Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park | LOCK 21 CANOE LAUNCH

Launch your canoe into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at the end of the Lock 21 sluice at Mile 16.7 on the canal towpath

Launch your canoe into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at the end of the Lock 21 sluice at Mile 16.7 on the canal towpath


The Lock 21 Canoe Launch is located at Mile 16.7 on the C&O Canal towpath. See the Boat Ramps web page for an interactive location map.

NOTE: Sections of the towpath, locks and other historical structures, trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramps, and visitor centers are constantly being closed due to damage and/or repair. When planning an adventure within Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, make sure the areas you plan to visit are open by checking the National Park Service’s official Current Park Conditions web page.


For those wanting to paddle the actual Chesapeake and Ohio Canal down to Georgetown, there is a hand-paddled watercraft launch at Lock and Lockhouse 21, aka Swains Lock. The lock takes its name from the Swain Family, the last lockkeeper to work here. The site is accessible by vehicle; there is a parking lot right next to the lockhouse.

The launch is located at the end of the sluice, which runs between the lockhouse and the lock. The sluice allows excess water to flow around the lock and back into the canal on the downstream end when the upstream gates of the lock are closed. The path alongside the sluice is well-manicured so that paddlers can get to the water easily.

It is possible to paddle 22 miles all the way from Lock 23 to Georgetown. However, while this segment sounds appealing due to its length, there are a few reasons why paddling the entire stretch is not all that practical. First off, you cannot go through any locks, so to make the entire journey you’ll have to drag your boat around nineteen of them (Locks 1-4 come one right after the other at the start of the canal in Georgetown, so journeys begin or end at Lock 4). Second, while there may be water in this section of the canal, upstream from Lock 5 (Mile 5) it is often low to non-existent and also full of muck and grass.

There are only two segments I recommend paddling. One is from the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center at Lock 20 up to Lock 21, approximately two miles, one way. The National Park Service runs a Canal Boat Ride between these locks, so the canal and its water are in good condition. However, I was at the park one time when tours were cancelled due to low water.

The other segment is between Locks 4 and 5. This is a five-mile stretch with good water and no locks to go around. While there may be clear stretches of water between other locks, most segments aren’t very long and paddling them is simply too much hassle.

Downstream view of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at Swain’s Lock (Lock 21)

Downstream view of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at Swain’s Lock (Lock 21)

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on June 11, 2024
Share this article