A New Approach A New Pace
The C& O towpath is a National Historic Park administered by the National Park Service and as such, unlike the Great Allegheny Passage which was completed in 2013, it looks much like it did when it was first built centuries ago. After days of rain, the path had turned into thick mud and sections felt like riding through peanut butter. On my first day back on the trail after resting in Cumberland, forecasts remained in hellscape territory, but I rarely felt the urge to move faster than 10 miles per hour.
Every few miles the tunnel of green would lead to an old canal lock, where water flow was once regulated and canal boats were lifted and lowered to new elevations. Sometimes, there would be lockhouses too, wooden structures from a time long past, where the lockkeeper and their family would live and work, waking up at odd hours when a boat might pass through.
While I had sped by most of the informational plaques along the Great Allegheny Passage, spurred on by some deranged urge for the trip to be over, along the towpath, I stopped to read them. There is more history in these lands than just industrial booms and busts. I rolled past Civil War battlefields, routes that once intersected with the Underground Railroad and lands that, long before the arrival of European settlers, had been home to a patchwork of Native American societies who lived off the bounty of the Potomac.
Day 6 Cumberland To Rockwood Pennsylvania 44 Miles
First thing this morning well pedal on the crushed limestone surface of the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail to begin a long but gentle uphill that takes us into the Allegheny Mountains. Our group will surmount the Eastern Continental Divide, which marks the division point between the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. Well also cross the famous Mason-Dixon Line, going from Maryland to the Keystone State of Pennsylvania. Todays ride proffers the best long-distance views of the entire tour and also presents the opportunity to pedal through another impressive tunnel, the 3,300-foot Big Savage.
Day 2 Little Orleans To Williamsport
After a shuttle back down the hill to the towpath, you can choose to ride the C& O all day or take a break on the paved Maryland Scenic Rail Trail which parallels the towpath just west of Hancock and then beyond to Fort Frederick. Stop in the town of Hancock for lunch. For history enthusiasts a stop at the reconstructed 18th century Fort Frederick may be in the cards. End your day in the canal town of Williamsport.
Meals: BreakfastOvernight: Williamsport
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Day : Mason Dixon Line
Our tour starts Sunday morning at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center just 14 miles north of Washington, D.C.
We’ll meet at 9 a.m. and board our motorcoach to Deal, PA near the Eastern Continental Divide. Here we’ll unload bikes and set out on a downhill pedal along the Allegheny Passage and over the Mason Dixon Line towards Frostburg, MD.
At Frostburg, we stop at the train depot for a snack or lunch, see the great Scenic train as it pulls into town, and hop back on our bikes to enjoy another 16 miles downhill along the new Allegany Passage Trail connector into downtown Cumberland- the terminus of the C& O Canal.
We’ll take time for a visit with a NPS Ranger and explore the restored downtown and Canal Place. That evening we enjoy a Welcome Dinner and lodging at the beautiful Holiday Inn.
Architectural Marvels And Tunnels Of Trees
The GAP starts at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. By the time I got to the starting line on the first day, it was lunchtime. Having arrived by train, late at night the day before, I enjoyed a slow morning in Pittsburgh. I spent a good 30 minutes chatting to Mary Beth Karabinos and Paul Kletter, co-owners of Travelers Rest, a comfortable, understated, hostel-inspired guesthouse catering to cyclists in the citys South Side neighborhood. From there, I made my way to Bicycle Heaven, the largest bicycle museum in the world. Thousands of bikes spanning decades fill multiple floors of garishly lit, hallucinogenic rooms. For 20 minutes, I wandered aimlessly through a universe of spokes, handlebars and bicycle-themed tchotchkes. I left with a smile on my face.
Fallingwater is technically reachable by bike, but it is not recommended, as the road is steep and frequented by trucks. So I left my bicycle parked at the headquarters of Wilderness Voyageurs, an outdoors tour operator that offers shuttles to and from town. Hidden away in the woods of Bear Run Nature Reserve, Fallingwater might be the first piece of modern architecture that has given me the punch-in-the-gut feeling of awe usually reserved for nature. And thats kind of the point.
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Day 1 Cumberland To Little Orleans
Riding out of Canal Place in Cumberland, you begin your trip on the C& O Canal Towpath. The towpath was a historic engineering marvel, and youll see why as you ride its 185 length. The Paw Paw Tunnel is a particular highlight of your ride today and perfect for photos ops. Upon reaching the Fifteenmile Creek Recreation Area youll take the turn up the road to Bills Place and stop for dinner. Call your B& B to arrange for your shuttle ride up the hill and learn why Town Hill B& B is a piece of National Road history and unbeatable kitschy fun!
Meals: On OwnOvernight: Little Orleans
Day 7 Rockwood To Connellsville 49 Miles
Early on, well spin through Ohiopyle State Park, with its beautiful bridges and waterfalls, perhaps pausing to visit Frank Lloyd Wrights nearby architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater . Theres also a wealth of terrific hiking trails in the state park in case youd like to get off the bike for a while and stretch a new set of muscles. For much of the day, our group will follow the Youghiogheny , known as the whitewater mecca of the East. If autumn is in the air, well inhale the hearty essence of duff decaying on the forest floors and the delicious scent of hardwood smoke wafting from farmhouse chimneys. Youll set up camp right on the rivers edge outside the town of Connellsville.
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Gap/c& o Canal Gravel Tour: Overview
Starting Town: Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh International Airport
Ending Town: Washington, DC. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Tour Length: 5-Days Cycling/4-Nights Lodging
Total Miles: 335 miles
Mileage Range: 60 to 78 miles
Ability Level: Intermediate , Upper Intermediate
Tour Cost: $1,750 per person with shared accommodations. Add $385 per person to this Tour Cost for a private room each night of the tour . Please see our page for more information on Group Discounts. Please note that for discounts to apply the tour minimum must be met.
Optional Post-Tour Shuttle: +$75 per person. On Day 6 an optional shuttle from the Washington, DC area to Pittsburgh is available for you, your bike, and your gear to get back to the tour start meeting hotel in Pittsburgh, PA. If you do not choose this option, you are on-your-own to make your own travel arrangements.
Tour Includes: Semi-supported tour with 4-Nights lodging, daily cue sheets, daily luggage transfers, some meals , and permit fees. Alcoholic beverages not included. NOTE: Semi-supported is when a guide does not ride with the guests and can only offer support at the start of the ride, at the lunch stops, or at the end of the ride.
Gap/c& o Canal Gravel Tour: Itinerary*
*Tour itineraries are subject to change and modification based on the group, available accommodations, road construction, road closures, and other unforeseen circumstances including weather, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, landslides and/or other acts of nature. Also, the distances and elevation profiles shown below may not reflect the actual distances and elevations while on tour as these are provided here to give an idea as to the anticipated mileage and terrain. Please view this itinerary, the distances, and elevation profiles as a general outline as to what to expect while on this tour.
Day 0: Arrival in Pittsburgh, PA
On Day 0 , guests either fly into Pittsburgh International Airport and shuttle to the designated meeting hotel , or drive to the designated meeting hotel. Guests are on-their-own for accommodations this evening either at the designated meeting hotel, or at other nearby hotels. Guests are on-their-own for dinner this evening and there are many restaurants within walking distance from the hotel.
Day 1: Pittsburgh, PA to Ohiopyle, PA78 miles +2155 ft / -1650 ft
Start of the GAP at Point State Park in Pittsburgh
Entering Ohiopyle State Park along the GAP
Day 1 Elevation Profile
Day 2: Ohiopyle, PA to Cumberland, MD72 miles +2710 ft / -3320 ft
Salisbury Trestle along the GAP
Entering the Big Savage Tunnel
Day 2 Elevation Profile
Day 3: Cumberland, MD to Hancock, MD60 miles +675 ft / -875 ft
The end of the GAP and the start of the C& O in Cumberland, MD
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Day 3 Brunswick To Williamsport 50 Miles
Today our group will ride a section of the C& O that runs along the Appalachian Trail. Maybe well even catch sight of a few through-hikers heading north. Later well take leave of our bicycles and walk up the steps and over the bridge spanning the Potomac to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the place where the Civil War began. We may temporarily leave the C& O and pedal through a rolling farmscape to Sharpsburg and the Antietam National Battlefield. The peaceful atmosphere at Antietam today belies its place as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, on September 17, 1862. Well wrap up today with a program by the National Park Service on the history of the C& O Canal and camp tonight just outside of Williamsport.
Introducing The Great Allegheny Passage
This is an unbeatable introduction to the charm and history of the Great Allegheny Passage as well as bike touring vacations. Youll have plenty of time to explore and enjoy the small towns and amazing cultural and historical sites, including Fallingwater, Salisbury Viaduct and the Historic District of Frostburg. This tour has been designed for the novice cyclist to enjoy, while intermediate cyclists will have the opportunity to ride additional miles or have extra discovery and relaxing time.
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Trail And Path: A Love Letter To Bike Touring The C& o Canal Towpath
When I first started gathering the necessary gear to give bike touring a go, the concept struck me as an opportunity to escape from the predictable, mundane, ârinse-and-repeatâ order of everyday life. An opportunity to embrace a new kind of freedom of aimless wandering through paths and tracks out in the near-endless natural landscape. After a couple of trips, though, I found the reality of touring isnât the carefree meander I had envisioned. It can involve weeks or months of planning, trail markers, GPS tracks, resupply pointsâ¦ Which is not to say that escaping on a multi-day trip isnât freeing, it is â very much so â but maybe not in the conventional sense of the word. I think author Robert Moor says it best in his written exploration of travel, On Trails:
âBut complete freedom, it turned out, is not what the trail offers. Quite the opposite â a trail is a tactful reduction of options. The freedom of the trail is riverine, not oceanic. To put it as simply as possible, a path is a way of making sense of the world. There are infinite ways to cross a landscape but the options are overwhelming, and pitfalls abound. The function of the path is to reduce this teeming chaos into an intelligible line.â
Perhaps second only to the Paw Paw tunnel, the most interesting feature of the upper canal is Big Slack water. From the Canal Trust:
Itâs a journey thatâs as accessible as it is incredible. We are lucky to have it.
Day 2 Arlington To Brunswick Maryland 59 Miles
Our ride through history begins by pedaling across the Potomac River together and stopping to snap a group photo on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. After a few miles on the Capital Crescent Trail, with its dozens of joggers and cyclists, well ride into deep hardwood forests and on to George Washingtons route west: the towpath paralleling the C& O Canal, a 184-mile-long National Historical Park. Soon you and your new friends will ride past Great Falls Park, where the Potomac River gathers speed and force as it tumbles over a series of jagged boulders in the narrow Mather Gorge. The farther we get from the nations capital, the wilder our surroundings become. We’ll set up our tents next to the canal.
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Day 8 Connellsville To Pittsburgh 57 Miles
On this, our final day, well pedal through the old mining towns of Dawson and Whitsett, as well as through Cedar Creek Park, and then ride out of the Allegheny Mountains toward McKeesport where the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers converge. Well finish the ride at Station Square in Pittsburgh with an option to ride on to The Point, Point State Park, and back. After we convene, its time to enjoy a shuttle back to our starting point in Arlington. True, the trip may be over, but the memories of the traffic-free pathways you pedaled through one of the most historically important regions of America will stay with you for years to come.
Recommended Type Of Bicycle
Skinny road bike tires are not recommended for the C& O Canal Towpath. Otherwise, most types of bicycles will work. Weve seen everything from gravel bikes with racing tires, to beach cruisers, to fat tire mountain bikes.
Traditional touring setups with front and back panniers to single-track bikepacking rigs for campers can work. A touring bike will work great, with high-volume tires as your wheels and frame clearance allow.
Mud guards, aka fenders, are a good idea if your bike fits them.
Still wondering what might be best for you? Check out ourBest Touring Bikes andBest Bikepacking Bicycles articles for our recommendations if you are considering purchasing a bicycle for touring. Weve literally ridden tens of thousands of miles to find the best.
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Day 4 Williamsport To Little Orleans 46 Miles
After a tour of Fort Frederick State Park, which preserves a pre-Revolutionary War British outpost, well jump off the dirt-surfaced C& O and onto the Western Maryland Trail, a 22-mile, hard-surface rail trail. Next up is the quaint little town of Hancock, where Weavers Restaurant & Bakery serves what are reputed to be some of the very best homemade pies east of the Mississippi. Well set up our tents and later a local historian will give us even more insight into this fascinating area.
Things To See And Do In Williamsport
Life in a Canal Town…
Long before its founding Williamsport, Maryland was host to countless visitors from American Indian travelers, to fur traders, to settlers passing through. With its location along the Potomac River and the eventual opening of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, the towns history was built on welcoming travelers and guests.
Williamsport is nestled between the Potomac River and the Conococheague Creek. It was a natural pathway for our nations first inhabitants, the Native Americans who named the settlement Conococheague meaning river of many fish.Bay Farms Bed and Breakfast stands proudly on Conococheague St along with several other small town shops. Many people in this historic city are born and raised here and own most of the shops. You will love the rich history and the down home hospitality that only a small town can offer! So whether you are passing through for a night or decide to stay for a while, come explore all that this canal town has to offer.
C& O Canal
Whats the fuss all about?
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Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail
Your journey begins in Ohiopyle as we head downhill on the GAP towards Cedar Creek in the Yough Valley. The near -level trail constructed on old railroad bed with a maximum 2% grade and a smooth crushed limestone surface- translates into mile melting easy riding. From there, you will spend the next day along the Casselman River and Wills Creek crossing beautiful iron bridges created by the railroads as we descend from the Allegheny Front to Cumberland, Maryland- the Queen City.
The third day you will have the sheer joy of riding downhill all day, beginning with the Casselman River as your companion and ulitmatley finishing your day cruising through the Youghiogheny Gorge back to your car.
Day 3 Williamsport To Shepherdstown
After breakfast in Williamsport its back onto the C& O and more riding. The Big Slackwater section is unique on the towpath as you ride on a cantilevered concrete path above the Potomac River. You can ride on water! Entering the heart of Civil War history, end the day in Shepherdstown, Wv., just across the Potomac from Sharpsburg, Va. and Antietam National Battlefield. Civil War buffs will want to take a half-day to visit the battlefield biking is allowed in the park.
Meals: BreakfastOvernight: Shepherdstown
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Day 5 Little Orleans To Cumberland 45 Miles
Today we will pass through the single most impressive structure on the entire C& O Canal: the Paw Paw Tunnel. Excavated between 1836 and 1850, this cool, damp, and mysterious passage burrows through the hills for some 3,100 feet. Our final stretch of the C& O Canal will take us into the beautiful town of Cumberland, with its friendly citizens and classic downtown pedestrian mall. Well also sample the frozen treats scooped up at the Queen City Creamery. At this half-way point, youll enjoy an indoor stay along with all Cumberland has to offer.