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The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is an iconic rail-trail that runs 150 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was built in partnership between state agencies and many local trail groups and volunteers. Learn more about how you can support the GAP at gaptrail.org.
Ever since the Great Allegheny Passage opened in 2007, overnight bicycle riders and backpackers have flocked to the 150-mile rail-trail in Western Pennsylvania. The welcoming small towns along the route lure travelers with lodging, camping, markets and dining. Trail users marvel at the awesome scenery along one of the longest rail-trails in the United States. The biggest allure might be the ability to travel off-road for 334 miles all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., when combining the GAP with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (C&O Canal Towpath) in Cumberland, Maryland.
The GAP is also part of the September 11th National Memorial Trail that connects the World Trade Center, Flight 93 and Pentagon Memorials.
The route mainly follows old railbeds between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, in many cases alongside scenic rivers and streams. There’s a slight but steady grade from Pittsburgh to the Big Savage Tunnel at mile 126; westbound travelers will experience a steeper grade in the 24 miles they have to reach the tunnel from Cumberland. Abundant historical sites from the French and Indian Wars, as well as from the era of western expansion, can be found.
While most users are on foot or bike, equestrians are allowed on grassy adjacent paths between Boston and Connellsville, Rockwood and Garrett, and the Pennsylvania–Maryland state line to Frostburg, Maryland. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular wintertime pursuits. Before setting out, it’s a good idea to check the GAP website (gaptrail.org) for local trail conditions, as well as for opportunities for dining, lodging, and shuttle services.
The GAP got its start in 1978 when a local nonprofit bought a segment of unused railroad, and the first section of trail was completed in 1986. The Allegheny Trail Alliance formed in 1995 and spearheaded the piece-by-piece completion of the route. It was the first rail-trail in the country to be inducted into Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame in 2007.
In the north, the trail starts on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail at Point State Park at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. The park marks the historic sites of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt that now sit among skyscrapers and professional sports venues in downtown Pittsburgh. The trail sticks to the Monongahela River waterfront for 4.5 miles and crosses the river at Hot Metal Bridge, which once carried molten iron from blast furnaces on the south side to steel furnaces on the north.
If you’re starting from the park, note that an awkward merge point for I-279 and I-376 used to require an on-road detour, but the completion in 2018 of an off-road segment of trail, including the switchback ramp at the Smithfield Street Bridge, now allows a seamless trail experience to South Oakland. Heading east on the trail, you’ll pass a trailside bike rental shop in one block.
The GAP shares the Three Rivers Heritage Trail for 10 miles to Homestead, where modern retail centers with offices and restaurants have replaced the steel factories here. The GAP follows the Monongahela another 8 miles into McKeesport to an old Pennsylvania Union Railroad bridge that dates back to 1928; it replaced a previous bridge built in 1891.
Tons of coal still pass by rail or barges through McKeesport, which sits at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny (yawki-gay-nee) Rivers. A trail junction after the bridge marks the Clairton Connector, which links to the Montour Trail via 5 miles of roadway. The GAP from here to Connellsville follows the former route of the Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad, known locally by its initials as the P Mickey. A subsidiary of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, the rail line carried coal and coke to Pittsburgh steel mills until it fell into disuse in 1991.
Heading south 44 miles to Connellsville, the GAP passes lush hillsides and once-booming coal towns. The first of these towns, in 4 miles, is Boston, where the trail surface becomes crushed limestone. In 15 miles, you’ll arrive in the former paper mill town of West Newton, where a prior train station houses a visitor center. A bike shop, a brewery, and a row of bed-and-breakfasts along the path make this a favorite stop.
Just west of Connellsville, you’ll see beehive-shaped ovens in the woods, left over from the early 20th century, that burned coal into coke for use in the steel-making industry. Today the town offers parks, cafés and lodging to travelers. In 2 miles, the GAP passes the Sheepskin Trail, which goes about 4 miles to Dunbar.
Ohiopyle and Laurel Highlands
For the next 17 miles, the trail passes through an isolated section of the Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania. The region is known for the highest mountains in the state, though the trail picks a level course along the Youghiogheny River. Near mile 75, the halfway point, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater house sits across the river. You can arrange visits to the house, which is open to the public, through the website and catch a shuttle from Ohiopyle.
Arriving in the borough of Ohiopyle, you’ll cross two high trestles across the Youghiogheny rapids below. Along this stretch of the GAP—which was the first section of the trail to open after acquisition of the corridor from the Western Maryland Railway—Ohiopyle State Park serves as a big draw for hikers, campers, and whitewater rafters.
Nine more miles along the meandering river bring you to Confluence, aptly named for the meeting of the Youghiogheny River, Casselman River, and Laurel Hill Creek. Confluence has plenty of great places to eat or catch a good night’s rest. The GAP crosses the Youghiogheny River and then follows the Casselman River as it leaves town.
The trail swivels and swings northeast for 19 miles toward camping, lodging, dining, and other services in Rockwood. About halfway along this stretch, you’ll pass through the 849-foot Pinkerton Tunnel positioned between two trestles over the Casselman River. The tunnel was reopened in 2015 after extensive renovations.
Big Savage Tunnel
The trail takes a southeast heading after Rockwood and follows a grade to Big Savage Mountain. You’ll cross the 1,900-foot Salisbury Viaduct that crosses 100 feet above the Casselman River, US 219, and railroad tracks before you arrive in Meyersdale in 12 miles. Leaving this former coal-mining town, you’ll cross the iron Bollman Bridge in less than 2 miles, followed by the curved Keystone Viaduct. Both offer scenic views of surrounding farmlands and forests, especially in the fall.
In 9 miles, you’ll catch sight of the 3,294-foot Big Savage Tunnel that marks the high point of the trail and the Eastern Continental Divide. Closed late November–early April, the lighted tunnel provides welcome relief on hot summer days. Note that during the closure period, there are no safe road detours around the tunnel. It is recommended that cyclists turn around here and drive to another point on the trail to continue.
From the tunnel, it’s mostly downhill to Cumberland. Crossing the old Mason–Dixon Line—the traditional border between North and South—into Maryland, you’ll roll in to Frostburg in 5 miles. You can visit downtown via a series of uphill switchbacks to a regional museum and a restored 1891 train station that serves as a restaurant. If you’re here in mid-September, you can enjoy local music and crafts at the Appalachian Festival.
On the last 16 miles to Cumberland, you’ll parallel the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which runs steam locomotive excursions on weekends and many weekdays. In fact, 9 miles past Frostburg, the trail shares the 900-foot Brush Tunnel with the train. It’s recommended to avoid entering the tunnel with the noisy and smoky train; the locomotive emerging from the tunnel makes a better photo anyway.
Past the tunnel is Cumberland Narrows, where the GAP squeezes through a water gap created by Wills Creek between Wills Mountain and Haystack Mountain. The old National Freeway (US 40), the scenic railroad, and CSX share this historic passage.
The C&O Canal Towpath begins where the GAP ends at the confluence of Wills Creek and the North Branch of the Potomac River in downtown. Here, you’ll find the Cumberland Visitor Center for the towpath.
The C&O continues another 184 miles along the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. You’ll find food, lodging and entertainment in the vicinity of the junction.
Short- and long-term parking suggestions are listed on the GAP website.
To reach parking near Point State Park in Pittsburgh from I-376 E, take Exit 71A on the left for Grant St., and go 0.1 mile. Continue onto Grant St., take a sharp right onto Second Ave., and go 0.6 mile. Turn right into the parking lot, and look for parking on the right.
To reach parking near Point State Park in Pittsburgh from I-376 W, take Exit 73A for PA 885 S toward Glenwood. Turn right onto PA 885 S/Bates St. Go 0.1 mile, turn right onto Second Ave., and go 1.6 miles. Turn left into the parking lot, and look for parking on the right.
To reach the endpoint at the Cumberland Visitor Center from I-68/US 40 W, take Exit 43C toward downtown. Turn left onto W. Harrison St., and go 0.1 mile; turn right onto Canal St. Turn right into the parking lot, which is across from the Cumberland Visitor Center for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. To access the trail, turn right onto Canal St., go one block, and follow signs to the visitor center. You’ll cross Baltimore St. to access the Great Allegheny Passage on your left.
To reach the endpoint at the Cumberland Visitor Center from I-68/US 40 E, take Exit 43A for Johnson St. toward WV 28 Alt. Continue onto S. Johnson St., go 0.2 mile, and turn right onto Greene St. Go about 450 feet, turn left to stay on Greene St., and go 0.1 mile. Greene St. turns right and becomes Baltimore St. Turn right onto Canal St., go 0.1 mile, and turn left into the parking lot. To access the trail, turn right onto Canal St., go one block, and follow signs to the visitor center. You’ll cross Baltimore St. to access the Great Allegheny Passage on your left.
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