C&O Canal – Fletcher’s Cove and Boathouse
4940 Canal Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007
Fletcher’s Cove and Boathouse, in northwest Washington, DC, is part of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park, managed by the National Park Service. The C&O Canal is 184.5 miles long, running parallel to the Potomac River. The historic towpath along the canal now serves as a hiker-biker trail and has milepost markers numbered from #1 at the south end in Washington, DC to mile #184.5 at the Canal Terminus in Cumberland, in Allegany County in western Maryland. Fletcher’s Cove is at Milepost 3.1 on the Canal. Located on a strip of land between the Potomac River and the canal, between Chain and Key Bridges, Fletcher’s Cove is a popular spot to start a hike or paddle trip.
The spot is somewhat hidden, accessible only by an unnamed one-lane road off Canal Road (see Directions below and trail map at link at left); the lane will take you through a tunnel under the canal to reach the large parking area between the river and the canal.
Note: In February 2020, the National Park Service announced a plan to redesign and improve access to Fletcher’s Cove; no dates were announced for the project. Be sure to check the National Park Service website for updates on access to Fletcher’s Cove.
There are about 150 acres to explore in the Fletcher’s Cove area. Upon arrival, check out the trees and shrubs around the river’s edge and picnic areas. Then walk north from the boathouse along the towpath or the abandoned railroad tracks. This will take you through a wooded area. After about a mile, the towpath passes under Chain Bridge. Look for a path that goes left under the bridge to a group of overgrown ponds. You also may wish to climb to the bridge for a better look at the ponds and the river.
Return to the towpath, where you can continue walking north toward the DC/Maryland line. Look for a concrete platform along the east bank of the river that is an approximate marker for the boundary line. You can also walk south from the boathouse, using either the Canal Towpath or the Capital Crescent Trail, which parallels the Towpath, or use the Capital Crescent Trail to go north into DC. The Capital Crescent Trail is a paved 11-mile hiker-biker trail that runs from Georgetown to Bethesda and west Silver Spring. Parts of the trail may be closed for construction, so check the trail’s website for details.
Over 195 species have been reported on eBird for Fletcher’s Cove and Boathouse.
This is the best location in DC for breeding Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Warbling Vireo, and Yellow-throated Warbler. Green Heron and Canada Goose also nest here. The woods support breeding Barred Owls, Wood Ducks, and Prothonotary Warblers.
The cove area is a concentration point for swallows, Chimney Swifts, gulls and Caspian Terns.
The area near the Chain Bridge is a good spot for waterbirds in winter; check the river as well as the small ponds on the canal side. Look for Osprey, teal, snipe, and American Bitterns during migration and for sparrows in winter. Black-crowned Night-Herons are sometimes found roosting; Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are rare visitors in summer. Chain Bridge is also a good place to watch for raptors in fall and winter.
Large paved lot between the river and the canal, with access through the tunnel under the canal. There is limited parking on the Canal Road side of the canal. There is no charge for parking.
Some portions of the Canal Towpath are accessible to wheelchairs, but parts of the towpath may be muddy if there has been recent flooding. The paved Capital Crescent Trail is a great option for wheelchairs. ◾ Fletcher’s Cove is one of the main access points for the Capital Crescent Trail, a hiker-biker trail that runs north for 11 miles from Georgetown to Bethesda and will soon extend to west Silver Spring. ◾ Fletcher’s Boathouse is a stop on the Lower Potomac Water Trail. ◾ For a list of amenities at Fletcher’s Cove, see the National Park Service’s brochure, C&O Canal Recreational Guide by Milepost, at the link at left. ◾ The Canal Trust has produced a mobile app, the C&O Canal Explorer, with over 600 points of interest mapped in a searchable format, allowing you to find hiking trails, campgrounds, history, trailheads, parking, and more at a glance, along the entire length of the Canal. The app is available to download for 99 cents and runs on Android and IOS devices. ◾ Wake up with the birds along the Canal: through the Canal Quarters Program, visitors may arrange for overnight stays at seven historic lockhouses along the Canal: five in Montgomery County, one in Frederick County, and one in Washington County. ◾ There are no MOS chapters in DC, but Montgomery Bird Club & Patuxent Bird Club are in the neighboring suburbs. Two organizations, the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Audubon Society of DC, hold field trips to birding spots in the District and the Greater Metropolitan DC region.
Shad Run is a special episode of Outdoors Maryland from Maryland Public Television that tells the story of the American shad fishery in the Potomac River and the fight to help the fish recover from pollution and overfishing. There is excellent footage of the habitats along the river, including at Fletcher’s Boathouse, an interview with the current owner of the boathouse, and a proclamation by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser naming the shad as the “Official Fish of Washington, D.C.” The footage of schoolchildren releasing shad fingerlings will tug at your heartstrings.
The Fletcher’s Cove area is accessed from Canal Road, which runs parallel to the C&O Canal and to the Potomac River from the Georgetown area of Washington, DC to the Chain Bridge, where the roadway becomes the Clara Barton Parkway. There are two parking areas that serve Fletcher’s Cove: the first is just off Canal Road at the historic Abner Cloud House; the second, much larger lot is on the west side of the canal and is accessed through a one-lane tunnel under the canal (see Trail Map at link at left). Most birders use the second lot. We recommend using your favorite in-car GPS or a computer-based mapping program to generate directions to 4940 Canal Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007, the address of the Abner Cloud House.
Be aware of three issues:
1) It is usually not possible to enter the parking area from SOUTHBOUND Canal Road; this would require an illegal U-turn because of the angle at which the parking lot driveway meets Canal Road. Instead, the parking lot driveway must be accessed via a LEFT turn from NORTHBOUND Canal Road.
2) Some sections of Canal Road are permanently one-way, so pay close attention to the driving directions from your GPS or mapping program.
3) The Clara Barton Parkway and Canal Road are subject to LANE REVERSALS AND TEMPORARY ONE-WAY RESTRICTIONS DURING WEEKDAY RUSH HOURS, as follows:
Canal Road and Clara Barton Parkway:
- 6 a.m. — Closed to outbound traffic
- 6:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. — All lanes are inbound toward DC
- 10:15 a.m. — Two-way traffic resumes
- 2:45 p.m. — Closed to inbound traffic
- 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. — All lanes are outbound away from DC
- 7:15 p.m. — Two-way traffic resumes.
Chain Bridge and Canal Road between Chain Bridge and Arizona Avenue:
- 6:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Two lanes inbound toward DC, one lane outbound
- 2:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. — Two lanes outbound, one lane inbound toward DC.
On weekends, traffic usually flows normally, but on holidays, lane restrictions vary depending on the expected number of visitors in DC. Consult the District’s Department of Transportation website for advisories.
Washington, DC: Battery Kemble Park, Constitution Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks Park, East Potomac Park (Hains Point) and the Tidal Basin, Georgetown Reservoir & Palisades Trolley Trail, Glover-Archbold Park, National Zoo, Rock Creek Park, Theodore Roosevelt Island
Montgomery County: C&O Canal – Pennyfield, Violette’s & Riley’s Locks, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (Hughes Hollow), Rock Creek Regional Park – Lake Needwood, Rock Creek Regional Park – Meadowside Nature Center & Lake Frank, Seneca Creek State Park,
Bottomland DeciduousHedgerows Garden or ArboretumUrban or Small Town Landscape Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchBoat RentalsFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
C&O Canal AccessHiker-Biker Trails (Paved)National Parks & MonumentsThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails