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The C&O Canal Towpath Trail and Great Allegheny Passage

Paw Paw Tunnel

Point of Interest
Runs between mile points 155.2 - 155.8
Oldtown MD
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Towpath

Paw Paw Tunnel is located on the C&O Canal Trail, in Oldtown MD

The tunnel is 3,118 feel long
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Paw Paw Tunnel
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Forum Discussions about Paw Paw Tunnel

Paw Paw Tunnel in Oldtown
Rich from Detroit, MI on 09/28/2021 02:54 PM:
The Paw Paw Tunnel is only open for visitation, but NOT for riding through. I was riding the C&O both ways in mid September, and the tunnel was closed, and cyclists were walking their bikes over the detour route.
There are signs there, on both sides, indicating that you can walk and visit the tunnel, but you cannot ride through it.

Brian from Lexington KY on 09/29/2021 02:59 PM:
I can confirm. There is a locked gate on the downstream end of the tunnel, making it all but impossible to get around if you were wanting to pass through the tunnel. At one time, I had heard it was just a barrier, but it is a locked gate that spans the entire walkway from the wall to the railing.

Passed over the tunnel on 9/20/21 and there was a lot of construction work going on at the downstream end.

Obligatory “Is the Paw Paw tunnel open?”
BigEv from Pittsburgh on 07/11/2021 09:42 PM:
Will be riding from Cumberland to Hancock on Wednesday 7/14 - anyone know the latest on the Paw Paw tunnel closure? It seems like up to this point that it’s been passable, any update on if that’s changed in the last few days?

BZ from Hesperus CO on 07/14/2021 12:54 AM:
We are be riding thru on Thursday July 22. Any word on status of Paw Paw Tunnel? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

John W. from Pittsburgh, PA on 07/14/2021 03:03 PM:
Still open. Plan on going through and avoid the detour.

Make sure to ask all passers-by as you approach the tunnel if they went through, they’ll have the latest. I must have had 10 people tell me to go through and ignore the detour.


BigEv from Pittsburgh on 07/14/2021 06:35 PM:
I breezed right through today, no issues

BZ from Hesperus CO on 07/15/2021 12:26 AM:
Thanks for feedback.

AM from PA on 07/23/2021 10:55 PM:
Tunnel section is wide open. I went through two days ago (7/21) and there is no construction, nor any construction equipment set up. My guess is because MD DOT is rehabilitating the MD-51 bridge over the towpath (about a half a mile south of the south tunnel entrance), that the NPS has decided to postpone the tunnel scaling project until the bridge work is complete. In any event, the tunnel section is wide open so there is no need to go up and over.

Rey from Concord Ma on 07/26/2021 07:09 PM:
It’s the 26th and we just went through the tunnel- no problems. Going west there are signs saying it’s closed and some detour signs, but it’s not. They may have already done the work they planned on doing. From what a local said. Enjoy!!

Rey from Concord Ma on 07/27/2021 11:39 AM:
It’s the 26th and we just went through the tunnel- no problems. Going west there are signs saying it’s closed and some detour signs, but it’s not. They may have already done the work they planned on doing. From what a local said. Enjoy!!

SleepU56 from Richmond, va on 08/01/2021 01:59 PM:
Planning a 4-day ride from Cumberland to DC in a party of 9. Mixed experienced riders. Curious about PawPaw tunnel, of course, but wonder about challenging stretches. Thankful for any input. Travel dates 9/26-9/30.

John W. from Pittsburgh, PA on 08/01/2021 03:32 PM:
Tunnel has been open all summer so plan on ignoring the detour and just go through. As you are approaching the tunnel, ask passers by if they went through, they will know.

The most challenging stretch is Cumberland to Hancock. I classify it as rustic and remote. It’s basically old mule paths. If it’s rained in the last few days there will be puddles and mud slicks. You will get a bit muddy. They’ve begun resurfacing at Shepherstown so it has the crushed limestone rail trail type surface which is much nicer.

Don’t forget, you can hop on the Western Maryland Rail Trail at Little Orleans which parallels the C&O for 27 miles and is paved. After Mile 1 of the WMRT be on the lookout for Ernstville Rd. Turn right, go 100 yards to the dirt path, that puts you back on the C&O.


Shaena from Pittsburgh on 08/03/2021 10:26 AM:
Hi, just trying to make sure we don't get stuck when we try to ride through next week with our kid -- if the Paw Paw tunnel does close, is the detour trail doable with a Burley trailer? We are experienced cyclists but would have trouble with our setup if it's rocky singletrack.

John W. from Pittsburgh,PA on 08/03/2021 05:54 PM:
Hi Shaena: I guess single track is how others have described it. In fact, most say you cant even ride *down* it. If you take the detour you will be pushing your bike and all the weight up the hill and walking down with the brakes on. :-)

Definitely rocky but doable. I wouldn’t worry though, the tunnel has been open all summer. Good luck!

LPD from Hyattsville on 08/25/2021 12:57 PM:
Any updates on the status of towpath near the PawPaw Tunnel? The Tunnel Bypass Trail sounds terrible and we'd like to avoid pushing our bikes for an hour. Is there a way to go around on the road (Rt 51, Malcolm Rd, Tunnel Hill Rd) and reenter the canal around lock 64 or 65 (traveling from Cumberland to Hancock)?

Rivnuts from Homestead, PA on 08/28/2021 08:08 PM:
For what it is worth as I was riding away from Pittsburgh today I asked some self-supported riders approaching Pittsburgh if they had gone through the Paw Paw Tunnel. They responded "no", that they had to "go around" the Tunnel. I presume "around" meant up and over the Tunnel Bypass Trail. However I did not have the opportunity to ask if the Towpath near the tunnel was truly closed or that they saw the signs ahead of the construction area and chose to take the bypass trail before actually getting to the construction area. Of course this info isn't a definitive answer to the question but reinforces the usefulness of obtaining current and accurate status of the Towpath to adequately plan trips through that area at this time. I'll provide additional information should I come across it.

Ray from Millville nj on 08/28/2021 11:17 PM:
Just got back home today, I followed the signs for the paw paw detour... light weight ride at around 35lbs bike and gear and was pretty brutal in this heat.... I did just outside dc to Pittsburgh in 4 days and this was the hardest day even though I was able to ride down....stayed in Cumberland and as I was leaving spoke to others who did the tunnel....that hurt LOL

Great trip! Can’t wait to do it again slower, only negative was so many of the c&o water pumps were out of commission...dry or no handle to pump. Super humid and well above 90 so it was pretty stressful not knowing about water. The last water station before the pawpaw is great, cool and really clear, fill some empties or a water bag in addition to your bottles if you have to do the detour

Art on 09/13/2021 09:56 AM:
My wife and I just completed (Sunday, September 12) a thru hike of the entire 184.5 miles. We went through the tunnel on Saturday morning September 11.

There are two locked barriers, but if you are in decent shape you can reach around them and pull yourself by on the canal side. Bikers will likely need a partner to pass their bikes to over the tops. We wore our backpacks when going around the barriers. Again, if you are not in particularly good shape or simply afraid of losing your grip and falling in the canal, you will be better off with the detour.

We would not have gone around except for the fact that there is no danger in the tunnel. In fact, if you approach from the West there are signs actually stating that while you cannot go all the way through, the tunnel is open to visitors. You can walk the entire length of the tunnel from the west until you come to the barriers on the east, neither of which is actually in the tunnel.

Not sure what the barriers are even for?

Rivnuts from Homestead, PA on 09/13/2021 06:58 PM:
I didn't see this post when I asked the question about the detour. Was there any construction going on or construction personnel around once you got past the barriers?

Art on 09/14/2021 08:57 AM:
Rivnuts, there were no workers nor any signs of construction. That being said, it was a Saturday morning.

Daniel on 09/14/2021 12:35 PM:
It takes mere seconds to check the NPS website to see why that part of the Paw Paw tunnel has locked barriers.

They are removing existing debris remaining from a recent rockslide, stabilizing the rock face adjacent to the canal, and replacing the wooden boardwalk that serves as the towpath for a portion of this stretch.

First, there were just signs saying that end is closed. Now they have put in multiple locked barriers. If people keep ignoring the barriers to enter the rockslide zone, they'll post a guard next. Once they tear out the wooden boardwalk to replace it, how will you get around that? Whether it's two people ignoring barriers at Paw Paw or thousands ignoring barriers at the Capitol Building, they're all the reason why we can't keep nice things.

Rivnuts from Homestead,PA on 09/14/2021 04:16 PM:
The problem has been that the NPS website announced the closure of the Towpath downriver of the tunnel last November but no work had begun until, perhaps, the last few days. This has led to much confusion.

Bill in Houston from Houston on 09/16/2021 03:34 PM:
Yeah, when you lie to me, the contract is pretty much over.

Art on 09/17/2021 09:54 AM:
Bill, you insurrectionist! Are you advocating Storming the gates of the Paw Paw Tunnel!?!?!?

Edward from North Carolina on 09/18/2021 08:07 AM:
All Trails shows the grade for the Paw Paw Tunnel trail to be 11% heading towards Hancock and 6% towards Cumberland.

Bill in Houston from Houston on 09/18/2021 09:15 AM:
Art, I'm kind of crazy like that. :)

Riding Katy, GAP and Erie Canal trails, we have gotten so many bogus notifications of closures, maintenance, etc that we just don't believe them anymore.

I'm not here to break the law or anything, but when the website of an authority says a trail is closed, and then you get to it and it's passable, it's difficult to see why one should take a detour.

Rivnuts from Homestead,PA on 09/18/2021 09:26 AM:
In just a few mere seconds to check the NPS website, the following info about the Tunnel Bypass Trail is provided. Having traversed this bypass trail a few years ago (and facing it again in a few weeks) this info seems accurate and fair. Although the estimate of time to traverse it seems conservative it is dependent on several factors as cited. With decreasing daylight this fall the additional time to traverse the bypass may influence one’s trip schedule and overnight plans.

“How long is the Tunnel Bypass Trail? How steep is it?

The Tunnel Bypass Trail is approximately a mile and a half in length with an elevation change of 375 feet. From the upstream (parking lot) end, the Tunnel Bypass Trail begins by crossing the canal prism and climbs 0.63 miles to the top (or about one foot of rise per nine feet of distance). On the downstream (construction) end, the bypass begins where the Tunnel Hill Trail meets the towpath near mile marker 155 and climbs 0.82 miles to the top (one foot of rise per 11.5 feet of distance).

What should I know about the Tunnel Bypass Trail?

Wear sturdy shoes that have good traction. Carry and drink lots of water during ascent and descent. Plan for the Tunnel Bypass Trail taking between one and a half to two and a half hours depending on your load, fitness level, and pace. Cyclists are reminded that they are required to dismount along the Tunnel Bypass Trail.”

Edward from North Carolina on 09/18/2021 09:33 AM:
As a 64 year old who is planning to take this on next week, I appreciate the conservative time estimate.

Doug from Freeport Maine on 09/20/2021 12:36 PM:
I'll be riding the GAP/C&O roundtrip next week, starting in DC. Regarding Paw Paw tunnel options, there appears to be an on-road bypass of 2.3 miles along Tunnel Hill Road, Malcom Road, Old County Road and Sulpher Springs Road. The C&O Canal Trail appears to cross Tunnel Hill Road at the east end and Suphfer Springs Road at the west end. Any reasons why this wouldn't be a good alternative to a 2 hour hike with bike?

John W. from Pittsburgh,PA on 09/20/2021 02:19 PM:
It appears that to get to Tunnel Hill Rd. from the C&O, you have to go up to the top of the Paw Paw Tunnel Detour (Tunnel Hill Rd. is high up above you if you were inside the tunnel). If you’ve huffed and puffed and got up to the top, you might as well at this point just continue down the detour to its conclusion rather than getting on the roads you mentioned. It will be quicker that way. I can’t speak for everyone on this forum but I don’t see any other alternatives that save you time.

Rick from Florida on 09/21/2021 07:15 AM:
I just rode the Paw Paw Bypass option (Sulphur Springs Rd, to Oldtown to Malcolm Rd to Tunnel Hill Rd) on Sunday the 19th. This connects with the Tunnel Hill Bypass Trail at the top of Tunnel Hill. You then have to take the Tunnel Hill Bypass Trail down to the C&O path. The option of going on these roads works well going from Cumberland to Little Orleans, however if you are going from Little Orleans to Cumberland you have no option to pushing your bike up the Tunnel Hill Bypass Trail. If you are going this direction you are probably better off staying on the Bypass trail to get back to the C&O. Just an FYI there are a couple if steeper sections on Sulpher Springs Rd and Tunnel Hill Road. They are ridable though. These are also public roads with no shoulder, so beware of traffic, especially on Oldtown Rd. (51).

Rivnuts from Homestead,PA on 09/21/2021 07:46 AM:

As one who is about to ride to DC I appreciate this information about this option. How much traffic did you encounter on Rt 51? I already had planned to ride on Rt 51 from Cumberland to Big Run before rejoining the Towpath to Paw Paw. Also, we’re you able to ride down the Bypass Trail after leaving Tunnel Hill Road. I remember riding some of it a few years ago.

Rick from Florida on 09/22/2021 07:30 AM:
We were only on 51 for a short period of time and only saw one car. It looked like a decent road, but expect the cars to be traveling at high speeds. We were able to ride down the bypass trail from the top, but it is a bit steep and rocky, especially at the top. If you have spent some time on a mountain bike off road it is definitely possible to ride it. For context, I am 62 and in decent shape riding a touring bike with panniers.

Paw Paw Tunnel in Paw Paw
MikeH on 08/11/2021 12:28 PM:
Going to be riding in September and looking for any updates on the Paw Paw tunnel and the detour?

Rivnuts from Homestead, PA on 08/11/2021 01:14 PM:
I, myself, do not have first hand, current information to respond directly to your question.

However, as you know, this has been a recurring question since the National Park Service (NPS) announced the construction project along the towpath downriver from the tunnel. Originally the NPS C&O website stated that the towpath at the downriver exit would be closed from November of 2020 until the spring of 2022 and that riders would have to take the tunnel bypass trail.

However, forum contributors have consistently reported that the tunnel exit is not restricted and have not had to take the detour. That said, the NPS C&O website now states that the towpath "construction in that area is estimated to begin the week of August 9, 2021 and extend into the summer of 2022..."

With that statement, it will be important to obtain current feedback from travellers this week and thereafter as we move into the fall.

Its unfortunate that the NPS cannot simply provide a consistent and current status of that project to guide travellers in their planning.

Rivnuts from Homestead, PA on 08/11/2021 02:38 PM:

The GAP website is also reporting the start of construction work beginning August 9. I'll try to query those on the GAP coming from DC this week to see what their experience at the tunnel was.

Shaena from Pittsburgh on 08/11/2021 03:20 PM:
Paw Paw tunnel was fine to go through today (8/11)

TC from Tucson on 08/16/2021 10:43 AM:
Folks that live in the area are quoted on the facebook rail trail site that work will start in two weeks...

Rivnuts from Homestead,PA on 08/16/2021 01:55 PM:

Since I’m not on Facebook, please let us know if future posts on the Facebook rail trail site indicates that work has actually started and that the Towpath is closed.


Rivnuts from Homestead,PA on 08/16/2021 05:31 PM:

Since I’m not on Facebook, please let us know if future posts on the Facebook rail trail site indicates that work has actually started and that the Towpath is closed.