The Great Allegany Passage (GAP) Trail: Cumberland, Maryland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA

One trail that regularly gets mentioned in the ‘best of’ cycling trails in the US is the Great Allegany Passage through western Pennsylvania. So to coincide with some other travel in north eastern US, it wasn’t hard to put it on my ‘to-do list’ and convince a couple of BN cycling friends to join. 

The Trail is 150miles (241km). We did it as 5 day self-guided tour package (including bike hire, accommodation and luggage transfers) averaging 30-40miles (40-60km) per day but you can do it in less if you want to ‘up’ the miles per day. (We also arranged shuttle transport for a side visit to FLW “Falling Water” House). The eastern end of the GAP rail trail meets the C&O canal towpath trail which runs another 180miles south east to Washington DC.  

The route goes through a canopy of oak and beech forests, crosses the eastern continental divide and the later part is alongside the banks of the Youghiogheny River, the westerly end is Pittsburgh’s Point State Park. One recent rider blogger linked the experience on the trail to the Japanese’s term shinrin-yoku “forest bathing” as in taking in the forest.  Apart from the forest and riverside scenic cycling, there are some great tunnels and views from high viaducts, and being a rail trail the climbing hardly feels like it is uphill at all. One of the best parts of doing the ride is seeing the selection of small towns (with coal, timber and steel histories) and chatting with a variety of locals, accommodation hosts, small business owners, trail volunteers, local walkers and other riders in small American towns.

It was easy to organise the tour, all the information is easily available via the https://gaptrail.org/ . There are local companies that cater for the full range of cycle traveling - guided/fully supported tours, self-guided packages with bike hire and luggage transfers options, or do it all yourself with panier riding & camping-The Amtrak Capitol Limited Train makes three stops along the trail, including at both endpoints and this train has self-storage for bicycles on-board.  The trail town program and trail volunteer program efforts show in a well-maintained trail, good information boards and websites, picnic stops & low cost camping options etc. are paying off with well patronised trail.  Listen to/read From Coal Town to Trail Town on the connection between the rail trail, community banking and small town economic development on the GAP trail.   A new trail effort that would meet up with the GAP Trail is now being worked on, extending from Parkersburg to Pittsburgh (P2P) 238.5-mile route connecting northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania by trail would mean dozens of small, rural Appalachian towns might have the same benefit they have seen in the Cinderella story of the highly successful Great Allegheny Passage.