Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park | GREAT FALLS STOP GATE

Stop gate located near the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center

Stop gate located near the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center


A stop gate near Great Falls is located at Mile 13.8 on the C&O Canal towpath. It cannot be accessed by vehicle, so reaching it requires hiking or biking .6 mile (one way) downstream from the closest parking area, the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center. See the Locks and Lockhouses web page for an interactive location map.


Sitting atop a stone foundation and straddling the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal between Lock 16 and Lock 17 is what looks like a covered bridge. This is a winch house, a building used to store an actual winch and planks of wood that are just a little wider than the foundation. When the Potomac River is on the verge of flooding, a temporary dam, or stop gate, can be built by using the winch to lower the planks one by one through the floor and into groves that have been cut into both sides of the stone foundation. Some water is let through, but the majority is stopped from rushing downstream into the canal and causing damage. After the danger passes, the planks are hoisted back up into the building, thus allowing water to flow through the gate once more. While I didn’t get a good photo of the slots in the stone abutments at this stop gate, you can see them in the photo below, a stop gate at Dam 4 near Williamsport, Maryland.

Slots in the stop gate foundation hold stacked wooden planks to form a dam

Slots in the stop gate foundation hold stacked wooden planks to form a dam

The winch house is not the original, but a reconstruction done by the National Park Service. However, the gate is still used to stop floods. There is also a bridge that runs along the front side of the stop gate that hikers can use to cross the canal and get to Berma Road, a hiking trail that leads to the Anglers parking lot.

On the other side of the towpath from the stop gate is a trailhead for the Billy Goat A Trail, one of the more popular trails at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

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Last updated on April 22, 2020
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