The historic C&D Canal links two quaint towns and a path alongside the canal provides an almost 15-mile long biking trail that makes the perfect daytrip destination! Along the way you’ll travel through wetlands and a nature preserve, around a marina, and past an historic cemetery. Two beautiful, historic communities anchor both ends of the trail and the canal itself. You’re likely to see numerous birds, including great blue heron, white egrets, cormorants, osprey and bald eagles.
The C&D Trail is about 1.5 hours away from Baltimore, 1 hour away from Philadelphia, and a scant 30 minutes away from Wilmington DE.
The Michael Castle Trail (on the Delaware side) and the Ben Cardin Trail (on the Maryland side) together are known as the C&D Canal Trail. As the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal nears Delaware City, it combines with a half-mile stretch along the Branch Canal Trail. Although mostly flat, there are a few steep hills with switchbacks to get your blood pumping, especially as you circumnavigate the Summit North Marina.
C&D Canal History
The canal connects the Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay. This is huge for shipping routes, as it saves approximately 300 miles on the route between Wilmington and Philadelphia on the Delaware River, and the major Chesapeake Bay ports such as Baltimore, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. Boats and barges traveling through the canal thus avoid the longer trip down the Atlantic seacoast around the Delmarva Peninsula.
Construction for this canal began in 1804, but after fits and starts and stops, the canal opened in 1829. A cool $3.5 million was spent in its construction, making it one of the most expensive canals in America. Improvements to the canal continued through the latter half of the 1800s and early 1900s to create the canal we see today. Now it’s 14 miles long, 450 feet wide and 35 feet deep. Today’s canal is a modern sea-level, electronically controlled commercial waterway, carrying 40% of all ship traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore. You’re likely to see at least one ship making its way through the canal during your ride.
As you get closer in to Delaware City, you’ll encounter the historic African Union Church Cemetery, which was established in 1835 when the church first purchased the land. This church and its cemetery were important aspects of the Polktown African American community. As you ride by, take a moment and pay your respects, especially to the five veterans of the Civil War U.S. Colored Troops interred there. Don’t be fooled by the few tombstones — there are many more unmarked graves in this small cemetery.
Interestingly, this cemetery was “abandoned” in the early 1900s, only rediscovered in the 1990s when some kids were playing and discovered a tombstone. Polktown didn’t disappear though. Established in 1835, it’s one of the earliest remaining free black communities established in Delaware and extended along both sides of the Branch Canal.
The C&D Trail sort of melds into the Branch Canal Trail just before it reaches Delaware City. As you continue to the end of the Branch Canal Trail, cross 5th Street/SR 9 and continue along the aptly named Canal Street to reach Battery Park, from which you can see Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, itself a worthy daytrip! There are restaurants and ice cream shops, as well as little boutiques in this part of historic Delaware City.
Eats and Other Dets
The entire trail is paved and well maintained. The trail also enjoys quite a bit of popularity. Cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and families out for strolls all use the trail, especially on weekends. Despite being almost entirely straight, you’ll find the ride interesting because of the variety of bridges crossing the canal and the couple of hills leading you away briefly. Once you leave the towns on either end, it’s almost entirely non-developed. You’ll notice the canal access roads on the opposite side. There is little shade. When I rode it on a chilly day in April, the sun was welcomed but I imagine it could be miserably hot in the summer.
A good friend often rides this trail with her husband; they almost always stop to eat at restaurants along the way. They recommend Crabby Dicks, in Delaware City and Schaefers Canal House in Chesapeake City. Grain Craft Bar & Kitchen at roughly the midpoint also welcomes cyclists.
I’m not a fast cyclist, even with my new Trek Verve ebike. I also make multiple stops, so I spent about 4 hours on this 30-mile ride. Of course, that included walking around in Delaware City, picnicking along the canal, checking out an historic cemetery and other stops to pet some of the dogs I encountered.
Know Before You Go
Once you leave Chesapeake City or Delaware City, there are few amenities, although several access points in Delaware all offer primitive bathrooms. At St Georges, there was an ice-cream shop, something I noted for future rides. There are numerous benches along the path, offering comfortable stopping points for a picnic or simply to watch the eagles flying around.
Getting there: Access and parking is available at the following sites:
- Chesapeake City: 106 Biddle Street, Chesapeake City MD
- St. Georges Access Point: From I-95, take exit 4 (SR 7/SR 1) and travel south on SR1/SR 7 for 4.9 miles. Take exit 156 and merge onto SR 1/US 13. After 2.2 miles, take Exit 152. Turn left onto SR 7/US 13 and after 0.3 mile, turn right onto US 13/SR 7. After 1.4 miles, turn slight right onto North Main Street, continuing for 0.4 mile until N. Main Street ends at the canal and a parking lot.
- Biddle Point Access Point: From I-95, take exit 4 (SR 7/SR 1) and travel south on SR1/SR 7 for 4.9 miles. Take exit 156 and merge onto SR 1/US 13. After 2.2 miles, take Exit 152. Turn left onto SR 7/US 13 and after 0.3 mile, turn right onto US 13/SR 7. After 1 mile, turn left onto Cox Neck Road. After 1.6 miles, turn right at the sign for the C&D Canal Wildlife Area; follow the road 0.6 mile to the C&D Canal and the parking lot.
- Lums Pond/Summit Bridge Access Point: From Middletown DE at the intersection of US 301 and SR 299, follow US 301 north for 8.5 miles. Turn right onto SR 71 and go 0.8 mile to turn right onto Old Summit Road. Go 0.4 mile where you will find a small gravel lot on your right.
- Delaware City: Along 5th Street/SR 9 just across the trail from Kathy’s Crab House.
Enjoy reading about or visiting canals? Check out the articles about Maryland’s C&O Canal and New York’s Erie Canal.