Water Availability on the C&O Canal

Hello Level Walkers,

The NPS has provided guidance regarding water availability on the C&O Canal NHP.

Thanks for your support, Steve

Starting in spring 2023, the well water in hiker-biker campsites will be signed non-potable. Water from wells at paid campgrounds will remain potable and safe for drinking, cooking, or washing.  

 Why the change? 

We want to ensure that there is a more reliable water source year-round for visitors in the park and that the drinking water that is provided is as safe as it can possibly be, especially considering that our wells are in a flood zone. 

The park will maintain potable water in a targeted number of wells in fee campgrounds. However, as a general precaution for wells located in a flood zone, you are advised to boil or treat the water before use for your own protection. Well handles will be removed from fee campgrounds in mid-November to protect against freeze as we normally do. 

For hiker-biker campgrounds, the wells will be signed as non-potable and we ask that visitors bring their own water supply or water sanitizing equipment to treat well water before use. The wells will remain in operation in hiker-biker campgrounds year-round. As long as visitors bring their own sanitization equipment there will be a more reliable water source, as handles will not be removed from these wells.  

What about water in park buildings? 

Visitor Centers, park buildings, and comfort stations are provided water by the nearby municipality and do not require drinking water sampling by the park. Please note that the Swains Lock campsite draws on the same municipal water as the Swains Lockhouse and will remain potable.  

How can visitors purify non-potable water? 

  • Treat it! Use water purification tablets. The purification tablets — which contain iodine, halazone, or chlorine — kill most waterborne bacteria, viruses, and some (but not all) parasites. Over time purification tablets lose their potency, so keep your supply fresh.  
  • Filter it! Because some parasites — such as Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and larger bacteria — are not killed by purification tablets, you should also use a water filter. 
  • Boil it! Boiling will kill microorganisms. First, bring water to a rolling boil, and then continue boiling for at least 1 minute. Before heating, muddy water should be allowed to stand for a while to allow the silt to settle to the bottom – dip the clear water off the top and boil. 

Water purification tablets, filters, and sanitizing tablets can be purchased at camping supply stores. 

So where can visitors find water in the park?

A list of wells across the park is available on  our website

Drive-In Campsites: Well water within the drive-in campsites is potable and treated with iodine – do NOT drink if you have any iodine allergies or if you are on medication for an overactive thyroid. In general, well water is clean and able to be used without additional treatment. However, as a general precaution for wells located in a flood zone, you are advised to boil or treat the water before use for your own protection. 

Hiker-Biker Campsites: Non-potable water is available in hiker-biker campsites. Please plan to filter, chemically treat, or boil the water before use for your own protection. 

 Please encourage visitors to always have a water plan! 

Water availability is subject to change. Always plan accordingly and bring plenty of water with you as a backup option. 

 Where can visitors find more information about water in the park? 

Information about water is listed on multiple pages of our website (we always try to repeat important information to help visitors find what they are looking for no matter what page they initially load). 

 Our main Current Conditions page lists the status of all wells in the park: https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/conditions.htm 

Water information can also be found on the following webpages: 

Additionally, water information is listed on the NPS app and each well has a sign informing visitors if the water is potable or non-potable.