Biking the C and D Canal Trail from Chesapeake City, MD to Delaware City, DE is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. At 28 miles round trip (14 miles each way), the scenic canal trail anchored by two historic cities is easily feasible for an afternoon ride or a full day trip.
**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.
But before jumping into biking the C and D Canal Trail it is probably appropriate to clear up confusion about the many names associated with the trail and even its location. While it is correct to refer to the path as the C and D Canal Trail it also goes by the names the Ben Cardin Trail and also the Mike Castle Trail.
It’s really rather simple. Because the trail runs through the states of Delaware and Maryland, each state named its segment independently. Nevertheless, both the Ben Cardin Trail in Maryland and the Mike Castle Trail (sometimes the Michael Castle Trail) in Delaware both run along the north side of the C and D Canal and the entire paved pathway makes up the C&D Canal Recreational Trail.
You might ask, “Who are Ben Cardin and Mike Castle”? Ben Cardin is a US Senator representing Maryland since 2007. And Mike Castle is a former Delaware Governor (1985-92) and member of the House of Representatives (1993–2011).
When you consider the egos of politicians, it’s not all that confusing why a single bike path would be known by so many names. Viewed in that light it makes perfect sense.
Cycling the C and D Canal Trail
The 14-mile bike trail (28-mile round trip) follows the C and D Canal, the third busiest waterway in the United States, connecting two historic cities; Chesapeake City in Maryland and Delaware City in Delaware. At 12 miles in length, the Mike Castle Trail makes up the bulk of the path’s distance. The remaining 2 miles situated in Maryland is known as the Ben Cardin C&D Canal Trail.
The mixed-use trails for walking, biking, and horseback riding offers scenic beauty and a great opportunity to view a variety of wildlife. The entire path is paved but there are opportunities to get off and ride dirt trails and gravel roads. It is a relatively easy ride over flat terrain with a few short climbs.
The pathway runs through the C and D Canal Conservation area and provides scenic views of the canal. The wildlife area consists of 5,200 acres of wilderness on both sides of the channel and is managed by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife. This is a protected area in the Atlantic Coastal Plain.
The reserve provides habitat for several species of birds including yellow-breasted chat, yellow warbler, prairie warbler, white-eyed vireo, and indigo bunting throughout the summer months. Ospreys and eagles are frequently seen, as well as great blue herons and great egrets.
At more or less the halfway point on this 14-mile route, you will pass Lum’s Pond State Park. The park offers wonderful amenities such as picnic areas, restroom facilities, boat rentals, and even the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Park.
Within the park, you will find 17 miles of hiking trails wrapping around Delaware’s largest freshwater pond and traversing hardwood forests and wetlands.
For those wishing to extend their ride, the Little Jersey and Swamp Forest trails at Lum’s Pond provide 8 miles of dirt multi-use trails. The trails are not technical and are appropriate for novice riders.
Not far from Lum’s Pond, you will find the Summit North Marina. This section of the trail is where you’ll encounter the ride’s steepest climb making it a good time to stop for lunch. At the marina is Grain H2O, a gastropub with 18 beers on tap. At the marina, you will also find nature trails, picnic tables, and bike racks to secure your ride.
Just a short distance from Delaware City, you will see the African Union Church Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place of five U.S. Colored Troops who boldly served for the Union during the Civil War. You may want to stop and learn more about this bit of American history.
Top things to do in Chesapeake City
Upon arriving in South Chesapeake City, take the Chesapeake City Ferry (operates April 15 thru Oct. 15) from the south side of the canal to the historic town on the opposite side of the canal. Traversing the waterway takes just 5 to 7 minutes and costs $5 round trip.
Stroll the Colonial Downtown
On both sides of the canal, you will find the cutest colonial homes lining the street. (They may be the original “tiny house.”) As you wander around, watch for historical markers on some of the homes. I dare you to try to pick a favorite.
On the south side of the canal in Chesapeake City proper you will find restaurants, quaint inns, small boutique shops, museums, and more.
Visit the C and D Canal Museum
Located on the south side of the canal in the City of Chesapeake City, the C and D Canal Museum provides a look at the history of the canal. The museum is situated in the original pump house that controlled the locks of the earliest version of the canal.
Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the museum features interactive displays. Exhibits include fossils, tools used by canal diggers, as well as the original steam-driven engine and the waterwheel that once controlled the lock system. (815 Bethel Rd, Chesapeake City, MD)
Enjoy watching the ship come through the canal
Pull up a seat at Pell Garden Park on the waterfront and watch the cargo ships, colorful masted sailboats, and luxury yachts go by. This lovely community park is the site of the Summer Sunday’s Concert Series and Canal Days.
Have lunch on the Canal
Enjoy lunch overlooking the canal and in the shadow of the Chesapeake City Bridge. Schaefer’s Canal House is located on the north side of the canal and at the termination of the bike path. The restaurant offers casual waterfront dining with both indoor and outdoor seating.
The menu consists of appetizers, burgers, tacos, and pasta as well as full entrees. As you might imagine the menu is seafood-heavy but you will also find beef and chicken options as well as vegan and gluten-free selections. (208 Bank Street, Chesapeake City, MD)
If you will be headed across the canal into Chesapeake City then the Chesapeake Inn is a good choice for a casual meal. Grab a seat on the deck and enjoy live entertainment as well as a spectacular view of the marina and the Cand D Canal. The deck menu includes appetizers, brick oven pizza, tacos, pasta, and more.
The Chesapeake Inn offers lunch and dinner as well as Sunday Brunch. (605 Second Street, Chesapeake City, MD)
Fun Activities in Delaware City
Delaware City and its historic forts played an important role throughout the Civil War as well as the World Wars. It’s a small town worth exploring.
Browse the shops of Delaware City
Delaware City’s historic downtown area is sprinkled with boutique shops and eateries. Peruse the galleries, antique shops, and even a blacksmith. Or, reward your efforts with a cone from the Ice Cream Shop.
Take the Ferry to Pea Patch Island and Fort Delaware
Pea Patch Island is a short ferry ride away from Delaware City. Historic Fort Delaware is located on this island in the middle of the Delaware River.
The island is home to Fort Delaware which served to protect Philadelphia and Wilmington from attack from the mid-1800s through World War I. During the Civil War, the fort served as a prison camp to hold prisoners of war. At one time the prison housed up to 12,595 Confederate prisoners.
Today, fort historians dressed in period clothing regale visitors with stories of life in 1864, great escapes, and even a ghost story or two. A tour of the island takes you to the parade ground, officers’ quarters, barracks, kitchen, blacksmith shop, and ordnance room. Observe the firing of the Fort’s Columbiad cannon.
During the summer months, birders and wildlife enthusiasts can observe nine different species of herons, egrets, and ibis. The island’s marshes are home to one of the East Coast’s largest nesting areas for wading birds.
Visit the Fort DuPont
Like Fort Delaware, during the Civil War Fort DuPont provided protection for cities along the Delaware River. The fort’s primary defense included its rifles, mortar, and rapid-fire batteries which can still be seen today. After World War I the forts operated primarily as a training facility.
The River View Trail takes you alongside the Delaware River and offers a hint of the fort’s historic past. Five out of the six-gun batteries for the “Endicott Period” (1898-1910) can be seen along the trail.
For birders, the Riverview Trail is a perfect location to watch coastal birds fly between Pea Patch Island and the mainland. Osprey are prevalent throughout the summer while other species of bird make Fort DuPont home during the winter months. Bald eagles can be seen throughout the year.
Trailheads and Parking Areas for the C and D Canal Recreational Trail
Chesapeake City Parking – A newly paved parking lot on Biddle Street Parking offers plenty of public parking and is just a few blocks from the start of the trail on Lock Street in Chesapeake City.
Lum’s Pond South Trailhead- This is a good access point for your ride especially if you plan to only visit one of the cities that anchor this trail. You will find parking at the S. Lum’s Pond Parking lot
St. George’s Trailhead – The trailhead is located at the base of the St. Georges Bridge within the C and D Canal Conservation area. Access to the trailhead is off of Rt 13, DuPont Highway.
Biddle Point Trailhead – Located off of Cox Neck Rd, midway between St. Georges and Delaware City
Fort Delaware State Park Ferry Terminal – On the Delaware City end of the trail, you will find parking at the ferry terminal as well as street parking in town.
A Brief History of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal
The C and D Canal is thus named because this 14-mile waterway connects the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware Bay. This deep ship canal measuring 35 feet deep and 450 feet wide cuts 300 miles from the journey for ships traveling between the Port of Baltimore and the Port of Wilmington as well as Philadelphia and beyond. More than 40% of all ships making the voyage utilize the canal making it the third busiest waterway in the United States.
The original concept for the canal came about in the mid-17th century when Augustine Herman, a cartographer, and Dutch settler, proposed a waterway be built to connect the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.
After more than 100 years passed and several false starts, the original canal was built during the 1820s. While a private venture, the US Army Corps of Engineers played a vital role in bringing the waterway to fruition.
The first channel was only 10 feet deep and 66 feet wide at the waterline and just 36 feet wide at the bottom. Using a system of 4 locks the water was raised to a higher level. Teams of horses and mules would guide cargo and passenger vessels through the narrow channel.
This system and the loss of water in the locks however proved to be problematic. In 1837 steam operated pumps were purchased to raise the water level. By 1852, a steam engine and large waterwheel were procured and operated from the pumphouse in Chesapeake City.
It remained in use until 1919. By this time, it had become apparent that a wider, deeper, and more sophisticated waterway was needed. That same year, the federal government purchased the canal for $2.5 million. At that time the responsibility for operating, maintaining, and improving the channel fell to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
During the first phase of the project, all but one of the locks were removed. The one in Delaware City remained and in 1975 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
At this point, the canal became a sea-level operation and was taken to 12 feet deep and 90 feet wide. The new canal opened in 1927 to great fanfare despite the knowledge that further expansion would soon be necessary.
In 1954, the US Congress approved the expansion of the canal to its current width and depth. This expansion also included the addition of five new canal bridges, the Chesapeake City Bridge, Summit Bridge, St. George’s Bridge, Reedy Point Bridge, Senator Roth Bridge (SR-1), and the Delaware City Bridge, plus one railroad bridge. The addition of these bridges was vital to the local economies and commerce throughout the region.
The project came to completion in the mid-1970s. And, to this day, the US Army Corp of Engineers Philadelphia District is responsible for the operations and maintenance of the C and D Canal.
Mountain bikers looking for some gnar may want to head to Fair Hill Nature Reserve. Here you will find over 25 miles of mixed-use trails featuring a wide variety of terrain in a beautiful rural setting that includes a covered bridge.
NICA riders and coaches from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland leagues call Fair Hill a favorite race site.