canal boat and business together amid the joys and dangers of life on the C &O Canal.

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