About this Itinerary
The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is indeed magnificent. This 150-mile trail, running from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, traces the paths of railroads that helped build the America we know today. Now the longest rail-trail east of the Mississippi River, the GAP showcases tunnels and viaducts, courses along rivers and across mountain passes, and generally astounds with the impressive engineering and back-breaking labor that went into taming the rugged Allegheny Mountains.
Our proposed itinerary takes you on a six-day adventure, traveling east (Cumberland) to west (Pittsburgh) along the entire length of the Great Allegheny Passage. As it is built mainly on abandoned rail beds, the trail follows the Youghiogheny River, crosses the Eastern Continental Divide and traverses the ridgelines and valleys of the Appalachian range with an average grade of less than 1 percent.
There are many different levels of support available for this long-distance trip. We offer suggestions for those wanting a self-contained trip where planning and reserving your lodging in advance is necessary, especially during the high-season of summer and early fall. Towns along the way have grocery stores and restaurants but definitely allow room in your panniers for extra water and snacks.
Pre-arranging for transportation to and from the trailheads is perhaps the trickiest part of the planning. Amtrak’s passenger train parallels the trail and can transport you and your bike from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. Check Amtrak’s website to learn more about their rules for traveling with bicycles. Another alternative is to hire a shuttle service to take you from the Pittsburgh trailhead to the Cumberland trailhead. Shuttle services will vary, from point-to-point drop-offs, daily shuttling of gear, to on-the-trail bike service if needed. If you drive into Pittsburgh, long-term parking is available for a fee at Homestead (MM 139) and Station Square Garage in Pittsburgh (MM148). Additionally, some B&Bs in Pittsburgh offer long-term parking for their guests. If you are flying into the Pittsburgh International Airport with your own bike, you can now bike from the airport using the Montour Trail Airport Connector, which connects in 21.5 miles to the GAP at Point of View Park. Finally, make sure to pack your bike repair and patch kit, a flashlight or headlight (you will need it for some of the tunnels) and a camera to capture the gorgeous views awaiting you (not to mention the new friends you are sure to make along the way).
Transport to Cumberland
Spend the first day transporting to Cumberland and discovering why this town has been a hub for travelers for centuries. Known as the "Queen City of Maryland," Cumberland sits at the base of one of the few passable natural cuts of the Allegheny Front. Native Americans, trappers, British Colonials, cannallers, frontiersmen and railroaders have all used the Cumberland area as their gateway to the West. George Washington first travelled to the region in 1748 in search of the origin of the Potomac River, and the Cumberland Road, authorized by President Thomas Jefferson in 1806, was the first highway built by the Federal Government.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) was the first long distance railroad in the U.S., breaking ground in 1828. It challenged the canals in the race to reach the Ohio River, no easy task as the three other existing railroads at the time were no more than a dozen miles long. B&O reached the Ohio River by 1852 and finished the branch from Cumberland to Pittsburgh by 1871. No longer in competition, the railroad bed and the nation’s premier canal towpath—the 185-mile Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O)—now join together at Cumberland to create a 335-mile motorized vehicle-free route from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Visiting the C&O National Historical Park Visitors Museum, in Canal Place, and the Allegany Museum (closed Mondays) are two interesting ways to learn more about this region’s rich heritage. If you need to do any last minute bike maintenance, purchase maps or rent a bike, Wheelzup Adventures (formerly Cumberland Trail Connection) is one of several places that will help you get ready for tomorrow’s cycling adventure.
Cumberland’s four-block pedestrian mall and downtown is a short walk from Canal Place. But before you explore the numerous boutiques, galleries and eateries that it has to offer, check-in for the night at The Bruce House Inn, a beautiful 1840 home perched on a hill overlooking the city’s cobbled streets. Finally ready to stroll? First stop should be the Queen City Creamery for a tasty ice cream cone or milk shake pick-me-up. Now you are set to amble through the historic streets of Cumberland, still full of mid-19th and early 20th century architectural style-buildings, ranging from Victorian to Greek and Colonial Revival. Be on the look-out for the restaurant that is calling your name— there are plenty to choose from. If you are staying in Cumberland on a Friday summer’s night, be prepared for town center to become an open-air concert hall. The Friday after Five series draws lively crowds with its outdoor music and al fresco dining opportunities. You might want to plan your trip around the number of festivals held in town, including Heritage Days, always the second full weekend in June and the official start of summer for the city of Cumberland.
Cumberland – Meyersdale (32 miles; MM 0-31.8)
Leaving Cumberland, after a hearty B&B breakfast, you begin a gradual climb to the Eastern Continental Divide (GAP 23.9), a 1,765-foot-elevation gain at a less than 2-percent grade. (From the divide, it is a downhill climb all the way to Pittsburgh). If you would rather avoid part of this ascent, climb aboard the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (May to November) and ride the train instead for the 16 miles to Frostburg, an appealing college town and a good place to stop for lunch. If you are biking, follow the switchback at the Frostburg trailhead to the railroad terminus at Depot Street. From there, you can park your bike (or ride to the top) and take the set of stairs from the depot into town. It is worth the hike to get to town and there are several lunch options, but you can also stay near the depot and eat at the Trail Inn and Café. Near the depot is the Thrasher Carriage Museum which showcases a collection of horse-drawn vehicles. If you are in Frostburg during the September days of the Appalachian Festival, there is a good chance you will be tempted to immerse yourself in the traditional arts, dance, music and food of this region, so plan accordingly.
Refreshed, rejuvenated and back on the trail, you have 7.5 miles to go before reaching the divide. On the way are the Borden Tunnel at GAP 17.5— have your headlights ready as the tunnel is not lighted— and the Mason-Dixon Line at GAP 20.5. The state line is named after an English team (Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon) who were commissioned to survey the boundaries between the Maryland and Pennsylvania colonies in the mid-1700s, ultimately resolving the border conflicts that resulted in the Cresap’s War. In less than two miles from the state line, the Big Savage Tunnel (closed during the winter months) awaits you. Originally built in 1911 to ship locally-mined coal, the longest tunnel of the trip cuts a lighted 3,300-foot-pathway through the mountain. After the rail line was abandoned in 1975, the tunnel continued to experience damage from the freeze/thaw conditions that had plagued it in the past and had required constant repairs. The Allegheny Trail Alliance garnered support to restore the tunnel in the 1990s and it was opened to bicycle traffic by 2003. Stop for a scenic vista just east of the tunnel.
A short climb beyond the tunnel, at 2,392 feet above sea level, you cross the Eastern Continental Divide and the boundary between the watersheds of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Now you can “sit back” and relax on the gentle three mile descent to your day’s final destination of Meyersdale. But not before traversing two more impressive railroad structures that have been converted for trail use— the Keystone Viaduct (GAP 30) and the Bollman Bridge (GAP 30.5)— and leisurely reveling in the breathtaking scenery of the surrounding hills and valleys.
Meyersdale, the highest town on the GAP, sits at the confluence of the Casselman River and Flaugherty Creek. The area was first occupied by the Monongahela Indians who tapped maple trees to make syrup. Now, Meyersdale hosts the annual spring Maple Festival in honor of this tradition and the city is fondly known as the “Maple City,” the sweetest of all the trail towns. At the trailhead, the restored train station provides a visitors center with displays on local history. As you enter town, look for the mural on Main Street that pays homage to Meyersdale’s past as a transportation hub. Just a few blocks from the trail is the Levi Deal Mansion B&B. In the mood for a bit of pampering and a splash of elegance? This lovely 1900s mansion, originally the home of a local coal and timber baron, offers just that. It is close to the rail, however, so be prepared for the occasional rail noise. The Alley Door at the Morguen Toole Company might be just the ticket for enjoying some regional cuisine and a flight of beer. Depending on the day of the week, you could catch some live musical entertainment here as well. But I suspect an early night might be calling to you, so rest up well and prepare for your second day on the trail.
Meyersdale – Confluence (32 miles; MM 31.8-62)
Before leaving town, stock up on water and snacks. Visit the farmer’s market for local goods if you are in Meyersdale on a Wednesday or Saturday morning during the summer months. Once back on the trail, the distinctive Salisbury Viaduct (GAP 33.5) – a steel trestle that is 101-foot- high and 1,908-foot-long - dominates the Casselman River Valley within a quick 1.5 miles. From here until the next town of Rockwood (GAP 43), you weave in and out of woods and farmland, including wind farms. Turbines dot the horizon near the town of Garrett, giving evidence to the region’s growing energy industry. Rockwood is a good place to refill your water bottles and stretch your legs. You will probably want to eat lunch as well as there are few options between here and Confluence. The Rockwood Opera House and Mill Shoppes on Main Street houses a café, pizza place and several retail shops.
At GAP 52, you come to the Pinkerton Neck (locally known as the “horn”), a narrow pinch of erosion-resistant land that created a peninsula in the Casselman River. There are two railroad tunnels that pass through this neck. The first was built in 1871 by the B&O Railroad but was destroyed by a fire less than a decade later, at which time a “shoofly” bypass was built until the tunnel could be repaired. The trail uses the shoofly, adding a scenic 1.5 miles around the Pinkerton horn.
Finally, at GAP 62, you reach Confluence, the attractive town “where mountains touch rivers,” named for its location at the junction of the Youghiogheny and Casselman rivers and Laurel Hill Creek. Surrounded by mountains of the Laurel Highlands (some of the highest in Pennsylvania) and next to the Youghiogheny River Lake, Confluence is certainly a draw for the outdoor enthusiast. In 1754, George Washington visited this same confluence of rivers on his way to the forks of the Ohio River. At that time, however, this valley was called “Turkeyfoot” by natives and settlers due to the three-pronged formation that the rivers create. By the time the B&O Railroad was completed, the town of Confluence was bustling at high-speed to keep up with the demands of industrialization, as is true for many of the GAP towns.
You will pass the Hanna House B&B, a restored farmhouse and 100-acre working farm, about three miles before reaching Confluence. This popular B&B is located conveniently right off the trail and the owners offer a shuttle service into town. If you would rather stay in town, consider The Confluence House B&B. Be sure to take advantage of their wine shop which sells wine exclusively from regional wineries. Confluence Cyclery is just a few blocks away should your bike need some TLC. Finally, leisurely unwind on the River’s Edge Café’s wrap-around porch, dining with views of the river and surrounding gardens. They offer creative and tasty lunch and dinner entrees May through October. If fall foliage is in full swing during your visit, you could be in Confluence during the annual PumpkinFest, beginning the first Friday of October. Watch out though, you might get recruited for the tough man fire truck pull.
Confluence – Connellsville (28 miles; MM 62-88)
Today, be prepared for another spectacular passage. Between Confluence and Connellsville, the Youghiogheny River has cut through the mountain to form the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania. Follow the river and spend 11 miles in Ohiopyle State Park (beginning at GAP 63) on the oldest and most popular section of the GAP. Don’t be surprised to see plenty of others enjoying the park with you today: hikers, anglers, rafters and kayakers. Plan to stop often to take-in the scenic views of the gorge and its waterfalls; perhaps take a short hike and enjoy the park’s diverse flora and fauna. The river provides a great habitat for water-loving birds such as osprey, mergansers, kingfishers and even bald eagles. Be aware that copperheads and timber rattlesnakes also live here. In the springtime, wildflowers and tree blossoms display their beauty in abundant aplomb—of note are the mountain laurel, generally blooming in June, and rhododendrons, often in full-glory by early-mid July. Also look for “tree tunnels” between Confluence and Ohiopyle, whose interlocking branches provide shade and needed respite from summer heat. There will be some access to the river along the trail and this could be the perfect day for a picnic.
In Ohiopyle (GAP 72), there are eateries, markets, the park visitors center and, not far off the trail, viewing platforms to see the 20-foot-high Ohiopyle Falls (you might even see a whitewater kayakers running it). If it is a hot day, have your swim suit handy as the area above the falls is perfect for wading and cooling off. This spectacular falls area is also the staging ground for the annual Labor Day weekend Music in the Mountains Festival.
The trail continues on to the Ohiopyle Low Bridge, a beautiful bowstring truss bridge that takes you to the Ferncliff Peninsula. A National Natural Landmark, the peninsula is noted for rare plant species that are able to survive here as the rapids and falls moderate temperature extremes. At GAP 72, you cross the Ohiopyle High Bridge, another spot for watching rapids and rafters below. The final stretch of the day is mostly wooded and the sounds of the mad-churning river will accompany you along the way.
One could spend days in the area simply exploring the miles of hiking trails and going to nearby attractions, such as the Fort Necessity National Battlefield (10 miles from Ohiopyle). Two stunning homes designed by the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, are within minutes by car and really shouldn’t be missed, if at all possible: Fallingwater, six miles from town, is his most famous work and Kentuk Knob, a mountain home named after the crest upon which it sits, is nearby. The Laurel Highland Visitors Bureau offers tours of both homes (advance reservations required). We do not recommend cycling to the homes as the roads are not bike-friendly. Outfitters Wilderness Voyageurs will take you to and fro and will even store your gear while you are enjoying the tour.
The next and final town of the day, Connellsville (GAP 88), once fueled the region’s economy with its coal mines and coke (non-smoke producing coal) factories. The railroad, built in 1883, carried coal and coke from the rich Connellsville District to the Pittsburgh steel mills. At one point, Connellsville had the highest concentration of millionaires in the U.S. Some of the town’s buildings, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are still indicative of this prosperous past. The trail follows streets in Connellsville’s west side, where you can stay the night at Connellsville B&B and gingerly mosey through La Boheme, a Czech glass and jewelry shop owned by the same proprietors. The B&B also provides separate locked storage space for your bike. Once settled in, walk or bike down Crawford Street, over the river to Lion’s Square and see what local artisans are creating at the ArtWorks Connellsville Gallery & Learning Center (10 a.m. – 4 p.m., closed Sundays). If it happens to be a Sunday summer night, set yourself down on the grass and enjoy the free weekly concert that is held at the square between 7-9 p.m. If not, carry-on less than a mile to the Italian Oven for your choice of salads, pastas and pizzas.
Connellsville – West Newton (26 miles; MM 88-114)
Before leaving town this morning, go to Martin’s Supermarket and Deli (800 Vanderbilt Rd.) and pick up sandwiches and deli-goodies for today’s picnic lunch. Get back on to the Third Street trail and head to Yough River Park which marks the outskirts of town. Look for the replica of the cabin of Colonial William Crawford, a close friend of George Washington. Also, General Edward Braddock and his army crossed here in 1755, on their way to defeat at the hands of the French and their Native American allies. The town re-enacts Braddock’s Crossing each June. As you leave town, turn around to take-in the views of Chestnut Ridge and Laurel Ridge. You are leaving the mountains now to less dramatic landscapes and a gentler flowing river.
On the peaceful stretch to West Newton, also the shortest day of the entire trip, you pass through several towns that once flourished with the mining, steel and glass industries. Adelaide is the first, at GAP 92, where you can see several batteries of coke ovens still standing near here. About a mile before town, look for the remains of Old Overholt Distillery. Whiskey-making was a popular cottage-industry into the 19th century, with nearly every farm operating a still. Within a quick two miles (GAP 94), the trail passes along the west banks of Dawson. Cross the river and spend some time exploring Dawson’s Historic District. There are more than 100 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the majority of which are lavish former residences of coal barons, including that of “Little Jim Cochran.” At GAP 102, the trail stays alongside the river with Perryopolis to your west and Layton across the water to the east. George Washington was a landowner here and established a gristmill and distillery. To visit this restored site, take Layton Road toward Perryopolis and look for George Washington’s Gristmill Park (Saturdays only, May 27-Sept. 2).
Whitsett (GAP 103.5) also has a historic district that exemplifies the less opulent side of the coal industry. Once a coal patch company town, the majority of Whitsett’s historic structures were built between 1890 and 1917 for the employees of The Pittsburgh Coal Company, and include former dwellings, a company store and water pump house. The next company town you pass, Van Meter (GAP 106), is associated with one of the worst coal-mining disasters in the U.S.: a 1907 explosion in the Darr Mine that killed 239 workers.
By the time you get to Cedar Creek Park, GAP 110, you will be ready for your picnic lunch and perhaps some time off of the bike. The Cedar Creek Gorge walking trail is a 1.5 mile loop that follows the stream up the gorge and across two suspension bridges. Beautiful wildflowers pattern the trailside in the spring. Take your time and enjoy. From here you are only a short three miles from West Newton and your day’s final destination.
West Newton (GAP 114) traces its roots to 1788 when a group of American pioneers to the Northwest Territory stopped here to build boats. The surrounding forests provided plenty of material for flatboats, barges and rafts and West Newton soon became a jumping off point for travelers heading west. The trailhead visitor center, a replica of the 1910 Pittsburgh & Lake Erie train station that once stood there, is the place to buy GAP merchandise, so have wallet in-hand if you stop in for a gander. From here, Bright Morning B&B is less than .a half mile further down the trail. Leisurely unpack for your last night on this journey and ponder how to enjoy the rest of your day. Depending on how much time you spent at Cedar Creek Park, you may have plenty of daylight still to explore the area. Youghiogheny Outfitters can set you up for some floating or angling time on the river. Local history buffs may want to bike back down the trail about a mile to West Newton’s historic cemetery or head downtown, across the river, to the Plumer House (circa 1814) on Vine and Water Streets. There are a few bakeries, creameries and restaurants in town, including West Newton Pizza House, a popular pizza joint around the corner from the Plumer House on S. 2nd Street.
West Newton – Homestead (35 miles; MM 114-149)
In today’s 35 miles to Pittsburgh, you pass by closed steel mills and old coal company towns, evidence of a more prosperous time for many of the communities along the riverfront. Buena Vista (GAP 120) is one such town. Notice the multiple doors on some of the buildings; originally, four families lived in each home. Less than two miles beyond the Buena Vista trailhead is the Dravo Cemetery (GAP 122); search for the gravestones that bear the names of nine Civil War veterans and one veteran of the War of 1812. By the time you reach McKeesport (GAP 132), you are halfway to Pittsburgh.
McKeesport, settled in 1795, was home to more than 55,000 people during the booming steel-making years. National Tube Works was the major employer and also the world’s largest pipe producer at its peak of production. Now, McKeesport has an active marina and caters mostly to recreationalists. Grab a quick lunch with indoor or outdoor seating available at McKees Point Marina Café (April to October). Duquesne (GAP 135) was also an important steel town, with more than 10,000 people working at U.S. Steel’s Duquesne Works at its height. A mile before town, you cross the Riverton Bridge which originally provided the rail connection to haul molten iron between the two communities of McKeesport and Duquesne.
Just ahead in another four miles is Homestead. Another critical link in the industrialization of America, Homestead was the site of the massive Homestead Steel Works, which operated from 1881-1986. It was also the site of an 1892 violent confrontation between thousands of striking steelworkers and 300 guards who had been hired to protect the steel company’s interests. Ten individuals were killed and dozens wounded. Now renovated into a shopping and residential district, the historic pump house still remains and can be explored by appointment or by going to the Sunday Heritage Market (first and third Sunday of the month, April-Sept.)
Your final destination is Pittsburgh's Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to create the Ohio River. Before you get there, you cycle through Pittsburgh’s vibrant South Side and cross the river on the Hot Metal Bridge. Once you see the rivers merge you will know that your 150-mile passage is over. Congratulations! Get off the bike, take a bow and dance a jig to get any stiffness out of your body. While there, why not visit the Block House and the Fort Pitt Museum and learn about Pittsburgh’s role during the French and Indian War.
Pittsburgh is known as “Steel City” and the “City of Bridges” (it has more bridges than Venice). By now you will either have had your full of crossing bridges or be totally hooked on it and eager for more. Cycling around the city and exploring its diverse “burghs” is a do-able option if you choose to stay here for another day or so. Bike PGH provides maps and the general skinny on this particular urban biking adventure.
Of course, there is much to do and see off the bike as well and we recommend extending your trip long enough to take advantage of some of Pittsburgh’s cultural offerings. Pittsburgh’s Cultural District is a 14-block arts scene filled with theaters, galleries and museums. In this district alone there are more than 50 dining options, so you can easily make a whole day and night of it here. But venturing off into one of Pittsburgh’s 89 other neighborhoods is very tempting as each one offers its unique take on dining, entertainment and shopping. Explore the Strip District, less than a mile from downtown, the artful South Side, the historic Station Square and the scenic Waterfront to name only a few. There is no shortage of ways to celebrate your impressive achievement of cycling the Great Allegheny Passage.