Now the longest rail-trail east of the Mississippi River, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage spans two states in its course along great rivers and across mountain passes. Running from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, Maryland, the Great Allegheny Passage traces the paths of railroads that helped build America.
In 2010 agreements were made final for the last mile of trail leading into Pittsburgh to be developed. After connecting with the Southside Trail (aka Three Rivers Heritage Trail
), the Great Allegheny Passage Trail heads south through McKeesport along the banks of the Youghiogheny River, following the route of the Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad
Built in 1883, the railroad carried coal and coke from the rich Connellsville District to the Pittsburgh steel mills. Nicknamed the P-Mickey for its initials, P. McK. & Y., it merged with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. The freight and coal traffic that sustained the branch dried up by the mid-1980s, and the line fell into disuse in 1990
As you move upstream along the riverside trail, you pass lush green hillsides and once booming industrial towns. The first 40 miles of trail go through the Pennsylvania towns of Boston, West Newton and Dawson. Trailside B&Bs, bike shops and cafes line the trail in these towns, making them great resting places
At mile 43 the trail reaches the historic boom-town of Connellsville. This self-proclaimed "trail town" offers wonderful parks, restaurants and cafes. The industrial revolution is still alive in this southwestern Pennsylvania town
For the next 17 miles the trail follows the Youghiogheny River through remote Pennsylvania hill country. Take refuge under the dense canopy of the hardwood forest on the river's edge. Before reaching quaint Ohiopyle, you enter the state park with the same name and cross two impressive trestles. The town is a home base for adventure seekers. Not only is the trail a central attraction, but the Youghiogheny River is wild and untamed here and a popular whitewater rafting destination. Not even George Washington was able to navigate its rapids; he was forced to turn around while trying to capture Fort Duquesne in 1754.
The trail continues south along the river for the next 11 miles to Confluence. Aptly named, the town is built where the Youghiogheny River, Casselman River and Laurel Hill Creek come together. It has plenty of great places to eat or catch a good night's rest
South of Confluence the trail leaves the Youghiogheny and heads northeast for 31 miles, following the Casselman River to Meyersdale. You bypass the 849-foot-long Pinkerton tunnel before getting to town. A pleasant old trailside train depot in Meyersdale provides good local information
Be prepared to go uphill from here, as the trail heads southeast toward the Eastern Continental Divide. Here the trail follows the route of the old Western Maryland Railroad, which began operation between Cumberland, Maryland, and Connellsville, Pennsylvania, in 1912. Sold to a competitor in 1931, the railroad was operational for many more years before falling into disuse.
You cross the Eastern Continental Divide just before reaching the Maryland state line. From this elevation, more than 3,000 feet, it's all downhill to Cumberland. Pass through the 0.5-mile-long Big Savage tunnel just beyond the divide and take in stunning views of the surrounding hills and agricultural valleys as you pass the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland, just beyond the tunnel. Frostburg is the first town you reach, about 5 miles into Maryland.
The trail leaves Frostburg and continues another 16 miles through rolling Maryland countryside to Cumberland. For much of this section, the trail parallels an active railroad line that is used for tourism. Cumberland, the terminus of the Great Allegheny Passage, does not disappoint. A pedestrian mall downtown has many restaurants and shops. In Cumberland, the trail connects to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park towpath (aka the C&O Canal
), which takes you another 184 miles to Washington, D.C., without ever leaving a trail.
The Great Allegheny Passage is further divided into sections found at TrailLink.com. They are:Steel Valley TrailYoughiogheny River Trail NorthYoughiogheny River Trail South Three Rivers Heritage TrailAllegheny Highlands Trail of MarylandNOTE:
Before you set out on a long journey to explore this trail, check the Allegheny Trail Alliance
website for updates on trail detours and other safety information.
To reach the McKeesport trailhead outside of Pittsburgh, take Route 837 south out of the city and follow signs to McKeesport. Cross the McKeesport Duquesne Bridge and pick up Route 837 (Lysle Boulevard) toward McKeesport. Follow 837 into town and veer onto the Water Street ramp on your right. Take a left onto Water Street; parking is located in the park.
To reach the Cumberland trailhead in Maryland, traveling west on Interstate 68 into Cumberland, take Exit 43B. Upon exiting, take a left onto West Harrison Street and then a right onto South Mechanic Street. The old Western Maryland train depot on your left has public parking for the trail.
Visit the Allegheny Trail Alliance website for more information about the many other access points on the Great Allegheny Passage.