The Great Allegheny Passage spans 150 miles between Pittsburgh, PA, and Cumberland, MD, encompassing a large swathe of American history along the way. This is a rail trail, built on old railroad lines, and as such is mostly flat. At Cumberland, the trail meets the C&O Canal Towpath for another 184 miles to Washington DC - a popular 334-mile multi-day ride, we met several groups making that trek. We biked 35 miles of the GAP from Meyersdale, PA, to Cumberland, MD. (Detailed map and photos below.)
Location: Pittsburgh, PA, to Cumberland, MD (See map)
Distance: 150 miles
Surface: Clay and crushed stone. Paved sections at Pittsburgh and Cumberland.
Support and Advocacy:
Allegheny Trail Alliance
In this section, the trail was mostly flat with only a slight 1.5% grade approaching the Eastern Continental Divide. From the Divide, it was mostly downhill to Cumberland. While not paved, the crushed stone surface is well maintained and fairly smooth, suitable for most type bikes. Two negatives - not show-stoppers, it's still a great ride: (1) the vegetation along the trail was very thick and blocked much of the view, and (2) it's very popular, with road bikers whizzing by - you need to keep watchful.
From the Meyersdale Trailhead at the Historical Weytern Maryland Train station - now a Visitor Center with interesting museum - we first biked north to the Salisbury Viaduct (mile 35 - 1,900 feet long over the Casselman River and US 219). We then returned to Meyersdale, biked to Deal and back.
In this section, significant historic features are (1) Bollman Bridge (mile 30.5 - a rare iron rail bridge built in 1871, it was moved to the present location on the trail in 2007), and (2) Keystone Viaduct (mile 30 - 910 foot curved railroad bridge over the railroad and Flaugherty Creek; built in 1911 as a double track, only one was used). This section is mostly flat.
The next day we took a shuttle from Cumberland to Deal and biked 25 miles back. After the initial easy climb from Deal to the Continental Divide, it was mostly flat or downhill to Frostburg. Significant features in this section are (1) crossing the Eastern Continental Divide (mile 23.5) - at 2,392 feet, highest point on the trail; (2) riding through the Big Savage Tunnel (mile 22) - 3,295 feet long but paved and lighted.
The Mason-Dixon Line is at the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. The 950-foot Borden Tunnel is shorter, but unlighted (mile 18). This section continued mostly flat or downhill to Frostburg.
The trail here follows the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, now a tourist ride running Thursday-Sunday. The trail in this section is downhill or flat, an easy ride with more frequent panoramic views. Entering Cumberland the surroundings become more urban. Other significant features are: (1) view of Mt. Savage (est. 1780; in 1844, a mill here produced the first iron railroad rail in the U.S.); (2) the 900-foot, unlighted Brush Tunnel (mile 5 - shared by the train, keep out when a train is going through!), and (3) the Bone Cave (mile 4). While there isn't much to see at the cave, the history is interesting - discovered during excavations in 1912, it contained 41 types of mammal, 16% extinct.
The trailhead is at the historic Western Maryland Railway Station (1913), now a museum and visitor center. Connect here to the C&O Canal Towpath, continue another 184 miles to Washington, DC. Visit the shops and dining at Canal Place (also bike rentals) and in the Historic City Center, where Baltimore Street has been set aside as a pedestrian mall. Cumberland developed in Revolutionary times as a "Gateway to the West" and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It remains a vibrant town town today.
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