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The Playground in Potomac's Backyard

What the C&O National Park offers for summer fun.

— George Washington surveyed it. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas saved it from becoming a super-highway. John Quincy Adams broke ground for it on July 4, 1828. The Armies of the North and the South considered the control of it an important milestone in the Civil War.

The C&O Canal is a part of U.S. history and also of the history of Potomac. Many residents explore it time after time, learning something new each time they visit. They might spot an unusual bird, or enjoy listening to the thunder of the waters after a deluge of rain.

Potomac residents love exploring the many trails or invading the rapids with a kayak and some are even energetic enough to bike from Georgetown all the way to Cumberland — or even on to Pittsburgh.

In 1924, the C&O Canal ceased operation and in 1971, the C&O National Historical Park was established, preserving the beauty, the historical remains and the natural setting for animals, for people and for future generations. Each year, over 4 million visitors come to the canal to explore its natural beauty, to enjoy the wildlife and to enjoy playing in nature’s wonderland — a place to bike, hike, kayak, rock climb, walk, paint, take pictures and picnic.

It is just minutes from Potomac Village but it feels like a different world when venturing down the two-mile hill into the park.

Here’s some entertaining ways to experience the park with family and friends during the summer:

CANAL QUARTERS

Go back to the time of locktenders and boatmen moving cargo down the Potomac River through the canal. Spend the night in a historic Canal Quarters Lockhouse. Some are rustic with no electricity or running water (it’s very dark on the canal without lights); others have the comforts of power and indoor plumbing. All the lockhouses have been restored and furnished in furniture from significant eras in the canal’s history. To find out more or to register, go to www.canalquarters.org or call 301-745-8888.

CANAL DISCOVERIES

When in the park, visitors can access special C&O locations, called “discoveries,” on their own personal mobile device? Each discovery, narrated by a National Park Service ranger, includes nearby points of interest, a photo gallery of historic and contemporary photos, links to videos and podcasts — and driving directions. Discover places like Paw Paw Tunnel, Four Locks, Point of Rocks and more.

GREAT FALLS MULE DRAWN BOAT RIDES

The Charles E. Mercer is a replica of an 1870’s canal boat. Experience the thrill of rising eight feet in a lock and listen to stories about the life of those who lived and worked on the canal, told by rangers in period clothing. On Saturday and Sunday, the boat rides take place at 11 a.m., 1:30 and 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, the boat leaves at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children and $6 for seniors.

HIKING TRAILS

Besides the well-known and loved Billy Goat Trail, there are scores of other trails to explore.

A park ranger recommended the Gold Mine Loop (interesting because gold was mined from 1867 – 1939 by the Maryland Mine in this tract), the Olmstead Island Bridges (spectacular views) and the Woodland Trail.

TAKE TO THE WATER IN A ROWBOAT, CANOE OR KAYAK

Drive or bike to Fletcher’s Boat House or to White’s Ferry (near Poolesville) and rent a rowboat, canoe or kayak for a few hours. Visitors can rent fishing gear and buy bait and tackle for an angler’s adventure. The cost for most boats is about $14 per hour or about $30 per day. www.fletcherscove.com or www.whitesferry.com.

VISIT THE GREAT FALLS TAVERN VISITOR

The Great Falls Tavern has a long history of hospitality to visitors coming from both the land and the river. It was opened in 1831 as both a tavern and an inn for the many visitors who traveled up and down the Potomac River. It also became a weekend destination in the summer, away from crowded, humid Washington D.C. Now the Visitor Center offers ranger-led walks and talks, exhibits and short films on canal and local history and the geology of the Great Falls of the Potomac. It also features mannequins of locktenders, boatmen and their wives and children with historical stories about each.

BECOME A C&O VOLUNTEER

Whether interested in living history, bike patrolling, park maintenance, or staffing a visitor center, the C&O Canal has many volunteer jobs. Go to www.chohvip.org for news and events in the park’s volunteer program. Register to be a volunteer at http://www.nps.gov/choh/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm.