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C & O Canal (Sp, S, F, W)

General Description

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is a 184-mile hiking and biking trail that runs along the Potomac River from Washington DC, to Cumberland, Maryland. In Washington County, Maryland, it runs from Harpers Ferry, at Milepost 60, to Sideling Hill, at Milepost 136. The towpath trail is flat and well maintained. The terrain is mostly wooded, with some open areas that provide river views. There are many tributaries flowing into the Potomac along the route. The historic C & O Canal contains shallow water in some sections, and there are many ponds along the route. There are several campsites and many parking areas along the trail. Convenient, free access, easy walking, and abundant bird life make the C & O Canal an attractive birding site in all seasons.

Planning Your Visit

Details and maps are available at the National Park Service website at

Seasonal Variations in Birding

Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, Wild Turkeys, Pileated Woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and Barred Owls are among the larger birds that may be seen along the C & O Canal in all seasons.

In spring, the park is alive with songbirds. Many migrating warbler species can be spotted in the trees along the trail. Wood Thrushes and Louisiana Waterthrushes are among the early arrivals. Warbling Vireos, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Northern Parulas, and Yellow-throated Warblers fill the tops of the huge Sycamore trees with song. Prothonatory Warblers arrive to nest in cavities at lower levels. Wood Ducks frequent the river edges.

Through the summer, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees are among the songbirds that nest along the canal.  Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Tree Swallows hunt over the river. Cliff Swallows nest under the bridges and aqueducts. Yellow-billed Cuckoos call from the treetops.

Fall is a good time to see passing raptors and migrant songbirds, and to note the arrival of Brown Creepers, and Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings forage for berries and hunt for insects over the river. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers arrive to spend the winter. Flocks of Tundra Swans sometimes rest on the Potomac River on their way to winter in the Chesapeake Bay.

In winter, flocks of ducks arrive on the Potomac. Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, and other duck species, as well as Canada Geese, congregate in the shallow riffles. Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Winter Wrens, White-breasted Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees are seen along the trail.


There are numerous access points along the C & O Canal towpath, each having unique charms. A good starting point for visitors would be to stop at one of the two Visitor Centers in Washington County, Maryland.

The Williamsport Visitor Center is located at 205 W. Potomac Street near the Route 11 Bridge over the Potomac River.

The Hancock Visitor Center is a 439 E. Main Street near the Route 522 Bridge over the river.

           © 2016 Potomac Valley Audubon Society

              P.O. Box 578 • Shepherdstown, West Virginia 25443
              phone // 304-676-3397

Yankauer Nature Preserve (Berkeley County)
Eidolon Nature Preserve (Morgan County)
Stauffer's Marsh (Berkeley County)
Cool Spring Nature Preserve (Jefferson County)

Kristin Alexander, Executive Director //   304-676-3397

Kimberly Baldwin, Program Director //

Katelyn "KC" Walters, Conservation and Land Manager // 304-283-7319

Krista Hawley, Adult Program Coordinator
// 703-303-1026

Amy Moore, Cool Spring Preserve Manager and Naturalist // 240-818-4714
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