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Biking the Great Allegheny Passage (part 1)

The following is a guest post from Andre Pope, about biking in DC and the Great Allegheny Passage aka the GAP Trail. You can read Part 2 here


This past week I took an adventure by bicycle, I rode the Great Allegheny Passage. Known to some as the GAP trail, the Great Allegheny Passage stretches from Cumberland, MD to Pittsburgh, PA along a rails to trails path. Mostly crushed limestone rock, this smooth trail winds its way through beautiful wooded areas, small towns and scenic overlooks, giving you a traffic and motorized vehicle-free 150+ mile bike ride.

Originally I had planned on connecting the C&O Canal towpath with the Great Allegheny Passage for a 335 mile trip, but traded the C&O towpath for two days of riding in a very bicycle friendly Washington D.C.

Riding in Washing D.C.

GAP Trail Andre Pope  - 01If you ever get the chance to ride your bicycle in Washington, D.C. I recommend it. Riding your bike lets you see, access and explore DC in a friendly and timely manor. With nearly all of DC accessible by bicycle it makes exploring all of the national monuments a breeze while still giving you plenty of time to take in a few of the great museums that DC has to offer. There seem to be a variety of cycling options when it comes to navigating around the city, but I would recommend sticking to riding on the road. Tourist take to the sidewalks in the more popular areas which seems like a good option until you run into a crowd of 3rd graders. Remember to be aware of your surroundings and watch out for taxi doors! I got doored by a double parked taxi cab and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Luckily I just ended up with a few minor bruises to my person and a few small dents and scratches to the bike.

There are a few bike shops in DC that can help you out if you ever get in a pinch or need to pick up last minute supplies before tackling the Great Allegheny Passage. I recommend the guys over at BicycleSPACE. They were super friendly and helpful and had a full line of Brooks saddles. Luckily for me David at The Myrtle Beach Bicycle Fix had me all set-up, so BicycleSPACE was more of a tourist stop for me.

Starting in Cumberland, MD

In order to get a fresh start on the GAP trail my friend (Emerson Brown) and I  stayed overnight at the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland, MD. The motel actually backs right up the the C&O towpath and the GAP trail. They have plenty of parking and even a bike wash area. To top it off they even let us keep our car there for a few extra days until we returned from our bike trip.

GAP Trail Andre Pope  - 18On day one we started off with a free breakfast from the Fairfield Inn and got underway about 9:30 am. The plan was to take our time, explore the area and trail at our leisure and make our way to Rockwood, PA. An easy day of about 45 miles of riding. Even though the uphill grade was only about 2% after about 23 miles it starts to make you wonder. We passed the Mason–Dixon Line around mile 20 and then up to the highest point on the trail at the Eastern Continental Divide at around mile 23. At this point we had gone about 2000+ feet in elevation. From here It was all downhill!

There were some awesome points of interest along this part of the trial. The Big Savage Tunnel spans about 1/2 a mile through the mountain. The temperature inside the tunnel dropped about 20+ degrees which was great until I started to feel my core temperature drop along with it. The Salisbury Viaduct near Meyersdale, PA is a 100+ high and 1900+ feet long beautiful overlook of the entire region. With eight wind turbines in the distance this part of the trail gives you scope to just how far you have been riding.

In the small town of Meyersdale, at the tiny train depot / welcome center right on the trial, we decided to refuel. While there we ran into a few fellow GAP trail cyclist.  Most cyclist we encountered were going from West to East making their way to Cumberland for DelFest, a big bluegrass festival. The sense of community you get while touring is something you rarely experience outside of being on a bike. They provided us with some great insight on what the next leg of our trip was going to be like and some pointers on where to stay. Upon receiving this sage advice and surveying the way our bodies felt, we decide to put down more miles than originally planned and make our way to Ohiopyle, PA.

With about 18 more miles of peddling down we stopped off in Rockwood, PA for a lunch break. Rockwood is the type of town that politicians talk about when they refer to lack of jobs and industry growth. It was small and quaint with some very friendly folks, but not much going on. We chose Rock City Cafe as our lunch stop of choice and treated ourselves to some hearty fare. Upon leaving we met the owner who thanked us for our business, wished us safe travels and asked us to spread word to fellow cyclist to stop by. It seems that the city of Rockwood ( a trail town)  is supported by the GAP trail bikers and hikers and cater to the travelers needs.

Getting back in the saddle we knew that Confluence, PA was next on the map. This was our original (second destination) until fellow cyclist told us we would have a better time in Ohiopyle. The friendly advice to peddle for camp elsewhere paid off. Confluence, PA was ok, but lacked a few amenities that we were looking for after a long day of riding.

After blasting our way through Confluence, we made out way to the Ohiopyle State Park. The park is over 19,000 acres of beautiful forest, fly fishing, nature watching and white water. It was a very beautiful ride through the park of about 17 miles, but by this time we were sore from being in the saddle for so long we were aching for a rest. Upon exiting from the park you enter into the town of Ohiopyle.

GAP Trail Andre Pope  - 25Thunderstorms were on the radar for the night so instead of camping we decided to throw down some extra money and stay in one of the local inns. It was our reward to ourselves for knocking out 75 miles for the day. At $100+ a night I wouldn’t recommend always doing it, but if you have the cash sometimes it is worth it to splurge. We choose to stay in the Yough Plaza Motel. A small but well kept motel, it had everything we needed (ie a hot shower) to make us feel at home.

One of the main reasons we choose to stay in Ohiopyle was we were told that there was a pretty good restaurant and brew house right across the river. The Falls City Pub, is run and maintained by one of the local white water outfitters and had some tasty food and cold beverages. They by far had the best variety of beer. From Micro Brews to Macro Brews their samplings had something for everyone. I recommend checking them out when you pass through.

After dodging rain drops we made it back to our little hotel and decided to call it a night. Not a bad day riding 75+ miles and seeing some really cool stuff.

You can check out the route and elevation changes over at my Garmin Connect account.


End of Day 1 of Andre Pope’s bike trip along the Great Allegheny Passage. Part 2 of his trip can be found here.