I've been wanting to take a ride on a C&O canal boat ever since I heard there was such a thing. It's nice that my kids are at an age (mostly) when I can do this cooler stuff with them. I invited tons of people to come with me and the group that ended up joining was just right. Lots of kids and great moms, even a dad. I have this to say:
*not a bad drive from my neck of the woods down through the ginormous Potomac homes into the National Park, took me maybe 35 minutes
*lots of parking, lots of picnic tables
*the visitors center is tiny, at least the part we got to go into. There are apparently 7 different visitor's centers along the C&O canal - the one we went to is called Great Falls Tavern. The part with most of the stuff to look at is being renovated right now, which is a crying shame.
*the tickets to ride were only $5 per person (and my kids were all old enough to cost money, darn it)*The junior ranger books were a total bust. The one for Sheely's age was all writing and she balked and would have nothing to do with it. Xavey too. Oh well. I'm glad we did the Clara Barton/Glen Echo one, it was so much more interactive.
*There was a giant mound of dirt for the kids to play on while we waited for our 11am boat ride - they announced it was time by blowing a giant bugle.
*Our "tour guide" was awesome - energetic and fun to listen to. The atmosphere was casual and yet attentive - Preston was by far the most outspoken, sometimes commenting or asking questions and sometimes just talking REALLY LOUD. You could get up out of your seat for a minute or two and walk a bit without getting in "trouble"*Sheely was freaked out that the sound of my camera taking pictures would spook the mules and she got really crabby at me but we worked it out
*the kids got a kick out of the whole "lock" system, when we floated up it was crazy - even I was impressed with how it worked. It reminded me of being in Germany on a boat with my friend Lis when we went around a canalway.*the mules pulled us FAST . It went way quicker and smoother than I'd anticipated. The whole set up with the ropes and harnesses is pretty ingenious, when you think about it. And a "tow path" where the mules walk with their handler - again, the kids got such a kick out of it and so did I.
*I thought when it was time to go back that they would just switch the mules to the other end and we'd float back, but I was wrong. They turned that boat right around, apparently it does have a front and a back :)
*At the end our guide started playing a concertina! get out of town! It was awesome! He even played The Red River Valley, which is the song my husband sings to my kids at night, they loved it! Then he handed out a bunch of old time instruments and we all played along and stomped our feet while he played a lively version of "Simple Gifts"*When our ride was over we had a lunch along the canal and then went for a walk down the canal, over it and up the tow path along the Potomac River. OH the fun! The kids found a path down to the river and we played and explored for a long time. That is one mighty river, certainly the biggest one I've ever stopped and explored around. Preston found a "rock hill" and Xavey and his friend found a hidden waterfall (that Preston found later and was convinced that he found it first and had a M-E-L-T-D-O-W-N because no one would get excited about looking at it except me and apparently I don't count)*Then we went to the overlook to see the "falls" which is not very overlook-worthy, in my opinion. I couldn't even bring myself to force my kids to be in a picture in front of it. I heard the Virgina side is amazing, so we'll do that someday. The kids chatted and pet the mules and then they found ANOTHER path, actually called the "River Trail" and we walked along the river some more until I got tired and hot and was ready to go home :)
*All in all: SO FUN.
tow path=super fun
come again with husband=for sure, and with sturdier shoes :)