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  • Writer's pictureTim Murphy

C&O Canal Trip: Day 3

Starting Point: Williamsport, MD (99.2 mile marker)

End Point: White's Ferry, MD (36.6 mile marker)

Total: 62.6 miles

It was another gorgeous day on the trail: 70s and sunny the whole way through! I started pedaling around 7:30 this morning and departed from Williamsport. There wasn't much along the way for the first stretch. There were a few locks, some houses, and a really neat guard lock and bridge just outside of Poolesville, MD. But other than that, the first 25 miles logged in the day was nothing but woods and river.

Just past the 73 mile marker, I arrived in Shepherdstown, WV. It was definitely the most bustling canal town I've explored, with a college (Shepherd University), a few museums, and a wonderful downtown district. Sheperdstown was chartered in 1762 and has quite the historic past. James Rumsey, inventor of the steamboat, lived in the town in the mid-1780s. Also, the Battle of Antietam was fought only a couple miles from there, and many homes in the area were made into make-shift hospitals and headquarters.

Shepherd University's main library--the center of the town

Lucky for me, one of the museums, the Center for Civil War Study, was open today. And being the history buff that I am, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to look around. The building had a few items on exhibit, some paintings from the era on the wall, and about 3,000 volumes of books on the Civil War, many from the period itself! It was definitely a nice quick stop to see some local historic pieces.

I had a late morning snack at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop just down the block from the museum. Gotta get those carbs! In fact, the entire street passing through the town was lined with coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries, and artisans of all trades.

I spent about an hour in Shepherdstown and left around 11:30. Not too far down the trail, I came across the Antietam Aqueduct and creek. Sound familiar? As a refresher, the Battle of Antietam was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. On September 17, 1862, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and Union forces engaged in a fierce battle leaving 23,000 dead and many more wounded. The National Battlefield is only a couple miles away from the trail.

About eight miles from Antietam is the town of Harper's Ferry, WV. Where to start?! This town is immersed in history and culture. On every corner, there are open exhibits, staged rooms and buildings of times past, and beautiful structures and ruins. They even have a restored version of John Brown's fort during his raid of the armory in town (check the link out for more on John Brown). I took a quick stroll around the blocks, admiring the scenery and buildings. Then I decided to treat myself to some ice cream at a local parlor. After nearly 125 miles, I think I deserved it. And what better place to snack and relax than in an abandoned church ruin? I decided to walk up countless flights of uneven stone steps (like my legs weren't killing me already) and rest up at St. James Episcopal church, or what was left of it.

Right across the river is a separate trail for Maryland Heights. I didn't hike it today, but I've frequented the site in years past. It's a very nice hike, and takes about 20 minutes to reach the overlook of Harper's Ferry. If you're adventurous and want to take the longer route, there is another trail that will take you to the top of the mountain and explore a Civil War fort. If you're not too far from the area, I highly recommend you take a day and explore the town of Harper's Ferry and the trails that surround it.

Entering Harper's Ferry: the building on the left is the reconstructed fort from John Brown's Raid

I left Harper's Ferry at 2:00, and had about 24 miles to go. I passed by Brunswick, MD, a nice railroad town, about five miles down. From Brunswick, it was another six miles to Point of Rocks and the Catoctin Aqueduct. At around 3:30, I passed the Monocacy Aqueduct. Monocacy was another major battle in the Civil War, which occurred on July 9, 1864, and is known as 'The Battle that Saved Washington.' Check the link out for more information of this lesser-known but essential Civil War battle.

At 4:45, I reached by destination: White's Ferry. It took a little more than nine hours to cover 63 miles, but take into account the breaks at Shepherdstown and Harper's Ferry, not too shabby. It also nice to finish the day with a ferry ride across the Potomac. A great end to a great day. Check out some more pictures below:


For more info on Shepherdstown:

For more on Antietam:

For more on Harper's Ferry:

For more on John Brown's Raid:

For more on Maryland Heights:

For more on Monocacy:


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