C&O Canal – Town Creek Aqueduct to Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct
Town Creek Aqueduct: Oldtown, MD 21555 | GPS 39.5237668, -78.5433002
Paw Paw Tunnel: Oldtown, MD 21555 | GPS 39.544417, -78.460744
Bond’s Landing: Bonds Landing Rd, Oldtown, MD 21555 | 39.580566, -78.412315
Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct: Little Orleans, MD 21766 | GPS 39.6255985, -78.3854862
(301) 722-8226 (C&O Canal Visitor Center at Cumberland)
The section of the C&O Canal between the Town Creek Aqueduct and the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct is located on the edges of Green Ridge State Forest, and so has the benefits not only of the rich riparian habitat along the canal and the Potomac River, but also the benefits of the adjacent 47,560 acres of the State Forest’s woodlands. This area is perhaps the best place in Maryland for forest-interior dwelling birds. This section of the canal, along with the State Forest, are located within the National Audubon Society’s Green Ridge Important Bird Area, which has documented 24 species of forest-interior dwelling birds. You should read the description for these canal access points in conjunction with the Birder’s Guide description for Green Ridge State Forest & Town Hill Overlook.
The C&O Canal runs here through an area of the Potomac River known as the Paw Paw Bends and Potomac Bends, where the river twists and turns in big loops. At Paw Paw itself, there is a major turn of the riverbed from east-west to north-south, and the river and canal form the south east corner of Green Ridge State Forest. There are four major access points for the canal in this section: Town Creek Aqueduct lies to the west of this corner, the Paw Paw Tunnel is at the corner itself, Bond’s Landing is north of Paw Paw on another major loop, and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct lies to the north of this corner. It’s a geographically interesting and rich location.
The Paw Paw Bends and Potomac Bends area is also rich in human history and is a showcase for the engineering involved in the construction of the C&O Canal. The canal towpath and the public roads and trails provide access to wild and rugged territory with innumerable remarkable features, such as shale barrens and steep ravines that provide habitats for a number of rare and uncommon plant species.
The Town Creek Aqueduct, at Milepost 162.1 on the Canal, was built to carry the C&O Canal over the creek. The Town Creek access point is located between Locks 67 and 68 and has restrooms and a camping area for hikers and bicyclists (no car access to the camping area).
The Paw Paw Tunnel was built as a short cut to take the canal across a neck of land instead of following the large bend in the river, saving five miles in the length of the canal. The tunnel, three-fifths of a mile long, took 12 years to build and cost considerably more than originally estimated. Today, the tunnel is a significant landmark for hikers and bikers and is one of the best-known features of the canal. If you prefer to skip the tunnel, there is an overland trail that carries you up and over the hill that the tunnel traverses. The Paw Paw Tunnel is located at Milepost 156.1, between Locks 66 and 67. Amenities available include restrooms, a car-accessible campground, food/grocery concessions, picnic tables, and a canoe-kayak launch site.
The section of the canal between Paw Paw and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct includes an interesting peninsula called Kasecamp Neck, formed by a major bend of the Potomac River. Kasecamp Neck is long and narrow, with the long axis oriented roughly east-west. A series of ridges marches across the peninsula, creating a rugged landscape. The abandoned Western Maryland Railroad runs across the peninsula, and the Green Ridge rail station was a major depot of the railroad. The site of the station is near the southern entrance to the Stickpile Tunnel, which carried trains under one of the ridges on the peninsula. The tunnel is still there but is now gated closed and becoming increasingly difficult to find, as the forest takes over.
Bond’s Landing, with a boat ramp and primitive campsites, is located near the tip of Kasecamp Neck and offers access to the Potomac River as well as the C&O Canal, at Milepost 150 and between Locks 60 and 61. Most of the Kasecamp Neck peninsula as well as Bond’s Landing are part of Green Ridge State Forest and are maintained by the Forest service, not the National Park Service, which manages the Canal Towpath itself. Be aware that the dirt parking area at Bond’s Landing may be wet and muddy and may require four-wheel drive.
The public roads on Kasecamp Neck provide a great opportunity to bird from the car, driving slowly with the windows down. These roads include Merten’s Avenue, Bond’s Landing Road, Kasecamp Road, and Carroll Road. As with the access to Bond’s Landing, some of these roads may require four-wheel drive and high clearance, as there are some wet stream crossings. Click on the link below the At a Glance box on this webpage for a detailed map set that includes the roads on Kasecamp Neck. You may also want a good digital or printed road map or up-to-date GPS. See Directions below for a suggested driving tour of this neck of land, which also includes the Stickpile Hill hiker-biker campsite along the towpath.
The Fifteen Mile Creek access point, like Town Hill, features an aqueduct to carry the canal across the creek. Located at Milepost 140.9 and between Locks 57 and 58, the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct area offers restrooms, a car-accessible campground, food/grocery concessions, picnic tables, and a boat ramp. There are more amenities in the adjacent town of Little Orleans.
As the crow flies, the Town Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek access points are less than eleven miles apart, but if you follow the canal towpath with all its twists and turns, it’s over 21 miles, one-way. If you drive from place to place, it’s a direct route and only 5.25 miles between Town Creek and Paw Paw. On the other hand, getting from Paw Paw to Bond’s Landing and Fifteen Mile Creek requires navigation of a series of back roads that will take you along the ridge of Town Hill and then back down into the Potomac River Valley, a very scenic drive of about 12.5 miles, one-way (a little more if you tour Kasecamp Neck); see Directions below. Most birders visit each site by car and do just a short out-and-back hike along the towpath from each access point. Any direction that you choose to walk from your parking spot will take you into good habitat with interesting birds, particularly during migration or breeding seasons.
If you do choose to hike the entire distance between the Town Creek and Fifteen Mill Creek access points, you can plan to rest at four hiker-biker campgrounds in the stretches in between; these offer restrooms as well as campsites, but none of these are reachable by car and road. The campsites are Purslane Run, between Town Creek and Paw Paw at Milepost 157.4; and then three sites between Paw Paw and Fifteen Mile Creek: Sorrel Ridge at Milepost 154.1; Stickpile Hill, near Bond’s Landing at Milepost 149.4; and Devils Alley at Milepost 144.5.
The C&O Canal, administered by the National Park Service, is 184.5 miles long, extending from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal runs parallel to the Potomac River, which forms the border between Maryland and Virginia or West Virginia. The gravel and dirt towpath alongside the canal is open to foot traffic, bicycles, and horses, and is a gateway to great birding in the Potomac River Valley. Mile markers along the towpath make it easy to keep track of your location; the markers run from Mile 0 in Georgetown to Mile 184.5 at the Terminus in Cumberland. In addition, the canal is marked by numbered locks that were used to lift or lower boats at points of elevation changes; the locks are numbered starting with #1 at Georgetown in Washington, DC, to #75 at North Branch in Allegany County.
The Recreational Guide by Milepost, available through a link below the At a Glance box on this webpage, contains a handy list of canal access points and mileposts, with icons indicating the amenities available at each access point. See also https://www.canaltrust.org/plan/parking-along-the-co-canal-3/ and http://www.candocanal.org/access.html for two more versions of access points and parking areas. Also consult the Canal Trust’s “Plan Your Visit” website for details on parking, picnic areas, and more all along the Canal.
Conservation note: Kasecamp Neck and the vicinity of Bond’s Landing are part of Green Ridge State Forest and are covered in the 2019 Green Ridge State Forest Management Plan prepared by the MD Forest Service. The plan describes how sensitive habitats are being managed for different species. It is worth reading about the many steps that the Forest Service is taking to preserve and improve habitat for birds.
There are separate eBird hotspots for the four canal access points covered here:
C&O Canal — Town Creek Aqueduct – 114+ species
C&O Canal — Paw Paw Tunnel – 110+ species
C&OCanal — Bond’s Landing – 101+ species
C&O Canal — Fifteen Mile Creek – 118+ species
In addition, there are hotspots nearby at
C&O Canal — Town Creek – 24+ species
Paw Paw Bridge – 74+ species (this is the bridge that carries Route 51 across the Potomac to West Virginia)
Altogether, these hotspots have yielded a combined total of 158 species, as of summer of 2020. When birding this area, you should also be aware of nearby hotspots within Green Ridge State Forest.
The Potomac River yields a smattering of waterfowl and waterbirds. Wood Ducks breed in the area and can be found most of the year. Common Mergansers are a possible breeder in the section from Town Creek Aqueduct through the Paw Paw Bends to north of Bond’s Landing (Atlas Blocks Oldtown SE, Paw Paw SW, and Paw Paw NE), and they can be seen from spring through June or July and again in the winter.
A few shorebirds may be found along the muddy banks of the river or the canal, or on stony spits: these include Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, American Woodcock (wet woods), and Spotted Sandpiper.
Great Blue Herons are common and may be found from March through November; they are being studies during the Third Breeding Bird Atlas as a potential breeding species. Green Heron is a confirmed breeder; listen for its screechy two-note squawk as you walk the towpath.
Wild Turkeys are common in spring and early summer. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are abundant, and Black-billed Cuckoos occur in smaller numbers; they may be heard in May and June and are more likely in the sections near Bond’s Landing and Fifteen Mile Creek.
Osprey occur sporadically during the warm months but are not known to breed here. Bald Eagles are also about in small numbers, and are being studied for potential breeding. Sharp-shinned Hawk is another potential breeder. Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk are all confirmed breeders. American Kestrels can be found where there are adjacent fields. Barred Owl is the only confirmed breeding owl but Great Horned and Eastern Screech-Owl are also found in the area.
This section of the canal really shines when it comes to forest birds. Woodpeckers include the full set of Maryland species: Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flicker, plus Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in winter and Red-headed during post-breeding dispersal in late summer. The Red-headed is considered a possible breeder but breeding has not been confirmed as yet.
Summer-resident flycatchers include Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested, and Eastern Kingbird. Alder and Least Flycatchers are found during migration. Four species of vireos are easy to find during the breeding season and through the summer: White-eyed, Yellow-throated, Warbling, and Red-eyed, plus Blue-headed is an easy find during spring and fall migration.
Blue Jays , American Crows, and Common Ravens are common throughout the year, but Fish Crows are only sporadic. The chickadees here are all Black-capped. The regularly seen swallows include Northern Rough-winged, Tree, Barn, and Cliff; Bank and Purple Martin come through during migration and post-breeding dispersal.
Wintering birds include Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creeper, and Winter Wren. White-breasted Nuthatches are abundant breeders and are present year-round, as are Carolina Wrens. House Wrens also breed locally but are summer-residents only. The same is true for the three mimids: Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, and Brown Thrasher.
Among the thrushes, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Wood Thrush are breeders; the first two are year-round but the Wood Thrushes are present only as migrants and summer residents. Other migrating thrushes that may be found include Veery, Swainson’s, and Gray-cheeked, and Hermit Thrushes overwinter.
Purple Finches might be found in fall or late spring, and House Finches are almost entirely absent. American Goldfinches are abundant throughout the year. Pine Siskins may be present in winter and is being studied as a possible breeding species. The expected sparrows are Chipping (breeding season), Field (breeding season), American Tree (winter), Fox (winter), Dark-eyed Junco (winter), White-throated (winter), Song (year-round), Swamp (sporadic throughout the year), and Eastern Towhee (year-round). There are scattered reports of White-crowned and Lincoln’s during migration.
Both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles nest locally along the river; Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles are all common. Eastern Meadowlarks are occasional in spring and summer.
A fine assemblage of warblers breeds in the area: Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, American Redstart, Cerulean, Northern Parula, Yellow, Pine, and Yellow-throated. Chestnut-sided and Kentucky are being studies as possible breeders. In addition, a number of other warblers migrate through, for a total of 31 species observed in the area. National Audubon notes that the Green Ridge Important Bird Area, which includes these canal access points “. . . likely contains the largest population of Cerulean Warblers in Maryland. This WatchList species is rapidly declining across its range. Another Watchlist species, Golden-winged Warbler, occurs here in small numbers in early successional habitats near forest edges. Regenerating forest in clearcuts provides habitat for Prairie Warblers, also on the WatchList. Other bird species considered at-risk and having significant populations at this site include Black-billed Cuckoo, Whip-poor-will, Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush.”
To round out the breeding birds, we have Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, and Indigo Bunting, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a possible breeder.
Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet and must be under physical control at all times.
Parts of the C&O Canal Towpath are wheelchair-accessible, but many sections, including this one, are soft-surfaced. There is some bird viewing possible from the parking lots and picnic areas at the canal access sites. The best opportunity for mobility-impaired birders may be to drive the roads on Kasecamp Neck near Bond’s Landing and bird from the car. Four-wheel drive may be needed in this area depending on weather and water levels in the river and streams.
Town Creek Aqueduct, the Paw Paw Tunnel, Kasecamp Neck, Bond’s Landing, and Fifteen Mile Creek, along with the entire Green Ridge State Forest, are contained with the Green Ridge Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society.
In the area near Bond’s Landing and the Paw Paw Bends, the State of Maryland has designated several tracts totaling 2,645 acres as the Potomac Bends Wildlands. State Wildlands are areas set aside for special protection and passive recreation.
The Western Maryland Rail Trail is a paved hiker-biker trail that runs about 28 miles from Little Orleans at the Fifteen Mile Creek access point to Fort Frederick/ Big Pool in Washington County. The Rail Trail parallels the C&O Canal towpath and provides access to the same habitat as the Canal towpath, but is a paved, level surface and is wheelchair accessible. There are cross-connections between the towpath and the Rail Trail, allowing birders to switch back and forth.
There’s a new trail in town: the Great Allegheny Passage is a 135-mile hiker-biker trail that follows an abandoned railway right of way from Cumberland, MD, to Pittsburgh, PA, essentially forming an extension of the C&O Canal Towpath. Construction of the Great Allegheny Passage was completed over a 35-year period and the last section was opened in 2013. The 20.5-mile section in Maryland, from Cumberland to the Pennsylvania State line, is often called the Allegheny Highlands Trail. The surface of the Passage is hard-packed crushed stone and can accommodate wheelchairs. A good resource with details for the Great Allegheny Passage is the BikeWashington website.
Bond’s Landing is a favored launch spot for canoe and kayak trips on the Potomac. Several local outfitters can provide equipment if you don’t have your own. Recreational opportunities along the C&O Canal are numerous, and include fishing, biking, camping, boating, and historical features. See https://www.canaltrust.org/ and https://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm and the Recreational Guide by Milepost at the link at left for details. ◾ 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. ◾ The C&O Canal Visitors Museum in Cumberland illustrates the history of the C&O Canal, featuring an exhibit area with interactive and educational displays. ◾ Another good resource with details for the canal is BikeWashington’s C&O Canal Towpath Guide.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Allegany & Garrett Counties Bird Club, which hosts field trips in the region as well as meetings with informative presentations. Field trips and meetings are free and open to the public.
Designated lots at Town Creek Aqueduct, Paw Paw Tunnel, Bond’s Landing, and Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct. Roadside parking on Kasecamp Neck.
To the Town Creek Aqueduct from I-68: [Note: These directions are for the most direct route but some of the route is twisty and/or steep. On the other hand, it takes you through great birding territory and you can do roadside birding all the way to Town Creek Aqueduct. If you prefer to drive a state route, you could take MD Route 51 from just outside Cumberland. See Directions for C&O Canal – Spring Gap and Oldtown. In this case, instead of stopping at Oldtown, merely continue along MD Route 51 until you reach Town Creek. Town Creek is about 5.4 miles east of Oldtown via Route 51.] From I-68 at Flintstone, take Exit 62 and follow signs to Fifteen Mile Creek Road southbound. Follow Fifteen Mile Creek Road for approximately 2.2. miles. Stay alert: at a fork in the road, Fifteen Mile Creek Road will bear to the left, but you want to stay straight to continue onto Green Ridge Road southbound. Green Ridge Road will take you south along the ridge of Town Hill, straight through the heart of Green Ridge State Forest. In about ten miles, Green Ridge Road will end at a T-intersection with MD Route 51/Oldtown Road SE. Turn left to head east on Route 51. In just a quarter-mile, there will be an unnamed road on the right; this is the access road for Town Creek Aqueduct and campsite. Turn right onto the unnamed road. If you pass Dailey’s Road on the left, you’ve missed the access road and will have to find a place to turn around. The access road will take you roughly southwest for about a half-mile, ending at the parking area for the Aqueduct. The towpath runs parallel to the access road, just south of the road. From here you can pick up the towpath and choose to walk either west toward Oldtown (4.6 miles one-way) or east toward the Paw Paw Tunnel (6 miles one-way).
To the Paw Paw Tunnel from Town Creek Aqueduct: Use the Town Creek Aqueduct access road to return to Route 51 and turn right to go east. The parking for the Paw Paw Aqueduct will be on the left in 5 miles. From the parking area, walk north on the towpath to reach the tunnel in about a half-mile. The tunnel itself is 0.6 miles long and a flashlight is advisable if you plan to walk through it.
To Fifteen Mile Creek from the Paw Paw Tunnel: [This is the most direct route. For a side trip to Bond’s Landing and tour of Kasecamp Neck, see below.] From the parking area at the Paw Paw Tunnel, return to Route 51 and turn right to go west. In 0.9 miles, turn right to go north on Malcolm Road SE. In 1.2 miles, Malcolm Road will come to a Y-intersection with Tunnel Hill Road heading off to the right; be sure to bear left to continue on Malcolm Road for another 1.9 miles, where Malcolm Road comes to a T-intersection with Oldtown-Orleans Road. Turn right to go north-northeast on Oldtown-Orleans Road for 4.8 miles. Oldtown-Orleans Road will come to an intersection with Dughill Road, where if you continue straight you’ll be on Dughill, but you want to bear to the right here around a curve to continue following Oldtown-Orleans Road, now heading east. Continue on Oldtown-Orleans Road, and in 0.8 miles you’ll come to an intersection where you have to bear left to continue north on Oldtown-Orleans Road (a right would take you south on Carroll Road). Continue on Oldtown-Orleans Road for another 2.8 miles, which will take you into the small town of Little Orleans. You will pass St. Patrick’s Road on the right. At the next intersection, turn left to continue east on Oldtown-Orleans Road. In another 0.2 miles, turn right onto High Germany Road. In another 0.1 miles, you’ll go under an underpass and then come to a T-intersection; High Germany Road continues to the left but you want to turn right for the access road to the Fifteen Mile Creek parking area, a large paved lot adjacent to the towpath and the campground. You can walk south on the towpath here to reach the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct just a short distance away, or you can walk north toward the Indigo Neck area in 1.7 miles. Another option as you approach the area is to turn right BEFORE the underpass on High Germany Road, which will take you to the parking area for the western terminus of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a paved hiker-biker trail that extends 28 miles to Fort Frederick/Big Pool in Washington County.
Side trip to Bond’s Landing and tour of Kasecamp Neck: Many birders will want to take a side trip to Bond’s Landing on the way from the Paw Paw Tunnel to the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct. This area on Kasecamp Neck offers excellent birding from the car. The start of this excursion is the same as the above: From the parking area at the Paw Paw Tunnel, return to Route 51 and turn right to go west. In 0.9 miles, turn right to go north on Malcolm Road SE. In 1.2 miles, Malcolm Road will come to a Y-intersection with Tunnel Hill Road heading off to the right; be sure to bear left to continue on Malcolm Road for another 1.9 miles, where Malcolm Road comes to a T-intersection with Oldtown-Orleans Road. Turn right to go north-northeast on Oldtown-Orleans Road for 2.4 miles. At the intersection with Merten’s Avenue, turn right to go east. Follow Merten’s Avenue roughly east as it snakes over and through the ridges on Kasecamp Neck. Drive with the windows down and stop whenever you can to check for birds. In 2.6 miles, you will arrive at an intersection near the remnants of the old railway station of Green Ridge, where a hard right will take you onto Bond’s Landing Road and going straight will take you to Kasecamp Road. Here you have a decision to make. Going right onto Bonds Landing Road is the shorter route to Bond’s Landing , on the right in about 1.4 miles, but requires some wet stream crossings and should only be attempted if you have four-wheel drive and high clearance. If not, go straight and then in another tenth-mile bear right onto Kasecamp Road, which loops around the point of the peninsula. This is the longer way to get to Bond’s Landing, which will be on the left in about 3 miles. Note that Bond’s Landing Road and Kasecamp Road meet at the entrance to Bond’s Landing. When done birding at Bond’s Landing, return to the Green Ridge station area at the intersection of Merten’s Avenue, Kasecamp Road, and Bond’s Landing Road, either via Bond’s Landing Road or by Kasecamp Road, depending on whether you have four-wheel drive and high clearance. Near Green Station, pick up Carroll Road, which will be a right turn if you’re on Kasecamp Road and a left turn if you’re coming from Bond’s Landing Road. Carroll Road will carry you north and west to exit the Kasecamp Peninsula. In about 2.8 miles, watch for a hilltop pull-over at Point Lookout, which offers a spectacular view of the Potomac River far below. Continue north on Carroll Road just a quarter-mile, where you will come to a Y-intersection with Oldtown-Orleans Road. Bear right here to go north on Oldtown-Orleans Road for 2.8 miles, which will take you into the small town of Little Orleans. You will pass St. Patrick’s Road on the right. At the next intersection, turn left to continue east on Oldtown-Orleans Road. In another 0.2 miles, turn right onto High Germany Road. In another 0.1 miles, you’ll go under an underpass and then come to a T-intersection; High Germany Road continues to the left but you want to turn right for the access road to the Fifteen Mile Creek parking area, a large paved lot adjacent to the towpath and the campground. You can walk south on the towpath here to reach the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct just a short distance away, or you can walk north toward the Indigo Neck area in 1.7 miles.
Allegany County: C&O Canal – North Branch Recreational Area, C&O Canal – Spring Gap & Oldtown, C&O Canal Terminus, Finzel Swamp Preserve (see entry under Garrett County), Green Ridge State Forest & Town Hill Overlook, Rocky Gap State Park
Washington County: Fort Frederick State Park/Big Pool, Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area and Environs
Bottomland DeciduousHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Bicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Birding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchCampingFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesHorseback RidingHuntingParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible Features
Audubon Important Bird AreasC&O Canal AccessDriving Tours (Birding By Car)Hiker-Biker Trails (Paved)Historical SitesNational Parks & MonumentsState ForestsState Natural Areas & WildlandsThe Rivers of the Western Shore