Rockwood to Connellsville RT daytrip
My first time on this fantastic trail. I drove 3 hours from my home in Baltimore County to pick up the trail in Confluence, PA. The trail itinerary for my half-day excursion was to ride from Confluence, PA north to Connellsville, then double back past Confluence and on up to Rockwood before returning back to my car in Confluence. That was the plan, anyway.
I rode my 26" MTB with knobby tires. I would have completed the trek easily with road tires. The knobbys were fine for the Confluence to Connellsville segment. The trail in this section is, smooth, tightly packed and in excellent condition - the next best thing to riding on concrete. The grade was barely noticeable, and I made great time on this segment. The scenery is outstanding along the river and in Ohiopyle. Plenty of amenities in both Confluence and in Ohiopyle.
The second segment of my ride, from Confluence south to Rockwood, was a different story. A slight increase in grade, combined with a loose pack of dirt and fine gravel, made for a tougher ride. Fatigue was also setting in at this point. I turned around just short of the Pinkerton Tunnel, and thought I would have an easy time coasting back down to Confluence - not the story. The combination of loose pack and knobby tires made this downhill more challenging with constant pedal power needed. The segment from Confluence to Rockwood has some decent scenery, plenty of benches, but no amenities whatsoever.
All told, I logged 45 miles in about 4 hours of riding. My top speed was 20 mph. My average pace was 5:16 min / mile. Different gear, like road tires or a hybrid bike, would have made this excursion a lot easier. Nevertheless, this trail is a national treasure, soul-satisfying, and plenty of scenery. I can't wait to try another section. The people I encountered along the trail were very friendly and courteous. The pics and video that I took along the way garnered a lot of envy from friends and family. Be sure to pack plenty of water and fuel for the body, as this section of trail is remote.
I rode this train (combined with the C&O Towpath) in May 2016. It was apparently one of the rainiest May's that this area has seen in a long time, but surprisingly, this trail handles rain well. One day I got caught in a deluge between Rockwood and Meyersdale; it poured with thunder & lightning and no shelter, for about 45 minutes. When it stopped raining, I got back on the bike (cross-over) and had no issues with mud. I got a little wet, but no loss of traction or any ruts, holes or mud puddles to deal with.
I took 4 days to ride the trail. Day 1 from Pittsburgh to West Newton; Day 2 from West Newton to Ohiopyle; Day 3 from Ohiopyle to Meyersdale; Day 4 from Meyersdale to Cumberland, MD. I met several people who were doing it in 2 days, but honestly, I can't see why you would rush it - that leaves no time to stop and enjoy the scenery or check out some of the neat sights and towns along the way. My shortest day was about 32 miles and the longest was 42 miles. I generally took 6-8 hours to do this, making lots of stops.
Although cycling west to east involves climbing for about 125 miles, it's such a gradual incline you hardly notice it. Then when you have the 25 mile downhill (1.75% grade) to Cumberland, it feels exhilarating. There's also generally a tailwind going west to east (just not when I rode it).
Highly recommend this trail. It's beautiful, historical, quiet, incredibly well maintained and as a solo, female rider, I felt totally safe.
Love rocks, water and trees - this is the ride for you!
Riding from Pittsburgh to Cumberland.
Before starting, highly recommend visiting the unique Bicycle Heaven Museum. If you are interested in bicycles at all or just interested in history, it's worth the stop. Plan 1 - 2 hours max. Our trip took place mid May, 4 nights on the trail. We didn't make reservations ahead of time for overnight stays, except a few days early over the weekend. Worked out fine for us, but wouldn't do in the summer! Note: we are serious tourists who love bike riding. We averaged around 35 miles/day, riding with 25 - 35 pd panniers; stopping to admire waterfalls, rocks and the many wonderful, detailed signs with historic or geographic information. Even with rain the last two days, we loved this ride. Everyone along trail is so very friendly.
Starting from Pittsburgh you'll be riding uphill on approximately 1 - 1.5% grade for almost 130 miles. In hindsight we are very glad we rode this direction. In Pittsburgh recommend closely following the GAP signs, you'll end up on road some of the time. Be sure to get off the path near Bates Road to cross the Hot Iron Bridge. Otherwise, the trail has great signage. 90% of trail is crushed gravel, 5% each hard pack and asphalt. We saw regular road bikes zipping along, we rode hybrids, all very doable. It rained a lot so there were a few spots with a little mud, nothing bad.
Rode from Pittsburgh to McKeesport, picked up Subway for picnic. Rode on to Boston. Stopped at Betsy Tea Shoppe for hot tea and soup; they let us sit on porch and eat our own food with their drinks/soup. West Newton overnight at Bright Morning B&B. Excellent rooms, hosts, and breakfast. The Trailside restaurant was recommended to us, not sure I would tell anyone to eat there - lots of deep fried foods and pizza.
Rode to Connelsville, stopped at Martin's Grocery & Deli for great salad selection, picniced at small park next to Martin's (great place to get fruit). Continued to Ohiopyle to stay at Ferncliff Guest House. Not sure I would recommend this place; barebones, no hair dryer, no Kleenex but very clean. Delicious dinner at Ohiopyle House Cafe was excellent - options for vegetarian and meat eaters; highly recommend Sweet Potato Chili. It was so good we went back for breakfast since our Inn's breakfast was just cold muffins.Next day Ohiopyle to Rockwood with lunch break in Confluence. We ate at the Lucky Dog Cafe. Don't be fooled by exterior, great menu selection and service, fair prices.We stayed at Gingerbread House B&B - simply excellent - beautiful place, great hostess, comfortable rooms, delicious breakfast. Ate dinner at Mill Shoppes - very good pizza. They also sell wine here and you can get ice cream cones.
Between Rockwood to Frostburg there is great place to stop - Meyersdale Visitor Center, right along trail. There is cute museum - try out the trains and look very closely at the houses and people in the model railroad exhibit. They also have a room where they let us eat our packed lunch, soda machine outside or free coffee inside. During this stretch there are viaduct and tunnels. Plus, you'll cross the Mason Dixon line and the Continental Divide (2,392 ft). The trail really drops downs after this and it's so much fun to ride and coast instead of continuously pedaling.
Spent the night in Frostburg at Trail Inn - ok place with very nice hosts. Highly recommend dinner at Shift (a farm to table restaurant), good selection, wonderful meals.
When you make is towards the end of trail always stay to left, the trail will end in downtown Cumberland. No big congratulations signs :-( We congratulated ourselves!!
Into the mountains!
Coming from the flat upper midwest, the GAP trail was a nice change of scenery for my group. We thoroughly enjoyed the mountain views around us, the tunnels, the Continental Divide, the farmlands, the small and large waterfalls along the way, the constant view of the river far below. There were picturesque towns with restaurants and B&B's catering to bike tourists with friendly service. We stayed at the Hannah House in Confluence and the Yoder Guest House in Myersdale - both lovely B&B's with warm, exceptional hosts. The Morguen Toole Company let us special order our dinner, as we arrived after closing (small town restaurants close early). Confluence Cyclery had exemplary service to outfit us and even came out and changed our bike wheel when one had a faulty part mid-route (it was a brand new bike, must have been factory problem). The first 2 days of our 90 mile ride we went about 30 miles each, all a steady slow uphill grade that doesn't sound that challenging but at the end of the day you do feel it. The last day was almost all downhill due to crossing the continental divide, so we did the "Pennsylvania Coast," as local bikers like to call it. The automobile routes are far more hilly than the flat bike trail, but it is worth it to go see the Ohiopyle waterfall and the Falling Water Frank Lloyd Wright house. I could have stayed longer to explore the area. I would like to go back again and do the whole route from Philly to DC ...
My friend and I rode the GAP trail from Cumberland, MD to Pittsburgh over 3 days. If you need to stay overnight in Cumberland before starting your ride, the Fairfield Inn and Suites is right next door to the trail. It is a nice hotel and allows you to bring your bikes to your room.
This trail is amazing. I second all the wonderful things other reviewers have to say. I wanted to address some logistical things. If you need to park your car in Cumberland, there is a gravel lot adjacent to the trail, just below the visitors center and start of the trail. There is also a bike shop there. If you are going to park overnight, you should register at the visitors center (you can do it over the phone if necessary). For the return trip, we rented a car in Pittsburgh. It is a lot cheaper than taking one of the shuttle services. The only thing is that the rental car places close by noon on Sunday. We rode to the end of the trail at Point State Park in Pittsburgh. My friend took a cab to Enterprise while I waited in the park with our bikes. If you decide to ride to Enterprise (located 5 miles from Point State Park), it is uphill all the way. When time is of the essence, a cab is a good idea.
The trail is immaculately maintained and there are very few road crossings for the length of the trail. The surface is smooth, considering it is gravel and dirt most of the way (except from Boston to Pittsburgh where it is paved). It is easy to ride with a hybrid. Some people were riding road bikes without difficulty. Unfortunately, I was plagued by several flats, which I think might have been due to the tread on my tires. There are bike shops along the way if you need supplies or repairs. However, there are segments of the trail that have no services for many miles, so make sure you have stuff for repairs. The bike shop in Confluence is not right on the trail. You have to ride a short distance on the street (less than a mile), cross over a little bridge, which takes you toward Town Park, where the shop is. We called ahead and the owner kindly stayed open a little after closing so we could pick up some tubes. The bike shop in West Newton is located right on the trail at the street intersection.
Needless to say, the scenery is breathtaking. The most scenic leg, in my opinion, was the ride from Ohiopyle to Boston. The trail goes on the road in McKeesport but is easy to find if you follow the “Share The Road” and GAP trail signs. It gets quite tricky in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. There is part of the trail that dumps you into a mall parking lot. Once you cross over the little bridge, bear to the right toward Costco. The trail continues to the left of Costco toward the water park. (This is where the mileage markers seem to disappear). Another tricky spot is at the Hot Metal Bridge. Locals call this part of the GAP trail a couple of different things - the Jail Trail or Furnace Trail. It is marked on the ground as the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. As we got closer to Point State Park, the GAP trail signs began to appear again. The Park is very nice and Pittsburgh is a lovely city to explore.
The only criticism I have is that the 0 mile and 150 mile marks are not marked well at all. I would suggest that Cumberland and Pittsburgh have 0 and 150 mile markers that stand out. After all, riding this whole trail is something to celebrate.
4 Great Days
I rode the GAP for 4 days in September 2014, and shared the experience with my Mom. She drove the van to our meeting points during the day, and in the evening, we would find a great place to eat and share our adventures of the day. Me on the bicycle and her in the van. It was fantastic. We started in Pittsburgh, and each day my mom and I would plan to meet for lunch, then she would drive ahead and scope out a place for us to stay.
I am very lucky that my mom, at 75, was able to share this with me. I love this trail and I love my mom. It was the true gift we all seek, TIME with someone we love. :)
Oh, and the trail is beautiful. We started from Pittsburgh because the Steelers would have been in town when we finished up on a Sunday... so look at their schedule before you pick where you start.
I rode 30-40 miles a day. It was easy riding with lots of cool history along the way. Can't wait to do the C&O with mom this year!!!
we only had time to do a short leg of this beautiful trail, from Frostburg to a little ways beyond the Eastern Continental Divide. Can't wait to try a longer leg in the future.
it was easy pedaling--I took a chance and rode my cross-type bike, outfitted for the road with 28mm slick tires. But the trail bed was firm (except for a few small washouts) and traction was not a serious problem. Next time, however, I will take a bike with more aggressive tread. (something like Schwalbe Marathons would be perfect--knobbies would be overkill, and hard on the trailbed) Many thanks to the folks who maintain this trail--you're doing a great job!
the most fun was going through the tunnels. One of them was unlit, and as soon as you enter you are enveloped in rich, velvety darkness. You can see the opposite opening ahead, but not the sidewalls, or the trailbed underneath your wheels. Or, for that matter, oncoming cyclists. That's another thing to remember--next time, bring a good headlight!!!
One more tip--since you cannot pedal hard--the speed limit is 15mph-- dress warmer than you normally would for a rigorous ride. The return ride to Frostburg was almost entirely down hill--pretty much coasting--and I got thoroughly chilled--even though my concern before the ride was that I would be over-dressed.
I rode the entire GAP trail from Pittsburgh, PA, to Cumberland, MD, with two friends in June 2014. We stayed at inns along the way, averaging about 60 miles a day. I was very impressed with the trail, from the riding surfaces to the scenery and attractions along the way. Towards Pittsburgh, the scenery gets quite industrial but still interesting in its own way. My favorite section was along the "Yougho" River near Ohiopyle, but the Continental Divide is a definite high point. We also enjoyed stopping for lunches in small towns along the way.
We continued on to Washington DC along the C&O Canal Trail after Cumberland. Both trails are nice in their own way, but the GAP provides a much better riding surface and generally nicer scenery.
A Super Detailed Trip Report
Hello! I want to warn you before you get too far: this trip report may be a little too detailed, or too long, for some. Please read at your own risk!
Our bike trip on the GAP took us from Cumberland, MD to Connellsville, PA. We went over the July 4th weekend in 2014.
With our bikes loaded on the back of our vehicle, my wife and I left New Jersey around noon on route to Cumblerland, MD. We checked in the Cumblerland Ramada, about 8:30 PM.
As a bike enthusiast, checking in the hotel was a joy. The desk rep seemed interested in which direction we were biking in the morning, (C & O or GAP). There were granola bars and fruit at the front desk which was a nice touch. A new, large bike rack was out front. You may read a more detailed review of the property on Tripadvisor. My username is “IslandWayne”.
It was the night before our big trip! I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve.
The hotel allows you to take your bikes to your room which, as you can imagine, was great! I removed by hitch-mounted bike rack and placed it inside our SUV. My wife and I rolled our bikes into the elevator, down the hall, and into our room. We started to get them ready including attaching panniers, etc.
Another nice plus is the hotel allows you to leave your car in their lot until you return from your trip. I’ll talk more about how I took the train back to pick up the car a little later.
After a nice hot breakfast which was included we coasted down to the trail which is only a few blocks from the hotel. It was the Thursday before July 4th weekend. The trail was not the least bit busy. It was a beautiful sunny day!! Helmet – check. Gloves – check. Starting Mapmyride – check. We had overnight reservations in Meyersdale however planned a stop at Frostburg for lunch. After months of planning the big day was finally here! Freedom! The stress of life started rolling off my back and onto the hard packed surface below. We took our time enjoying the eye candy which seemed to be around every bend. From rolling hills, to farmland, to windmills, it truly was a beautiful ride.
It should be noted, what you may have read with regard to the “trail grade” is completely, completely false. Some will tell you it’s about 1 to 1.5% grade. Others will tell you it’s totally unnoticeable. We are experienced bikers and we want to assure you, it’s an uphill climb for just short of 25 miles. I talked to people on the trail and we estimate the grade from Cumberland to the Continental Divide to be at least two percent. If you don’t think you are up to climbing for 25 miles please consider biking in the other direction.
As planned, we rolled into the town of Frostburg around noon. We laughed as the “town” was actually up another rather steep hill. It was so steep the town created a “switchback” allowing you to zigzag your bikes back and forth to the top. From the top you’ll have a short ride to yet another “level”. Here you’ll find the old Frostburg Railroad Station, a motel, eatery, and a Carriage Museum. It was here we locked our bikes and made our way up the stairs to the small town. As mentioned earlier we are from New Jersey. If you don’t know our state, for the most part, it’s very flat. If you stand on a parking bumper you can see Bermuda!! The hills on this trip were definitely keeping us in shape!!
We found a little pizzeria on the corner which was extremely clean and inviting. There was even an all you can eat salad and pizza buffet. I liked being able to order at the counter and seat yourself. My wife and I split a small pizza before heading back to the bikes. We wanted to spend some time looking around the town however it started to rain so we went down to the Railroad Station to roll the bikes under cover. After about thirty minutes the rain passed and we were once again on the trail.
We passed many people on the trail during our hundred mile plus trek. If I had to estimate, about a third smiled and said “hello” back when we said “hello”. The other two thirds barely gave us a nod. And please believe me, my wife and I are very nice people!! On this particular long weekend the bikers were not at all friendly. That didn’t stop us however from having a good time, or saying “hello” to everyone we met. If you are an avid biker it’s important to represent your sport in a positive manner. Be friendly!
Speaking of people, we saw less than a half dozen people traveling in our direction. Most likely they got the memo about the “uphill battle”.
More bridges, more scenery, and more serenity. According to my wife I was making too many stops to take photos!
Sometime around 3 we arrived at the quaint town of Meyersdale. The old railroad station has been completely restored. This town has it together! They created an absolutely awesome “Welcome Center” with restrooms, a gift shop, displays, info about the town, and some of the nicest staff members you will ever have the pleasure meeting. The station is so beautiful we noticed many bikers just hanging out taking a well deserved rest.
After checking out the station we rolled down the hill to Yoders Motel and checked in. A lovely Innkeeper and clean and charming rooms. What more could you want? Again you can read more about the motel at Tripadvisor. My review is under “IslandWayne”. The shower sure felt good after a long day on the trail. We then made our way to a little pub/restaurant called “Take 6” which proved to be the perfect choice. The ice cold beer truly hit the spot! Upon returning from dinner I took a ride around this historic town. It was as if time had stood still. Later that evening I planted my butt on the front porch and pretended to be an old fart waving at the people walking by. Residents were out, some walking with friends, others walking with their dogs. Everyone said “hello” as they strolled by. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
The next morning we walked down to Sheetz, which is a gas station/convenience store chain. My wife grabbed a coffee to go and we headed back to the room to finish packing. We made our way back to the Meyersdale Train Station. I found the place so fascinating I wanted to take another look. There was even a restored caboose you could walk through.
I would like to pause for just a second and talk a little about the bikes we used and what we packed on the outside chance it may be of interest to anyone considering taking this trip. We have Cannondale hybrid bikes. Hybrids have to be the bike of choice for this trail. Our tires are 700 x 38. The seats are gel with springs. We have front shocks.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent. Back to the trip. After a little time at the Meyersdale Station it was off to our next stop, Rockwood.
After a few hours of delightful scenery we arrived in the most friendly town of Rockwood. Right on the trail is a bed and breakfast and bike shop. The owner of the shop was working feverishly on everything from tires to gears. What a lifesaver this person was for many. In addition he was very personable. He loved his job. He loves bikers. God Bless him. After checking out his shop my wife and I ventured into town. Our first stop was Dollar Tracks a store catering to locals and riders a like. Water, soda, snacks and more can be picked up here. We went a little further down the road to the old Opera House which is a luncheon/gift shop. The gift shop was cute. The food was awesome. I’m embarrassed to say we split a small pizza again because the special of the day was “Hawaiian pizza”. We found the establishment clean and friendly. After lunch I picked up a couple snacks and returned to the trail on route to Confluence.
Being originally from New York and spending most of my career in New Jersey I must admit I never saw anything quite like Confluence. Small, friendly and in some ways sad, it was another town where time had stood still. I felt bad for some of the kids who didn’t have much to do however it was refreshing not seeing people staring at their phones. Kids were playing with kids. Neighbors were talking to each other, not texting.
Overnight reservations were made at River’s Edge which turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Inn and Café were very nice, however the staff needed a serious seminar in customer service. The first floor of the Inn was similar to a small three bedroom cottage with a small living area, kitchen area and shower/bath. I believe one of the three rooms had a toilet and sink whereas the other rooms only had a sink. Breakfast was included but not what you would expect from an Inn. Everyone was allotted one muffin and some no-name cereal. The price was a little high. There was no a/c which is not a big deal to us, however I would guess for many it may be a deal breaker. Again, you may read my detailed review on Tripadvisor.com.
We placed our bikes in the garage and unpacked before venturing out to the “Smokehouse”. We would have loved to have dined at River’s Edge however as mentioned the staff was so rude we decided to pass. The Smokehouse was a cute barbeque style restaurant catering mostly to the tourists. Prices were a little high however the food was good. There is no inside dining so if you are someone who can’t live without a/c this would not be for you.
After returning to the Inn my wife visited with the other guests while I took my usual ride around town. I just love seeing new places. For me, it’s not about how many miles I travel, it’s about what I see in the miles I do travel. When I bike in Mexico, my favorite biking destination, there are days I don’t get very far between playing with the kids or talking with the locals. I believe the true definition of “biking” is your definition of biking.
When I returned I spent some time cleaning our bikes in the garage. I then found a spot on the lawn by the river and got some vitamin D as I let the sun shower me with warmth. For the next hour I listened to the music of the river as it rolled over the rocks. I thought to myself, “it doesn’t get any better than this”.
With no TV or internet I was forced to talk to my beautiful wife. I asked her when she dyed her hair blonde? She said she was always blonde. Go figure.
After the allotted one muffin each we spent some time talking with a beautiful couple also staying at the Inn. They were fascinated with our journey as they were there kayaking. It was pretty cool talking with strangers as being from New Jersey we have learned if someone starts talking to you, you should immediately grab your wallet as something is going down. Thankfully, as mentioned, it was a cool experience.
After we said goodbye to our new friends it was on the road again. We were headed to what I loving refer to as “Bike Heaven”. (More on that in a minute.)
The ride to Ohiopyle hugged a river for most of the way. Views didn’t chance drastically but the river was checking on you, through the trees, every chance it got.
If you have ever pulled into Ohiopyle on a busy weekend you can relate. Bikers are everywhere!! It’s a happenin’ crazy place. It’s a little like Key West meets the mountains. With a couple of bike shops, several places renting bikes, an assortment of outside eateries, some pretty cool and funky shops, it’s definitely a place to spend several hours or several days. In addition to being a bike mecca it also offers white water rafting. You may want to consider taking a couple hour rafting trip. Reservations however are suggested on busy weekends.
The train station is beautiful however bathrooms are limited and there is a line. However to be fair, it was a very busy day. The gentlemen inside the information desk was one of the hardest working people I have ever seen. He was helping tourist after tourist after tourist with questions ranging from, “Which direction should I bike?” to “Where can I go rafting?”
My wife and I spent much of the day wandering around. The river with its rushing water and series of mini waterfalls was worthy of lots of photos! Everyone had forgotten about their awful jobs and problems back home. Everyone was outside having fun. We spent time taking in the beautiful scenery, checking out the shops and eateries, and just enjoying the day.
It was hard to leave however we wanted to make Connellsville before nightfall.
As our tires rolled over the packed dirt and the canopy of trees protected us from the sun it was a little sad thinking this was the last day of our awesome adventure. Tomorrow I would be taking the train back to Cumberland to pick up the car, return and pick my wife and bikes, (yes in that order), and then heading home. It was clear I did not take enough time off from work, however the time we did have on this trail was truly a memory that would last a lifetime.
As we pulled into Connellsville we knew the Melody Motor Inn was not on the trail however we had no idea how far off the trail it really was. On bikes it was worse as once again it was all uphill. Did I mention all up hill?
I would like to pause again and say that I travel for business and pleasure on a regular basis. I have been fortunate to see many places and experience many things. I would like to take this opportunity to say I don’t think I have seen such a dirty and disgusting town as Connellsville. The sidewalks and shoulders have never ever been cleaned. Garbage and debris are absolutely everywhere. The town has done absolutely nothing with regard to the first class bike trail at their doorstep. The traffic rolled through town and unsafe speeds. Nobody had any regard for people on foot or on bikes. I’m sorry to report, the one thing you want to do on the trail as you approach this town is to keep going!
The Melody Motel was one of those “Motor Inns” you may have seen on old postcards at a flea market. Though clean, the rooms haven’t changed much. Wood paneling and pink and blue tiled bathrooms were much like they were when the place opened a long time ago. The Owner was nice and a full detailed review can be found at Tripadvisor.com.
With limited restaurants by the motel we hit Wendy’s. The hill was too ridiculous to deal with after a long day on the trail so we made the thirty minute walk.
In the morning we rolled down to the Amtrak Station where even the signs to the station were pointing tourists in the wrong direction. With no bathrooms in site my wife stayed at the station with our bikes as I took the train, which was over an hour late, from Connellsville back to Cumblerland. We asked several train officials why bikes were not allowed and they said “they are working on it”. Only in America would a company like Amtrak miss an opportunity to transport bikes and people on this highly used bike trail.
The train was far from clean. The reservation system should be investigated by authorities as apparently the price increases with every ticket that is sold. Can you imagine if movie theaters did this? The first two people pay $11, the third and fourth pay $15, the fifth and sixth pay $20. Why do we let these things happen? The reason is, (in case you are interested), you don’t speak up. You don’t complain. After all, usually when an injustice happens to you it’s because the person before you didn’t speak up. Please, speak up!
There was only one train going to Cumberland and it was scheduled to depart at 7 AM. I understand it comes from Indiana. The conductor assured us it’s always late, in some cases, five or six hours late. However ridiculous it was, it did manage to grunt and groan most of the way finally making it to my destination. The Ramada Inn is across the street from the station. Upon arrival I hopped off the train like a hobo, jumped in my car, and returned to the dirty town of Confluence to pick up my wife and bikes.
We spent much of the ride home talking about the beautiful sights and people we met along this incredible journey. It was a breath of fresh air on every level. The weather was perfect. Most of the towns were a delight. We can’t wait to do it all again.
I would be very happy to answer any questions you have regarding this trip.
Until next time, Enjoy the Ride, It Goes By Fast!!!!
P&LE-Washington Run to Smithville 11/9-16-21-25/2013
I've consolidated four trip surveys here, as I continued northward toward Pittsburgh from Washington Run (Layton) to Smithville, 3 miles north of West Newton. The almost continuous string of those beautiful concrete ex-P&LE mileposts continue over this span, specifically markers 45 (at GAP MM #102), 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, 31, and finally, MM 30, just north of Smithville. In addition, several original P&LE whistleposts ("W" markers) remain in place for the nearby grade crossings, 1) 0.3mi. north of MM 45 (Whitsett), and 2) at MM 29.5 (Smithville). One of only two of the former P&LE CTC signal masts on this line remains on this trail segment. The southbound home signal mast which was former P&LE CP34Y, including an intact access ladder, remains in place at P&LE Milepost 34.7, 1.5 miles south of the West Newton trail parking lot. Counterpart CP33Y was located 0.1mi. north of the former West Newton station site. My conjecture is that the trackage between these two Controlled Points was double-track, with the main track and a passing siding, the only one of those down here. There is a WIDE former right-of-way between thse two CP's, apparently including a multi-track yard. What is NEAT is the new installation of a LIVE color light signal, adjacent to the trail office at West Newton, a replica of the former brick (freight?) depot here. The new signal is solar-powered, and was set to GREEN ("Clear") when I arrived there, and RED ("Stop") when I returned from my northernmost tour! Cool!... VERY cool! It is a "Western Maryland"-style, high, signal mast! Kudos to the trail people down here! Other utilities remaining include a rusty relay case at Milepost 30.8. Bridges passing overhead on the trail include that of the former Washington Run Railroad (now an automobile bridge between Layton (on the CSX [former B&O] side of the Yough River. You've gotta drive over this one! The multi-structure former railroad bridge dives into the narrow, brick-lined former railroad tunnel, and you ride on the old railroad grade for a mile or so west of the tunnel, approaching Perryopolis! Again, very COOL! The old (relatively NEW by railroad standards) Pittsburgh & West Virginia (now Wheeling & Lake Erie) multi-structured bridge passes overhead at Milepost 42.2, and the Interstate-70 bridge is above the trail at Milepost 39.5. A depot-facsimile park office has been built at MP 37. There are also several beautifully-designed and detailed mining and mine tragedy historical plaques along this stretch, well worth the stops. -Rich Ballash, Latrobe, PA Nov 9-25, 2013.
P&LE - Dickerson Run to Washington Run
My tour of the old P&LE continued northward from the obviously once massive Dickerson Run Yard. The railroad property width here is astounding. The span of continuous P&LE concrete mileposts continues, with MP52 near the west end of the yard. Google P&LE Pittsburgh CTC to access a great photo of the classic Union Switch & Signal Centralized Traffic Control machine (installed 1968) which controlled this line, Connellsville to McKessport, visible at the far left side of the panel. One of the concrete bases for the signals at CP-51 still exists, 1.3 miles west of the Dickerson Run trail parking lot. This line was obviously double-tracked until the installation of that CTC, as the trail is very wide. As you wind along the river, you will encounter P&LE mileposts 51 through 46. Again, the barren winter season provides excellent CSX train watching on the old B&O on the other side of the river. Note the new CSX solar powered signals, an example at P&LE milepost location 49.2. You will also observe that the white Great Allegheny Passage mileposts run just a few yards west of the P&LE posts. GAP Milepost 100 is located near P&LE marker 47. We'll end this report segment at the former Washington Run Railroad bridge, a really neat combination railroad bridge (1899) that since 1932 has been carrying automobile traffic over the P&LE, Youghiogheny River, and former B&O, the latter of which it carried passenger and freight traffic to and from Star City, along PA-51. Note the brick tunnel portal above you at the west end of the former railroad bridge (Google Washington Run Railroad to see a photo of a steam-powered passenger train crossing the bridge). -Rich Ballash, Latrobe PA 11-9-2013
P&LE Connellsville-Dickerson Run
This 5-mile section of the Youghiogheny Branch of the old P&LE is truly a railroad historian's rail-trail. Connellsville was the southern terminus of the branch, but the railroad continued eastward as a through freight route via the Western Maryland Railway. It is a real shame that the viaduct through Connellsville has been removed. It would have made a great bike route. CP (Controlled Point)-58Y was at the tower you see on the old P&LE depot at Main Street. This was the physical end of the P&LE, right at that point. As you ascend the incline to access the trail west, you encounter classic concrete P&LE Mile Marker #58. Station Square in Pittsburgh was the P&LE's headquarters, at Milepost 0. As you head west, all the P&LE mileposts from 58 through 53 remain intact. So many rail-trails have been denuded of these markers. Kudos to the Yough Trail people for preserving these! The abandoned railroad bridge over the incline was the eastern end of the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway, a modern freight line west to Toledo, Ohio. It still exists, west of town, as the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway. Its interchange point junction with the P&LE and the Western Maryland to the east was right over there where the B&O caboose sits. I am almost certain that the concrete block trail building at the top of the incline was the old P&LE yard office. One mile west of Connellsville, at MP57, was "West Yough" on the old P&LE. Here was one of many interchanges with the old B&O (now CSX). The thru-truss span was at the center of this interchange track. If you carefully cross this combination thru-truss / deck girder bridge, you will see that CSX still calls its interlocking installation "West Yough" (MP271.50 from Baltimore). These many interchanges offered the single-track P&LE reroutes using the B&O (or vice-versa) at many points between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The lines ran parallel for most of the way, and that offers the rail-trail railfan continuous live train watching from the safety of the trail. Another 5-star rating point. The "Chessie System" consolidated the B&O and WM into basically one railroad, a big part of the demise of the P&LE. Although single-tracked, the P&LE was a modern, lower grades freight railroad, a half century newer than the old B&O. Another classic preservation highlight are those three P&LE shield-topped whistleposts at the grade crossings on this trail segment. On so many trails, all of these have been removed, too. You might find one forlorn renegade elsewhere, but the Yough Trail has preserved many of these markers. These were the signal posts for the train enginemen to blow that 2-long, one short, and 1 long ("14-L") whistle (later diesel horn) blast sequence to warn oncoming auto traffic that a train was coming. I find it odd that "railroad" traffic now has to yield the right-of-way to auto traffic! You will notice the railroad property narrowing 0.2 miles east of MP56. This was P&LE's "Broadford Junction", where all those interchange and yard tracks ended heading west. The beautiful historic plaques on this trail, like the one at MP55 (Adelaide) are another reason for my 5-star rating. The coal and coke history of this region is displayed and detailed beautifully along the way. Notice the long line of intact coke ovens on your left as you head west from Adelaide. This was the bread and butter which once supplied the steel mills of the Pittsburgh area and beyond. As you approach the Route 819 overpass at the Dickerson Run parking area, note the very interesting steel lattice railroad structure in the trees on the river side of the trail. It was obviously some type of yard structure (maybe a yard light?) at the east end of the once massive Dickerson Run Yard. -Rich Ballash, Latrobe PA 11-3-2013.
Excellent Trail - Beautiful Scenery
The GAP is a 150 mile well-maintained, scenic, fantastic, smooth, rail-to-trail bike path. A friend and I started in Pittsburg since the section from Pittsburgh to Homestead recently opened (celebration is scheduled for June 15, 2013). The first 30 miles were not as well marked as they will be when all is done. The new section is great! We had trouble finding the trail head in Point State Park – so we started from the beginning of the Eliza Furnace Trail (part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail system) near 1st Avenue in Pittsburgh. Didn’t see a mile marker until mile 136 and had a bit of difficulty staying on and finding the trail in the McKeesport area. We also missed a bike route sign to turn left near the Costco in West Homestead and ended up in a shopping center parking lot. The section from Pittsburgh to West Homestead is city. The section from West Homestead to McKeesport is a bit industrial crossing over railroad tracks on nice bridges.
After McKeesport, the trail is wooded, beautiful country and easy to follow, well marked and goes through/near some very fun, scenic towns: Boston (definitely try a pizza at Generoso’s), West Newton (great service & breakfast at the Bright Mornings B&B), Connelsville (good pub food at the Mile Marker Café), Ohiopyle (Yough Plaza Motel is great and the House Café perfect for dinner!), Rockwood (lots of food options, shops and tour of the old Opera House at the Rockwood Mill Shops), Meyersdale (a to-die-for B&B at the Levi Deal Mansion), Frostburg and Cumberland (A must to stop at the Crabby Pig) to name a few.
It’s a tad bit of a climb up to the Eastern Continental Divide, but not strenuous and once there, you get to go downhill some. Fun sights along the way are the Mason-Dixon line and the divide itself! The trail ends sort of abruptly in Cumberland and has no visible “End” sign…you just pop out on the street near the Visitor’s Center after a fantastic downhill ride from Frostburg. We were lucky enough to see the scenic train coming up the hill towards Frostburg as we biked down – a sight to see with tons of steam billowing over the treetops, blowing its whistle and just chugging along. This is a great trail and I’d definitely ride it again!
We cycled the trail in late April and got to experience the unfolding of spring in the Appalachians - from the budding trees in the highlands to full leaf-out lower down. We timed our day in order to cycle in the waning light at the end of day in order to savour the play of the light on the river - a magic time, especially for photographers.
While the scenery is outstanding and trail features such as towering bridges and long tunnels provided some excitement, the real treasures of the route are the wonderful people who live in nearby communities. Make sure to breakfast at local restaurants and chat with the locals who gather there each morning. You will get a sense of place that simply cannot be accessed by reading books. We also made it a point to stop and chat with most of the local walkers we met along the way: such stories we heard about old times and current developments!
For a special overnight experience, visit the B&B in Connellsville. Lucille is an absolute delight and is a force for the re-invention of the town which once had the highest concentration of millionaires in the U.S.
The Yough Shore Inn in Boston, another highlight of the trip, notes that it is "a fun place to sleep." And so it is as there are seven rooms, each decorated ingeniously. If you get the Western Room, note that there is a ritual that you will have to follow. Ditto for the Hawaiian Room where many previous male guests have been photographed for posterity wearing grass skirts and coconut coverings up top. Rumour has it that some west coast cyclists from Vancouver developed this tradition ... makes one proud to be a Canadian.
For dinner, visit "Take Six Pizza and Subs in Meyersdale. The food is good and one of the waitresses is Annie Hall reincarnated. Missy's Cafe is the place to go for breakfast to load up on carbs and chat with the locals who are incredibly friendly.
Unlike the C&O towpath, the Great Allegheny Passage is maintained by volunteer clubs along its length. They deserve your support. There are many places (e.g. interpretive centers) where you can make donations as a token of your appreciation for their fine work.
From Meyersdale, Heading Both North and South
We rode on the Great Allegheny Passage, starting in Meyersdale, PA, and then travelling both north and south, in August 2012. This is a great trail, and it is in great shape. We crossed the Salisbury Viaduct, the Keystone Viaduct and the Bollman Truss Bridge. (We didn't quite have the energy to get to Big Savage Tunnel with all the riding we had done.) We look forward to returning!
By the way, Meyersdale is a fantastic place to start your ride on the Great Allegheny Passage. All of the landmarks listed above are in relatively close proximity, and the old train station in Meyersdale now has a small museum, gift shop, restrooms, etc.
My wife and I have only been riding trails for a year and a half now, but have put on about 2000 miles in that time (we have no lives outside of riding). Most of our riding is done in Eastern Pennsylvania/Northern Md. and have hit most of the trails in this area. Up until now, our favorite trail had been the Pine Creek trail (from Jersey Shore to Wellsboro). That was until we did this trail. As other reviewers have said, the section from Confluence to Ohiopyle is especially nice. The views are incredible, and the trail it's self is a very nice riding surface. One note to anyone reading this, don't be too alarmed by the overcast skys first thing in the morning. It looked like it was going to rain hard, (even thought the forecast called for a beautiful day), but just like that, it cleared off around 9:30 A.M. One of the locals said this is very typical for this area, I guess because of the way it's situated in relation to the nearby mountains.
We were planning on doing the Pine creek ride this October to see the leaves, but now are reconsidering, and will more than likely come back to the Youghiogheny River trail instead. As beautiful as it was in the summer, it has to be spectacular in the autumn. For us, it was a 3 1/2 hr drive to get to, but worth it. Highly recomended, DON'T MISS THIS ONE!
Steady climb with a terrific payoff at the top
We rode on a hot, humid Memorial Day from Cumberland through Frostburg, on to the Big Savage tunnel and then the small crossroads of Deal, PA, 50 miles round-trip. The surface is in excellent shape with only a few very short stretches of loose gravel. I rode it on my road bike with 700x23 tires with a little bit of tread, but it would have been fine with narrower slicks.
On a map of the route from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC this climb looks to be monstrous. Actually the grade going uphill is not very severe, but it is relentless! Only one brief downhill in over 23 miles to the subcontinental divide separating the Great Lakes and Atlantic basins.
We had no problems riding through the tunnels, which were wide and easy to see in, unlike at home in Wisconsin where every tunnel seems to be curved (so you can't see the other end) and lined with flat black rock that absorbs every bit of light.
There is a row of concrete barriers at the state line, presumably to keep Pennsylvania ATVs from crossing into Maryland, a helipad and a big "Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line" sign. The surface in Pennsylvania was just as good as Maryland. Deal, PA had a picnic table and porta-potty, as did a few other places along the way, but there was no water anywhere along the trail. We had several bottles in a pack on my bike, and refilled afterward at the C&O Canal visitor center in Cumberland.
Temperatures were noticeably cooler at the higher elevations, and the downhill ride back to Cumberland was easy and fast. I hope to come back some day and ride the more of the route in Pennsylvania.
My family and I decided to ride from Monroeville, PA to Cumberland, MD with a lunch stop in Frostburg, MD. When we started, we had 6 adults, a 13 year old, a 9 year old and a 6 year old with us. We started at Monroeville, PA and as we started, the younger kids did fine for the first few miles but then it was evident that we were going up a slight grade. We continued on, but it was a struggle to keep the youngest one rolling. She was a trooper until we got to Deals. It took us an hour and 15 minutes to go from Monroeville to Deals. It was painfully slow but she kept going. We picked up more of our family members in Deals, 3 more adults and 5 more kids. Then we had the short climb up to the Continental Divide. It was so much fun to finally make it up to the Divide and it was all downhill from there. We stopped in Frostburg (an hour later than anticipated) and watched the Western Maryland steam engine depart for its return trip to Cumberland. Had pizza and then 6 of us, 4 adults and the 2 older kids, continued on into Cumberland. The downhill ride was amazing and fun.
However, I must say the the surface was a lot more rough than I am used to riding on. The gravel isn't packed down and is really loose in some places. If you have a road bike, be careful getting out of the right tire groove because it can get tricky. Also, we saw a 24" rattlesnake slithering across the path. So if you see one, just stay away from it and keep riding. The overlooks from the bridges are amazing, so bring your camera. The tunnels are fun to go through but you really need a headlight. I had a headlight in my bag in my car, but none of my family told me that I should bring it. It would have been ugly if I would have met up with another rider coming northbound in any of the tunnels because I couldn't see anything even with the lights in one of the tunnels.
All in all, it was a great experience and I want to ride it from Pittsburgh to D.C. Maybe next year.
The Rest of the Story - McKeesport's West "Loop" Route
It was a pleasure to return to the south end of this trail for a third and final time to close the "GAP" (pun intended!) on this trail which I began my rail-trail adventures on some four years ago. Yes, the third time was a charm. Fellow local historian friends tell me that the Mon River Bridge at the northern end of McKeesport WAS indeed originally a PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD structure, later taken over by the Union Railroad, originally built to serve the Pennsy's McKeesport Branch. The gutted roundhouse at the foot of the bridge ramp was built by the McKeesport Connecting Railway, which serviced the National Tube Works formerly surrounding it. (I did note a string of hopper cars marked with the that railroad's identification marks on the few remaining tracks adjacent to the trail near this structure) Next came the "official" route of the Great Allegheny Passage, south of McKeesport. This leg of "The Loop" carries the trail over the 15th Street Bridge, over to the west side of the Youghiogheny River, where the trail will remain for the duration of its run to the foot of Allegheny Mountain. Descending back to river level, you will meet the intact south end of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, the "Little Giant", as you will read on the plaque down at Boston. CP-17Y (Controlled Point - Milepost 17 from Station Square, downtown Pittsburgh's grand P&LE station - Youghiogeny Branch) is where the B&O's "McKeesport bypass" trackage use ends (as does the former P&LE Yough Branch which the B&O pirated here). At this point, the old B&O (now the Pittsburgh-Baltimore CSX main line), swings back over to the east side of the river on its "new" concrete viaduct, while the forlorn host railroad P&LE ends in the DuraBond steel pipe plant complex. The tar-paper "16.30" is of classic B&O milepole marking, while the "CP17Y" on the remote box is of classic P&LE design. The signals here are searchlight, with mechanical moving lenses, fast-disappearing, both as a signal design itself, and as a trademark of the P&LE, and of the railroad's New York Central Railroad family ownership heritage. To get around the pipe plant complex, the trail makes a steep, switchback attack on the adjacent riverbank, and descends back to railroad and river grade level at the south end of the plant. The rusty, 1945-era heavy Carnegie steel single track you level out at is the very southernmost stub of the intact trackage that was once part of the "transcontinental" "Alphabet Route" (from Toledo, via the Nickel Plate, Pittsburgh & West Virginia, P&LE, Western Maryland, and Reading Railroad's legendary through freight route from the Great Lakes to the East Coast). You will ride on the P&LE from here to Connellsville, and from there to Cumberland on the WM portion of this historic route. This is also where the asphalt from Pittsburgh ends here at GAP Milepost 129, and it's back to crushed limestone from here to Cumberland (The asphalt pavement sure was nice!) Look right behind you to see the first of many classic, "domed" P&LE mileposts (#16), so nice to see have been lovingly restored! The "skeleton" of the now-trackless P&LE stretches out in front of you, hard to believe what was a busy, Class-1, centralized traffic controlled industrial main line! At P&LE Milepost 15, you approach the town of Boston, and the Boston Bridge, with its beautiful little cluster of railroad artifacts and trail amenities. Adjacent to the passenger shelter-styled trail information station is a beautifully restored, green P&LE boxcar, and its previously mentioned railroad history plaque. You are now on the GAP's "Youghiogheny River Trail", and trail facilities are BEAUTIFUL and quite adequate from here to Connellsville! The Great Allegheny Passage is truly the region's "rail-trail gem!" As for me, this is where I crossed back over to the "Loop"s eastern "B&O" side, and returned northward to McKeesport on my previously covered trail report route. This "official" GAP leg of the trail is a slightly more challenging, but more scenic route (Don't be scared off by those trail signs!). If you prefer a totally flat route, with incredible old industrial ghost backdrops, choose the "unofficial" connector along the east side of the river. If you are limited on time, or for a neat afternoon ride, park up in Duquesne, ride south, and circle around BOTH legs of McKeesport's "Loop!" Nice work down there, guys!... Again, a fascinating trail experience! - Rich Ballash, 12-26-11.
Fascinating Industrial Archaeology! McKeesport to Versailles, PA
I continued my survey of this trail southward, beginning at the (corrected) UNION Railroad's Riverton Bridge (which I thought was that of the PRR), on the south side of the Mon River at McKeesport. Descending the new ramp off the former railroad bridge dumps you into the now wide-open land, under redevelopment, once the middle of the massive United States Steel National Tube Works. closed in 1987. The trail wanders a right of way still partially occupied by what's left of the Union Railroad's steel mill yard here, then turns 90-degrees left into the downtown McKeesport main east-west street (PA-148). It's fun riding down the sidewalk for a few blocks westward, until the trail turns 90 degrees southward, at/under the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie curved bridge. The trail runs along its east bank from the mouth of the Youghiogheny River for a few blocks, then joggles around a couple more 90-degree turns to access the old Baltimore & Ohio main line right-of-way to head south. (Read a WONDERFUL account of B&O's move out of downtown McKeesport in "McKeesport Union Station", under the "History" tab of tubecityonline.com) At a wye split at Trail Milepost 131.0, you choose either the "official" Great Allegheny Passage trail (left and up over the 15th Street Bridge and down the WEST side of the Youghiogheny River), or the flat, river-grade old B&O main line right of way (down to the river level right and along the Yough's EAST bank. Being the ferroquinologist (railroad historian) and industrial archaeologist that I am, I naturally chose the old B&O main route, and boy, was this a fascinating place! Spooky old abandoned steel mills under partial collapse, and old freight terminals once obviously served by the old B&O! At Trail MP129.3, you duck under the B&O's curved, plate girder McKeesport realignment bridge (crossing the river to the old P&LE's alignment), and emerge along the shiny CSX (former B&O's) main line. Riding on the river-edge access road serving several local heavy industries feels kind of strange, and you kind of feel like you're riding "on the wrong track", so to speak! At GAP Trail MP 128.7, you cross over the 3 shiny tracks of the CSX main. Stop at the grade crossing and observe the creme and tan structure in the southwest quadrant of the crossing. You are looking at what was one of the very last manned "railroad control towers" in the Pittsburgh megaplex, "MK" Tower, in the old Versailles B&O train station. Adjacent south observe the weeded platforms and parking lots of the farthest distant stop of Pittsburgh's very last commuter train, the PatTrain (Port Authority of Allegheny County), operated until mid-1990. (It is unbelievable that Pittsburgh once boasted a MASSIVE commuter train fleet, operating over both sides of all three rivers, with 666 PCC trolleys duplicating those services!) Your final stretch of the "alternate GAP" route parallels the CSX mains down to the Boston Bridge (MP128.0). At this point, you cross over to the west side of the Yough over the bridge, and rejoin the "official" GAP, the Youghiogheny River Trail, which was the old P&LE main, south to Connellsville, and beyond to Milepost 0, via the old Western Maryland Railway main, at Cumberland, Maryland. This is truly a marvelous ride through Mon Valley industrial history! Do read up on these towns before you take the trip, and you will find it to be an absolutely fascinating journey! Rich Ballash, 12-13-11.
Steel Mills, Railfanning, and Melancholy
This trail indeed "has it all." Here is a history lesson alive... What WAS, and what IS. If you are a student of industry, industrial archaeology, a railfan, or, like myself, all of the above, this trail is a winner! We based our study at the Homestead Pump House, Great Allegheny Passage Trail Milepost 139.0, easiest place to park, right along 837 in Homestead. Across the river, the old Carey Furnace, a dead, but mostly intact blast furnace... And DO by all means grab any chance to TOUR the facility. It is FASCINATING! As one starts south, you quickly approach your first feature of interest... (MP138.2) -The hot metal bridge that carried the molten steel from the Carey complex over to the USS Homestead Works. Note the heavy construction of the "Y" bridge, its high sides to prevent molten steel oversplash, and the unusual heavy track construction. Fortunately, THIS hot metal bridge has not been modified for modern traffic like its nearby cousin. At MP137.7, you cross Norfolk Southern's (double stack and coal train route) ex-Pennsylvania Railroad Mon Branch, on a beautiful built-for-trail thru-truss bridge. This first bridge of two carries the trail onto a mild roller-coaster hillside grade following a gas pipeline. The view from up here is awesome! At MP136.8, you get a fine view of the still quite active USS Edgar Thompson Works on the north side of the river, and, in the background, the majestic, 1930 Art Deco Westinghouse Bridge, which carries US-30 over the Steel Valley. At MP136, the trail drops back down to railroad grade at the big "multi-wye" occupied by NS and the Steel Valley's Union Railroad (above). This is "CP (Controlled Point) PERRY" on NS. One of the PRR's once 463 classic manned interlocking towers, "PG", stood in the crotch of the ground-level wye, until not too many years ago. Now it's all controlled by computers at Greentree (NS), and at Duquesne (URR). And note those two "lollipop" signals governing southward and northward NS movements... Those are classic (1930's era) PRR position light signals, which duplicate the old semaphore signal aspects used from the 1850's through the 1930's. A dying breed! The little one at the south end of the complex is a position light "dwarf" signal... Even rarer now! MP135.8 brings you to cross back over to the east side of the NS railroad, on a twin thru-truss structure just like the one two miles behind you. Now comes the melancholy part of the trail. You are now passing through the once thriving US Steel Duquesne Works. Do Google up some internet photos before you get here to give you at least SOME idea of what was here until the mid-1980's! Around MP134.9, You pass INSIDE the long, decaying, concrete wall that guarded the plant complex. Sadly, they tore down the long, overhead walkway which was the main plant entrance from the opposite (west) side of 837, (It was standing until a few years ago) at the red light you approach. Tiny vestiges of a once-mighty complex... a few pieces of steel mill heavy machinery, marked for saving by Homestead's "Rivers of Steel" preservation group, and a few lonesome tracks wandering off from the interplant railway you are riding on or along, curving off into the recontoured grass now... But once to supply gargantuan blast furnaces like the historic "Dorothy 6", which they tried to save, but ultimately failed to do. As you exit the plant, you pass through a little tunnel designed to carry the trail under South Linden Street, at MP134.6. A short distance further, and you cross the abandoned, 30-years' rusted tracks of the southbound Union Railroad, which carried the supplies and products to and from the McKeesport mills to the south, now all gone, too. And finally, the gem of this trail, at MP133.7, the old Pennsylvania Railroad McKeesport Branch Bridge (once spurring off the Mon Line you have been following), an old, thru-truss bridge (1898) over the Mon River, truncated at its south end (No more steel mills here to go to now!), and you drop down into McKeesport. And if you HAPPEN to like trains (obviously most people could care less, or even do without them!), this trail is a real treat! I saw TWO, LONG NS hopper trains heading south at the south end here, TWO Union Railroad movements at "PERRY." And it won't take TOO much luck to see a few double-stack freights bypassing the low train sheds of the Pittsburgh Station, between the "PERRY" wye and Homestead! This "Rails-WITH-Trails" masterpiece is a REAL gem! Hey, and it's PEACEFUL, too! The secluded gas pipeline and the old concrete wall at Duquesne, effectively dampen out that dreadful traffic noise created by busy (and annoying) PA-837! Kudos to the people of the Steel Valley Trail for a job MORE than well-done! -Rich Ballash - 12/4/11.
7/19/2011 Boston, PA to Ohio Pyle, PA
Rode this section of the trail as day 1 of a 6 day Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) - Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal trip. This section was wonderful. Rode through Buena Vista, Sutersville, West Newton, Smithton, Whitsett, Perryopolis, Dawson and Connellsville PA. Trail felt like it was mostly level, even though we gained over 500 ft. of elevation during the day. The steepness and roughness picked up between Connellsvile and Ohio Pyle where some sections are shared with cars to access Private homes and camps. The rise was only about 20 foot per mile. Overall the trail was dry, smooth and well maintained. This section of the trail was mostly tree covered with small gaps in the open. The shade cover was very welcome on a 50+ mile day in 85+ degree F weather. Saw a lot of wildlife (Deer, Groundhogs, Mockingbirds, Squirrels, and Rabbits) along the trail. Took a short side trip across the river to Dawson, PA to see some nicely maintained Victorian style homes. Next trip I plan to ride at a more leisurely pace and explore the small towns more thoroughly. Ohio Pyle, PA was bustling with lots of swimmers, rafters, and kiyakers in the river cooling off on a hot sunny Summer Sunday. Stayed at a bed and breakfast in Ohio Pyle and rode the GAP to Frostburg, MD the next day.
new section of trail opened past Kennywood!
As of 6/2, the new section of trail from Homestead to Duquesne has opened! It's paved, it's cool because much of it is wooded and in the shade of the bluff, and you can see the Kennywood rollercoasters from below, the lock on the Monongahela River at Braddock, and Edgar Thomson steel works across the river. This now brings Pittsburgh several miles closer to being fully connected to the Great Allegheny Passage, and a continuous bike trail all the way to Washington DC!
To get there, from Pittsburgh, drive to the Waterfront development in Homestead/Munhall, park either at Lowe's home improvement store or at the Homestead Pumphouse (site of the famous 1892 steelworkers' strike) bike east (upstream) along E Waterfront Drive for a bit, either on the sidewalk or in the road, and after you round the big blue Marcegaglia building, the trail leaves the road on the river side, and it continues paved and nearly uninterrupted to Duquesne, to McKeesport, to Boston, to Ohiopyle, to Cumberland MD, and to Washington DC!
Ohiopyle to Maryland and back - August 16-18,2010
My hub. and I biked from Ohiopyle into Maryland and back over 3 days. We covered about 120 miles round trip. The trail was in wonderful shape and we saw few people. We signed in at the trail head ranger office and got the combo for the locked overnight lot to leave our minivan. As we left Ohiopyle, we saw 2 large doe just alongside the trail - we were able to get several pic. Our first night we biked to Meyersdale, which according to our odometers was about 46.52 miles. This was a bit farther than the maps seemed to indicate. During this part of our ride we saw a timber rattler crossing the trail on the Pinckney Shoofly and we almost ran over him! He streched almost across the entire width of the trail. My family lives about 1 1/2 hours from this area and told us that due to the dry weather they are seeing a lot more snakes coming further down the mountains.( I will try and post a pic. of Mr. Snake but since I don't have GPS - it may not get pub.) We stopped at Rockwood and ate pizza at the Milleshoppes. The pizza was very good and we also had GOBS! If you are not from Penna. ( I grew up here) then you may not know what these are . In Indiana where I now live they call them whoppee pies. There are different kinds - but if you are from Western PA. chances are you like yours with a rich butter cream filling not marshmallow goo. If you have never had this choc. cake sandwhich cookie try them here - they are pretty darn good! We crossed the Salisbury Viaduct on a beautiful sunny day. It is a marvel. The wind turbines up on the ridge above make it a perfect photo op. We stayed at the Levi Deal Mansion, in Meyersdale. We had a wonderful room! The bed was super comfortable and the service great. We had arranged for the innkeepers to make us dinner and it too was very good. The only point you should be aware of is that this is an active Railroad town. In other words in the middle of the night you will hear a very LOUD trail several times as you sleep. Earplugs were provided by our hosts and the bed and room was so comfortable that even though I woke up several times to hear the train I went right back to sleep and woke up refeshed. Breakfast was also delicious. Choc. Mocha Bundt cake, blueberry pancakes, eggs, fresh watermelon etc... I didn't want to leave! In fact next yr. we are going to try and arrange our bike trip so we can stay there twice and really have time to sit on the porch and relax. There are some very interesting old homes on the street with the "mansion" and we enjoyed walking around taking photos of them. Tuesday we left and biked over the Eastern Continental Divide and then through Big Savage Tunnel and on into Maryland. We had lights on our bikes and even though Big Savage is well lit some of the lights were out and I am glad we had the lights. Once you leave Big Savage you are only 1-2 miles from the Mason Dixon Line. We crossed into Maryland for a bit and then turned to bike back. We biked to Rockwood about 38 miles, and stayed at the Rockwood Trail House B and B. There is a very nice bike shop there that is run by the owner of the B and B. There is also a shed where there is a cellphone reception point. This is right on the trail head. The bike shop has coke products and snacks ( most places only carry Pepsi products - so if you are having a coke fit -...) The B and B is an old restored farm house. It is very clean. There are 5 bedrooms and some are larger than others. Our room was very small and had a very small bathroom inside it. We were lucky as we were the only boarders that evening so we had the entire house to ourselves. However, if you don't like really small spaces be sure to request the largest room. My hub. is 6'6" and built like a baseball player ( nonroiding) and he fit in the shower. But if you are a larger person you may not be comfortable in the smaller facilities. The host and hostess were super friendly and the breakfast was sausage and pancakes and scrambled eggs, and very good. We enjoyed sitting on the porch and playing cards in the evening. We will stay here again, it is very convenient, very clean and the owners are extremely nice. They don't live on site so if you are the only boarders you have a lot of privacy. Wed.( August 17th) we headed back to Ohiopyle. The ride is all downhill and pretty easy. You do see more people the closer you get to the trail head. It is a lovely trail and we hope to stretch our ride and add another 40 mile day in 2011!
Allegheny Highlands Trail of Pennsylvania
On April 27 through 29 my wife and I rode the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Pennsylvania, which is part of the Great Allegheny Passage. We stayed in Somerset and rode 3 out and backs. Day 1 was from Confluence to Rockwood, a 38 mile round trip, day 2 was from Rockwood to Meyersdale, a 28 mile round trip and day 3 was from Meyersdale to the PA/MD state line, a 24 mole round trip.
Day 1 started out cold and windy and stayed that way. The temperature was in the high 40’s with a wind of 15 to 25 mph. To complicate maters the trail was soft from 2 previous days of rain. We only saw one other brave person riding that day.
On day 2 we arrived in Rockwood around 11:00 in the morning and decided to wait a couple of hours before riding because the temperature was still in the 30’s. We just started to explore the town and what a surprise. Rockwood is delightful. We found the restored Opera House, which is full of small, interesting shops and a “Pizza Parlor”. We ordered our pizza and explored the shops. One of the shops had a great selection of Great Allegheny Passage T-shirts (up to size XXL). We both got a shirt and went back to the Pizza shop and enjoyed one of the best hand made pizzas we have ever had. Now on to the not so pleasant part of the day, the bike ride. Conditions did not improve much, still cold and very windy but the hard pack was not as soft as the first day. The scenery was beautiful and the Salisbury Viaduct was worth the ride in the cold.
Day 3 was much warmer and the sun came out. The ride from Meyersdale to the Eastern Continental Divide was perfect. We did not feel deserted as we passed many other riders. The trip down the eastern side of the divide featured the Big Savage Tunnel. What a thrill to ride through a 3300 ft tunnel and the view on the east side is breath taking.
Overall we had a great 3 days of biking and would highly recommend the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Pennsylvania to all who are up to 3 days of uphill travel. We will return to the GAP.
Early Spring on the GAP
During the third week of April 2008 I rode the GAP with a group of cycling club acquaintances hailing from Richmond Virginia. One of our group managed to find a very nice man named Charles who operates a shuttle from the Washington DC area for riders of the GAP and the C&O Canal. We were dropped off at McKeesport with our bikes and camping gear to start our seven day trip on the GAP and then on the C&O Canal towpath. Our goal was to do the do 45 – 50 miles a day on our loaded bicycles, which we accomplished with no problem.
We managed to ride about 25 miles the first day after shuttling all day (Richmond to DC, DC to McKeesport) and camped at the Cedar Creek Park campground around milepost 110. This stretch takes you through old mining and/or steel communities and shows its industrialized past with a mix of rural scenery along the river.
Both the approach to and ride away from Ohiopyle are the most scenic portions of the GAP, with the Yock on your left and small waterfalls and wildflowers gracing the western side of the trail on your right. We rode from Ohiopyle to Myersdale in a steady, cold rain. The crushed limestone surface was like a big sponge and the travel was uphill and slow going. The Salisbury Viaduct over Highway 219 at almost 2000 feet long was quite impressive. Approaching Myersdale you can also see the windmills that dot the skyline. On a misty, cool day they were quite surreal. I began to think I was Don Quixote, or maybe it was just my blood sugar dropping. At Myersdale we had the honor of being the first guests of the season at the Myersdale Trail Side Hostel, which really is not “trailside” and is about a mile down a steep hill from the trail. But at $10 a night with hot showers we were in hog heaven! It doubles as a Community Center and we woke up in the morning to voters arriving for the Pennsylvania presidential primary election.
About 7 or 8 miles south of Myersdale is the Eastern Continental Divide, a celebratory milestone as it meant the end of the continuous uphill on the GAP. With a fully loaded bike, spongy crushed limestone, and a continuous uphill, we were happy to heading downhill. Not long after the Divide is the Big Savage Tunnel, one of the highlights of the GAP. The Borden and Brush Tunnels followed on the way down the hill in to Cumberland. There were several scenic overlooks worth stopping for on the way down.
After a lunch break in Cumberland it was on to the C&O! I would love to go back and redo the GAP from Cumberland up to the other side of Ohiopyle to Connelsville, in either direction. This is by far the most scenic portion. Kudos to the folks who were able to create the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail, one of the nicest and most scenic rail trails in the eastern US. They deserve our support!
Great trail end to end.
"Team Busted Ridge rides again. In mid-July ’07 three of us rode the GAP on the Yough River Trail from McKeesport to above Ohiopyle, drove over to Frostburg, MD, and biked the summit to Meyersdale, and had a great time. The trail was beautiful and the “scenery” was interesting as we biked past everything from a pipe plant in McKeesport to a very old cemetery to a windmill generating area near the summit to abandoned railroad bridges crossing the “Yock.” (For those of you who -- like us -- are not from the area, Youghiogheny is pronounced Yock’ yeny.) The summit area was expecially scenic. The people we met were all very welcoming and proud of their hometowns and the trail.
In McKeesport stay on the west side of the river. It’s far more scenic and easier to follow.
In West Newton be sure to stop at the new trail HQ in restored station. When we visited the HQ was scheduled to be moved the next week, but we poked our heads in the building. They’re doing a great job.
Of particular note is Connellsville and the Bikes Unlimited shop right on the trail at Crawford Avenue. The folks at the shop were friendly and helpful and had a great handle on the trail and its history, as well as the local eateries. We recommend a stop there.
Watch for wildlife. We saw plenty of non-threatening animals and found a copperhead at one of the scenic pull-offs between Connellsville and Ohiopyle.
Get off the bikes and walk around Ohiopyle. Be sure to make the short walk to the falls. Plenty of good food in town. Be aware Ohiopyle caters to river rafters, and bike equipment is in short supply. Get your bike needs in Connellsville.
The day we rode the summit the weather was stormy and fog was rolling out the Big Savage tunnel early in the morning. After a healthy thunderstorm and plenty of wind, the tunnel was clearer on the return trip. In Meyersdale you’ll find plenty of lunch stops. We heard the GI Dayroom was highly recommended, but couldn’t find it as we went down the steep Main St. hill in the rain. The Dayroom’s sign is obscured by trees. Watch for it on the right as you bike down the hill. We wound up eating in a little restaurant at the corner of Main St. and Bus. 219.
All you bicycling railfans out there will have a great time on this trail. The old B&O (now CSX) runs along the east bank of the river and it is well used. Although foliage obscured the view of the tracks below Ohiopyle, you still see (or hear) plenty of trains. CSX was running loaded 10,000 ton coal trains with two GE CW44s on point and three pushers, as well as mixed freights, autorack and container unit trains.
GAP’s website http://www.atatrail.org/index.cfm is very well organized and was helpful in planning our trip.
We drove nearly a thousand miles from the great southeast to ride the trail and it was worth it.
"The GAP is a great trail to ride on and is very scenic, probably overall the nicest trail I've been on. My two favorite rides are from Confluence to Connellsville, and from Garrett to the Big Savage Tunnel.
Confluence to Connellsville has the best natural scenic beauty of the whole trail. Here you ride through a beautiful shaded wooded environment, with great views of the river and lots of things to see in Ohiopyle.
Garrett to the Big Savage Tunnel, on the other hand, has the best man-made attractions with the biggest WOW factor. Starting in Garrett you have the windmills above the trail, then you get the wide sweeping panoramic view of the valley below when crossing over the Salisbury Viaduct. In Meyersdale you can see the restored trainstation/trail giftshop, and a whole ridgeline filled with more windmills. A few miles past Meyersdale you get to cross the Keystone Viaduct which gives you a nice view of the valley below with trains passing underneath you, and windmills on the ridgetop above you. A few more miles up the trail you get to the highest point on the whole trail, just past Deal at the McKenzie Hollow Road underpass...from this point it's downhill the whole way to Cumberland, and in the opposite direction the whole way to McKeesport. A little further up the trail you come to the Big Savage Tunnel, lots of fun to ride through, and now that they've refurbished it it has LIGHTS in it...YES, sodium vapor lights, so you don't need to bring a flashlight with you to ride through it !. Just on the other side of the tunnel you get a spectacular view overlooking the valley down below. Here's where you realize how just high up you are and how much difference there is in elevation between Deal (2,390') and Cumberland (625').
Once past the tunnel heading SouthEast the trail passes the yellow poles across the trail signifying the Mason-Dixon line and your entry into Maryland, where the GAP becomes the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland. This Maryland section, scheduled to be completed from Woodcock Hollow to Cumberland in December of 2006, will link the GAP with the C&O Canal...which will mean being able to ride from Washington D.C. to McKeesport.
I'd just like to say I'm AMAZED at how much work was done to build this trail system! I've ridden several of the GAP trail sections back when they were still original railroad ballast, and all I can say is WOW! I rode the section from Meyersdale to the Big Savage Tunnel several years ago and I know that section alone took a LOT of work. Clearing the right-of-way and creating the trail surface, re-decking and fixing up the bridges (ESPECIALLY the Keystone Viaduct), creating an underpass for McKenzie Hollow Road, and restoring the Big Savage Tunnel. I remember having to climb up the roadside at McKenzie Hollow Road, then going down the other side into what was then a water-filled swampy ditch that's now the trail. I remember riding up to the North entrance to the Big Savage Tunnel and being shocked at how badly deteriorated the thing was. The whole face of the tunnel entrance had caved in, and the tunnel was filled with what looked like several feet of water. There was also a low ground fog rolling out of the tunnel that made the whole thing look like something out of a horror movie. To see it all fixed up in the condition it's in now with the lights in it is just unbelievable! "
Prettiest section of the GAP
"This section of the Great Allegheny Passage is by far the prettiest and most scenic of the whole trail. From Confluence on up to Connellsville it has the feel of riding through a state park (which part of it is). The section from Confluence up to Ohiopyle is probably one of the most, if not THE most used section of the trail, especially on weekends....and for a good reason.
My favorite ride is Confluence to Ohiopyle, about 11 miles long. On this section you'll experience riding through really pretty wooded terrain, nice views of the river, and in Summer you'll see lots of boaters and kayakers on the river.
Ohiopyle is a great destination because you've got the Ohiopyle Falls, Cucumber Falls, the natural waterslides, the Ferncliff Natural area, the views from the two bike trail bridges over the river, and the restored train station/information center. Just up the road a short drive is Frank Loyd Wright's ""Fallingwater"" house too. There are several places to eat in both towns, as well as overnight lodging, and rafting rental/bike rental shops too.
If you plan on doing this section of trail plan on bringing a camera with you, especially in the Fall when the leaves change."
Very Scenic Trail
"The Allegheny Highlands Trail is one of the most scenic in Western Pennsylvania and offers a lot of variety for families, groups and individuals.
For an afternoon bike ride of twenty miles or so, trail users have several options.
First, you can ride from Confluence to the Pinkerton High Bridge and the west portal of the Pinkerton Tunnel. The return ride to Confluence is downhill, and the total length of the ride is about 18 miles. This section, which passes through Fort Hill, is one of the most scenic. It is not unusual to view deer or other wildlife along this portion of the trail.
Second, one can enter the trail at Rockwood and ride downstream along the Cassleman River through Markleton to the same point, the west portal of the Pinkerton Tunnel and Pinkerton High Bridge. This portion of the route includes the bypass portion of the trail around the presently closed Pinkerton Tunnel. The bypass is a little rougher than other portions of the trail but it's an interesting part of the trail that will likely be missed by many someday when the tunnel is finally repaired and opened. The length of this ride is about 20 miles for a round trip.
The third ride is from Rockwood upstream to the Salisbury Viaduct. Total length of this ride is about 22 miles round trip, but you can stretch it to 24 if you continue past the viaduct to the restored Meyersdale train station. This part of the trail is also very scenic and passes through the town of Garrett about 7 miles upstream from Rockwood. Near Garrett are several huge windmills which generate electricity. The Salisbury Viaduct is a great destination on the trail. It is approximately 1900 feet long, stands about 100 feet above the valley floor and offers some great views of the surrounding area. The four lane highway US-219 passes directly beneath the viaduct as well as the Cassleman River, the CSX railroad and a couple of other roads.
In the next couple of years, the trail is expected to be extended past Meyersdale through Sandpatch and Deal to the Maryland State Line. This section includes the 910 foot long Keystone Viaduct which dramatically curves over the valley of Flaugherty Creek and the 3300 foot long Big Savage Tunnel, each of which are presently being repaired and reconstructed for trail use."