towpath guide cover


The Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal

The classic, must-have guidebook to the C&O Canal is back.

With new photos and research, updated maps, and a 21st century makeover, Thomas Hahn’s labor of love remains the most comprehensive mile-by-mile guide to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Journey 184.5 miles past former wharfs and foundries on the Georgetown waterfront, through quaint Potomac River towns, to the mountainous region of Western Maryland, while exploring all of the canal locks, lockhouses, aqueducts, and culverts along the way. Read how raging floodwaters and Civil War armies wreaked havoc on canal structures. Discover nature, geology, and 19th century engineering feats, as well as stories of the laborers, locktenders, and canallers who made the C&O a monument to human ingenuity and endurance. Deftly balancing engineering details with colorful anecdotes and lore, Hahn’s guidebook is the go-to resource for all things C&O.

With the help and enthusiasm of volunteers from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and with the encouragement and support of the C&O Canal National Historical Park (CHOH), the Harpers Ferry Historical Association (HFHA) has published a revised edition of the Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal by Captain Thomas F. “Swiftwater” Hahn.

Captain Hahn originally published the book in four sections beginning in 1972. He combined the sections into one volume in 1982 and published 15 editions of the book in the next 17 years. The book sold over 100,000 copies and was for decades the most popular guidebook to the C&O. In 1999, after dedicating 30 years to this project, Hahn gave the rights to the book to HFHA and retired to Florida. (He had lived in Shepherdstown since 1976.) The last print book of this edition was sold in the HFHA Bookshop on June 17, 2006. Captain Hahn passed away a year later at age 80.

Since 2006, towpath users had been coming into the bookshop looking for the Towpath Guide. Copies could be found on Amazon and eBay, with “new” books sometimes listed for hundreds of dollars. The book was in great demand, but required an extensive revision. Damage from floods and erosion, and CHOH work on physical structures such as locks, aqueducts and bridges had changed the physical appearance of the canal. Photos and maps were outdated, and new historical research had made some information in the book obsolete.

On March 15, 2012, a call for volunteers went out first to HFHA members to help get the book into a digital, revisable format. (No digital version existed.) Then on June 16, 2012, another call for volunteers went out to the Level Walkers of the C&O Canal Association (COCA). The response was immediate and overwhelming. Several volunteers had copies of the four original sections, dog-eared and marked up with years of notes. Everyone was eager to see the book reprinted.

Over the next three years, volunteers walked those 184.5 miles and submitted changes to the book’s original text. They helped with fact-checking, editing and proof reading, and offered advice and suggestions for improvement. Forty of the book’s new images came from volunteers. All 27 of the book’s 40-year-old maps were updated by a Gettysburg, PA volunteer. The revised edition of the Towpath Guide was truly a labor of love—by Thomas Hahn for 30 years, and by the volunteers who follow his spirit along the canal.

Click here to read a PDF of the Towpath Guide Book Launch Program (abridged) presented June 27, 2015. 
This book is available at the Park Bookshop in historic Lower Town Harpers Ferry, by calling 304.535.6881, or visiting

**The Harpers Ferry Historical Association is a non-profit cooperating association supporting the educational and interpretive programs of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. All proceeds from the sale of their publications benefit park programs.