Several notes about the trail: flashlights are recommended but not necessary; port-a-johns and water is available at trailhead as well as along the path. ADA picnic tables along the route make a good resting or picnic spot.
Begin the hike from the far left end of the parking lot where signs direct you up a slight hill to the towpath. About half of the trail is wheelchair accessible. If handicapped, expect a stiff upward jaunt over some rough trail before reaching the smooth, wide path.
Across from the parking area, you can't help but notice the broad field used by primitive campers. These pleasant sites have picnic tables, grills, and quick access to the Potomac River. At the far end of the camping area you'll see the historic home once occupied by the tunnel master. It is not open for tours.
Once you make the small incline onto the path, be sure to note that this trail is a continuation frequented by mountain bikers. The short half-mile walk to the tunnel is a pleasant and very easy stroll paralleling the former canal. Shallow water rests in the depression fueling water plants, mosquitoes and a variety of reptiles. Bug spray is a welcome accompaniment. A variety of greenery graces both sides of the trail with a sprinkling of towering pine amid the primarily hardwood forest. Once you reach the tunnel, you'll discover what a fabulous engineering feat it was, having been built between 1836 and 1850. The amazing structure is 3,118 feet long, with an interior lined with bricks that experience a constant trickling of water from the earth's natural springs. If the darkness doesn't envelope you, the dampness surely will. A period handrail offers assistance as you venture into the depths of the 1.1-mile tunnel. Flashlights are recommended but it is possible to do without. At the tunnel entrance, notice the staircase that frames the tunnel. Also, notice the trail on the right that enters from the hillside. This is your return route re-entering the main path. Also, an ADA picnic table, port-a-john, views of the Potomac and a broad flat area is a nice place to relax and enjoy the quiet. A few passing cars occasionally interrupt the silence otherwise broken by birdsong. Once you venture through the tunnel, head north over a boardwalk then back on the towpath. Begin making the return loop at 1.4 miles making a hairpin switchback. Before ascending the hill, take time to explore the canal where wildlife scurrys, flutters about, and evidence of the former canal works can be easily viewed. As you head up the hill, follow the orange blazes found on the trees about 0.5 mile gaining approximately 350 feet. Several vistas are enjoyed on the way up including a western view of Green Ridge Mountain. At 2.1 miles, several trails converge. Follow the trail leading left, which descends into the woods and along the hill's ridge then weaves along several switchbacks. At 2.4 miles, you'll be rewarded with more views including those of the Potomac River, the tiny burg of Paw Paw, and sights into West Virginia. You'll re-enter the beginning of the trail at 2.6 miles near the ADA picnic site. Retrace your steps along the broad towpath back to the parking lot.
Directions: From Cumberland, MD, Travel east on MD State Route 51 about 25 miles to the tunnel trailhead parking lot located on the left hand side of the road. The trail begins at the back of the lot.
Elevation: 600 feet
Elevation Gain: 350 feet
Distance: 3 miles
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Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Maryland
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