Paw Paw and a different Cumberland Gap

I’d never heard of Cumberland, Maryland.  Like many, at first I confused it with the famous Cumberland Gap to the south, where in 1775, Daniel Boone helped build a road for settlers to what was considered the western frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee.  In 2013, this Cumberland is poised as a potential great vacation spot.

Cumberland is a city of spires

Cumberland is a city of spires

It’s situated amid historic buildings, with good restaurants, and lovely scenery.

Washington's Headquarters from French and Indian War era

Washington’s Headquarters from French and Indian War era

When my family decided to meet in Cumberland for a mini family reunion, a few spots kept coming up in our research, including Rocky Gap State Park, George Washington’s headquarters (a tiny cabin from his early days), the Western Maryland Railroad, the Allegany Museum, and the C&O Canal, including the Paw Paw Tunnel.   We target the latter as a spot for a family hike.

Jackie Chan at the mouth of the tunnel

Jackie Chan at the mouth of the tunnel

The Paw Paw Tunnel is a part of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal system, which runs 184.5 miles to Washington D.C.   Paw Paw is a 3118 foot long tunnel blasted through the mountain.  Construction on it began in 1836, and it was one of the great engineering feats of its day.   Since it is essentially flat, the trail is popular with cyclists as well as hikers.  Don’t expect solitude, but expect some unique sights.The route toward the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail heads south out of Cumberland along the Potomac River, then heads east.   The winding drive along Route 51 is pleasant, but the destination was easy to miss, as signage was not great.  A Boy Scout troop was camped in a field beside the trailhead, but there were few people on the trail initially.

Nearing the tunnel on a gorgeous day

Nearing the tunnel on a gorgeous day

It was muggy at the trailhead and there were some concerns about how far the hike would be for my mother, who is a few years past her mountaineering prime.  A sign at the top of the initial hill indicated the tunnel was 0.6miles away.   Research told me that the tunnel itself would double the distance.   Piece of cake.   If it were closer to Washington, like the area of my previous two posts, it would be a perfect candidate for Hiking Along, a site that helps kids.  They focus on hikes and outdoor education in the D.C. area.

The near end of the tunnel

The near end of the tunnel: note the trail splitting off to the right.

A couple caveats:  Beware of puddles and slightly bumpy terrain in a very dark environment.  Some people managed without, but a flashlight is highly recommended.

Picture yourself on a barge to the left of the railing

Picture yourself on a barge in the canal to the left of the railing

One nice middle aged couple we met did not have a light, and they were about to turn around a few hundred feet in when they encountered puddles.  We loaned them a light so they continued.   On entering the tunnel, it is hard to believe that the light at the other end of the straight tunnel is 3000 feet way.  Ten minutes into the dark traverse, you’ll start believing.

Jackie Chan and his mama

Jackie Chan and his mama

We’d heard there were bats in the tunnel, but encountered none.   I was slightly disappointed, but I think everyone else was happy.

The far end of the tunnel

The far end of the tunnel

Cool turtle just past the far end of the tunnel

Cool turtle just past the far end of the tunnel

At the far end, there are rocky slabs that create a small canyon that would not be out of place in the foothills of the Rockies. We relaxed there for fifteen minutes or so, taking photos before returning, passing much more traffic on the way back.


This would be awesome on a bike!

My mom loved this hike, I got to appreciate some history while walking, and I even saw youngsters enjoying it on foot as well as on two wheels.  This is a great family hike, and the path has many more miles to recommend it, even starting in downtown Cumberland.    We might have to return!


Denise, Jackie Chan, and I ready for the return hike– and  lunch at the Crabby Pig.  🙂

About Josh Baker

"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ― John Muir

Posted on July 2, 2013, in Adventure, Family, Flora and Fauna, General Hiking, Hiking with dogs, Historical sites, Outdoors, Travel, vacations, Waterways and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. buffalotompeabody

    Beautiful post! This is one of my favorite blogs.

    • Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words. I am now following you. If only I’d known your twin heroes were Twain and Keller. Love it. And I really like what you said about hypocrisy. We all have to fight that. Mostly I like your idea of hijinks!

      • buffalotompeabody

        Many thanks to you! I truly appreciate the follow! I’m also trying to master nincompoopery.
        Again, thank you so much!

  2. Looks like some great hiking and great adventures. I’ve driven past Cumberland more times than I can count and would love to stop sometime to look around. We’ve been hiking the C & O Canal near Harpers Ferry for a while and hope to do a through hike some time in the future. This post is another incentive to make it happen. Thanks for sharing. Great post!

  3. Nice post. The C&O Canal and especially the Paw Paw tunnel section are unique attractions. Glad you were able to experience them. Your research paid off.
    Take care.

  4. Love reading your posts and your pictures make it feel like I’ve been there . . . which is good, ’cause Everett and I aren’t the hiking type and if you’ve read my blog, you’ll realize I’m not much good on a bike! Our Tyler Dog is quite jealous of Jackie Chan for all the attention he gets in your blog.

  5. What a cool hike. Wouldn’t it be cool to hike the actual entire Cumberland Gap? I wonder if it’s now a highway, or still a trail?

  6. This IS a beautiful area, and thank you for reminding me about it – now that I’m only living 2 hours from here. A great place for fall and early winter hiking!

  7. Great post on the Paw Paw Tunnel, and the canal in general. Thanks for the link to Hiking Along. I’d never heard of them before but seems like a great group. I had the joy of working on the Canal a few summers back at the VC in Williamsport MD.

  1. Pingback: Paw Paw | Find Me A Cure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: