Mule-Drawn Canal Boat Rides Along the C & O Canal

Step Back in Time and Experience Life on a Canal Boat

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The National Park Service operates mule-drawn canal boat rides at two locations along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal near Washington, DC. Park rangers dressed in historical clothing transport passengers back in time to the 1870's aboard a one-hour trip on a reproduction of a 19th-century canal boat. This is a unique way to learn about the Chesaapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park and a fun thing to do with out-of-town guests. 

Canal Boat Ride Locations, Departure Days and Times

  • Great Falls - 11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, MD. Located along the C & O Canal, just north of Washington DC, the Great Falls Tavern serves as the visitor center offering historical exhibits and interpretive programs. Boat rides are offered from early April through the end of October. In April, the "Charles F. Mercer" runs on Saturdays and Sundays only. The tour operates Fridays through Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day and then again on weekends only in the fall. Trips depart at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Reservations are taken for groups of 10 or more. Read more about Great Falls Park.
  • Williamsport - 205 W Potomac St, Williamsport, MD. Situated at the confluence of the Conococheague Creek and the Potomac River, Williamsport is the only place on the canal where examples of major canal structures can be viewed within a half-mile stretch. Boat rides are offered Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Reservations are taken for groups of 10 or more.

History of the Mules on the C & O Canal

During the 19th century, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal provided transportation for goods between Cumberland and the Chesapeake Bay. Mules were the preferred "engines" of the C&O Canal boat because they were cheaper to purchase than horses and were less prone to illness and injury. Mules adapted very well to life on a canal boat and could pull a 140-ton boat eight hours a day, seven days a week. Mules had both longer life spans and longer work lives than horses and could pull canal boats for twenty years if they were taken care of properly.

The historic park is interesting to visit and a great place to enjoy outdoor recreation in the Washington DC area. Read more about Exploring the C & O Canal.

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