Lonely Planet review
There are all kinds of green escapes from Washington’s urban jungle, but the C&O is one of the more pleasant, if only because of the unexpected way it leaps out at you. There you are, wandering through the Valley Girl paradise that is Georgetown on a sunny day, and all of a sudden: wooden water wheels, a green canal, shaggy horses, flat-bed barges and a cobbled path running alongside, all so bucolic you expect hobbits to emerge from the bushes with fiddles and ale. The canal, one of the civil engineering feats of the 19th century, runs 185 miles from here to Cumberland, MD, and once brought goods and passengers from the capital to the then-beginning of the American West. Today the canal’s towpath (boats were once hauled by horse) marks the start of a fabulous hiking-cycling trail. Rangers and costumed interpreters are on hand at the visitor center (1057 Thomas Jefferson St NW; 10am-4pm), and rides in old-time boats are also available. If you follow the path out of the city and into Maryland (heads up: this isn’t a casual undertaking as you’ll be heading several miles upstream before you cross the District line), there are many spots to get off the path and venture down to the river – some spots are all rocks and rapids, others calm and sandy holes perfect for a quick dip. With that said, beware: the Potomac has a very strong current.