The Charles F. Mercer at Great Falls
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was the brainchild of George Washington, who dreamed of creating an inland waterway to ferry goods between the Ohio River and Chesapeake Bay. Washington didn’t live long enough to see it come to fruition in 1828, but the C&O Canal touched many lives during the almost 100 years it was in use. Today, C&O Canal National Historical Park is the 11th-most–visited National Park, with more visitors annually than Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon.
The canal’s colorful history is the focus of this excursion, guided by Aidan Barnes, director of programs and partnerships for the C&O Canal Trust, along with other Trust and Park staff. Participants also get a close-up view of the canal’s stunning natural features, tour a rehabilitated lockhouse, and learn about the lives of the lockkeepers, boat captains, and laborers who lived and worked along the canal.
Begin the day at the Great Falls area of C&O Canal National Historical Park. Go back through time and learn what the C&O Canal was, how it operated, and what remains today from that bygone era. See the restored Charles F. Mercer canal boat and the working gates at Lock 20. Take a 1-mile walk to an overlook above the thundering Great Falls of the Potomac River.
After lunch at Great Falls, travel west up the Potomac River to tour the rehabilitated 1830s-era Pennyfield Lockhouse at Lock 22; President Grover Cleveland used to visit the lockhouse to fish, his favorite hobby. Finish the day at the Seneca Creek Aqueduct. The aqueduct and Lock 24 are combined into a single structure, the only place along the canal where such an amalgamation was necessary. The aqueduct and lock are made of Seneca red sandstone quarried just west of the site (the same sandstone was used to build the Smithsonian Castle). Learn about the aqueduct’s history, including the engineering involved, and how boats navigated the canal’s 11 aqueducts.
The C&O Canal Trust works in partnership with C&O Canal National Historical Park to support maintenance and visitor programs.
Know Before You Go
- Registration for this tour will end by 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 1, 2023.
- Smithsonian is a mask-friendly environment. Masks are strongly recommended to be worn on buses at all times and may also be required at various indoor sites.
- For additional tour information: