great allegheny passage and c & o canal bike trek

GAP trestle.jpg

If I was going to design the perfect 340 mile bike trek, it would be two completely flat, car free, shaded stretches, separated by a 20 mile downhill coast through beautiful farmland, with charming trail towns conveniently placed for lodging, food and homemade ice cream. When I was told that there were no up hills, I just didn't believe it, but it was not misrepresented and I did not disgrace my family. This is two combined trails; the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage - a Rail to Trail) and the C & O Canal Tow Path. The direction you take makes a difference - definitely go from Pittsburg to DC and not the other way round (and don't just do half starting at Cumberland like many people do, because you just miss the best stretch of road!) We did it all in 10 days (approx. 34 miles a day). We were two families (4 parents and 3 high school grads). We stayed in hotels, hostels and B & B's for the first 5 nights and then alternated camping in the free sights provided with hotels for the second week. These paths do go over the eastern continental divide but the grade is so low on the way up that it is truly not noticeable (believe me, I would be complaining if I had noticed). Our friends first did this trip with their son when he was 8 years old, but I think that it is the perfect trip for 12 years and up (you need some endurance). There were a lot of father/son duos and college roommates (both young and old) on the trail. The trail on the Pennsylvania GAP portion was very well maintained cinders. The C&O varied wildly in maintenance from newly packed clay to stone chips and muddy ruts, but aside from sore bums we had no injuries. You don't feel the heat on a bike because there is always a breeze.

Here is a brief list from the trip:

  • 3 high former train trestles (the photo is taken from the first one - there are railings)
  • 3 lonnnng dark tunnels (super fun and very disorienting)
  • 75 antique C & O canal locks
  • 1 continental divide
  • 1 twenty mile coast downhill (worth mentioning twice)
  • 4 rivers (Ohio, Youghiogeny, Casselman, Potomac)
  • 1 beautiful 6 mile detour that did have some hills (not part of the official trail)
  • 1 almost disastrous hotel reservation in Harpers Ferry (on a 4 lane highway)
  • 1 round of drinks at the bar, courtesy of the hotel in Harpers Ferry
  • 4 soaks in a river (Youghiogeny - cold and Potomac - warm)
  • 1 Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece (Falling Water)
  • 3 nights camping
  • 1 raccoon, 6 fauns, 5 woodchucks, 7 turtles, 2 herons, 1 buzzard, 3 bright green caterpillars, countless songbirds and butterflies
  • 1 spider museum (women's bathroom)
  • many, many trains
  • 0 cars (except in the first 13 miles leaving Pittsburg)
  • 2 very brief rain storms (just enough to cool us off)
  • 5 blown tire tubes, 2 repaired luggage racks, 1 cracked axel, 1 cracked rim
  • 2 panniers bounced off mid ride
  • 1 lost bathing suit by the side of the trail
  • 3 Ruben sandwiches, 5 crab cakes, many Caesar salads and a coconut cream pie
  • 2 root beer floats
  • 1 one match campfire
  • 7 happy campers

If you are interested in other interesting trails that we haven't yet tried. check these out.