Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park: Swains Lock to Great Falls - Backpacker

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park: Swains Lock to Great Falls

This storied trail used to be all work; now it's all play for hikers and bikers interested in historic buildings and DC's most famous waterfall.
Publish date:

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 4.9



Location: 39.03125, -77.2435607910156

Go L across C&O Canal footbridge and head S on C&O Trail past Lock Keeper's House and boat launch. This waterway was once the transit line for coal, lumber, and grain


Location: 39.0286712646484, -77.2417831420898

Peer through the trees to the placid waters of the Potomac River on R


Location: 39.0230102539062, -77.2375411987305

Pump station feeds a reservoir that serves as the Capital's water cache


Location: 39.0190086364746, -77.2377700805664

Continue S; the masonry of the canal stretches ahead


Location: 39.0096702575684, -77.2431106567383

Mile 15 marker (noting distance from start in DC)


Location: 39.006763458252, -77.2448501586914

Light runoff of Limekiln Branch comes in from the E


Location: 39.0010108947754, -77.2487564086914

Keep straight @ bridge to Great Falls Tavern across canal lock 20; pass the Great Falls Tavern, long a DC landmark spared damage during Civil War-era skirmishes and once a lively saloon/hotel for canalgoers


Location: 38.9985504150391, -77.2481994628906

Canal Boat and Lock 19


Location: 38.9966812133789, -77.2482299804688

Turn R @ 3-way for Great Falls Overlook Trail


Location: 38.9967384338379, -77.251953125

Olmstead Island gives a bird's-eye view of jagged bedrock @ Great Falls, a series of several cascades. More: Download other dayhikes along the canal at

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