Hike along a beautiful, tree covered trail to an old canal tunnel built in 1836, then make your way through the spooky darkness and come out on the other side to lush greenness and waterfalls.

This hike is short and sweet, with it only being 2.4 miles to the other side of the tunnel and back. It's easily accessible, located right off the highway at the Paw Paw Tunnel Campground on the Potamac River at the border of Maryland and West Virgina. The town of Paw Paw is on the West Virgina side of the Potomac River, but the trail is located on the Maryland side of the river.

From the campground, the trail is located on the opposite side of the river. Once you make your way up the small ridge, the trail can be very easily identified as a wide gravel path just a hundred feet from the campground. Head north, and the tunnel will be 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Make sure to bring a flashlight as it will be pitch black inside the kilometer long tunnel. It can be a little spooky, and definitely not recommended for those with claustrophobia. Once you're on the other side there are waterfalls coming down the rock cliffs. The trail continues down a little along the canal and connects up with the Tunnel Hill trail that is 2 miles long and will take you up and over the tunnel and back to the beginning on the other side of the tunnel if you would like to make it into a loop.

Pack List

  • Hiking shoes
  • Flashlight
  • Camera
  • Water
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RT Distance 2.4 Miles
Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Groups
Picnic Area
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Fun Hike with Historical Significance

Just park at the Paw Paw Tunnel Campground and head over to the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath Trail which lies on the western side of the campground. No worries on parking at the campground. It’s a public campground managed by the National Park Service and has plenty of parking available. The family had a great time on this hike. Really neat experience walking through the tunnel which was further heightened considering it was constructed over 150 years ago. However, I did get the sense that the tunnel was unending and that I would never get through it but that was probably because my 2-year old would stop at every weep hole and shine his flashlight in it. If you take the Tunnel Hill Trail back, just be aware you are hiking up the rather large hill the tunnel was constructed through. Interesting fact…the tunnel was constructed to bypass the Paw Paw Bends which was a six-mile stretch of the Potomac River that consisted of five horseshoe-shaped bends. Construction of the tunnel took 14 years (1836 – 1850) to complete and cost $600,000. Please note that the tunnel is currently closed due to a rock scaling project. The NPS website states the project will be complete in late-October 2017.

Great Short-ish, Historical Hike

Beautiful, mostly secluded trail that's a slice of a short-lived era in the history of American transportation (canals). The trail is easy, though I would strongly recommend planning on using a bright flashlight in the tunnel, as the trail isn't flat there, and the return loop offers enough hill climbs to make you feel like you've actually hiked something. We enjoyed the historical signage, the quasi-creepy factor in the tunnel, and the views of the river on the way back. There's a picnic table on the entrance side of the tunnel, which is a great spot for a picnic lunch (or snack!). Definitely worth doing, and a great way to get kids into nature (I would presume!).

Cool Trail

Very cool experience. You walk in and think the other end of the tunnel looks close, then a few min in everything it pitch black! Bring a flashlight, but try not to use it except for checking out the bats hanging from the roof. Great in all seasons!


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