On our Great Allegheny Passage & C&O Canal (Pittsburgh to Washington) Cycling Tour, we’ll assemble near McKeesport, and join the Allegheny Trail in the morning, just past the congested, paved links of the greater Pittsburgh area. Our Day 1 ride will take us up river on the Youghiogheny, through shaded meanderings to the town of Connellsville. This town is know as the “Coke Capital of the World” due to the amount and quality of coke produced in the city’s many beehive ovens. On Day 2, we’ll continue upriver past the landmark Frank Lloyd Wright designed home of Falling Waters, to Ohiopyle in the heart of the Laurel Highlands. A lunch stop here will include a van shuttle to tour Falling Waters for those interested. Back on the bikes, we pass through Confluence, named for the town’s location at the confluence of the Youghiogheny and Casselman Rivers. To get around Pennsylvania’s highest point – Mt. Davis – the Casselman River makes a sweeping arc to the north, passing through Rockwood, PA, our destination for the night. The excitement builds on Day 3 as we continue through the Allegheny Highlands. The bridge – tunnel – bridge combination of the Pinkerton Tunnel, now open to bicycles after an extensive construction project, is a highlight of the GAP. Next comes the 100’-high Salisbury Trestle, that spans the Casselman Valley, as we continue our gentle climb to the Eastern Continental Divide. The Divide, separating waters flowing to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, marks the high point on the Allegheny Passage. Lurking 1-1/2 miles beyond the Divide is the Big Savage Tunnel, a 3300-foot, illuminated course cut through the heart of Big Savage Mountain. The views of the surrounding Allegheny Highlands are spectacular as we emerge from the tunnel and launch into a long downhill beyond the Mason-Dixon Line to Cumberland, MD.
Cumberland, marks the end of the Great Allegheny Passage and the beginning of the C&O Trail. The C&O, for most of its 184-mile length, follows the north bank of the Potomac River. Built between 1828 and 1850, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal operated sporadically until 1924. The canal lapsed into inactivity and proposals to convert the towpath into a highway were seriously considered. Led by the efforts of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to preserve this national treasure, the canal’s towpath achieved protection as a National Historical Park in 1971. Projects continue throughout this National Historical Park to reconstruct many of the 75 locks along the route, rebuild additional parts of the towpath, and provide historical education stops along the way.
Early morning of Day 4, we’re back on the trail as we set out from the Western Maryland Scenic Rail Station in Cumberland. We’ll ride east through the Maryland countryside into West Virginia and then forge through the recently improved 3100-foot Paw Paw Tunnel. The landscape beyond the tunnel is rugged, remote and stunningly beautiful. We’re headed for Little Orleans on this night, the first sign of civilization after traveling through Green Ridge State Forest. We’re off to Hancock early on Day 5. If you are ready for a change in riding surface, you can split off to the Western Maryland Rail Trail – a paved trail that parallels the C&O Canal. This trail will take you straight to Fort Frederick. Built in 1756 to defend Maryland’s western frontier during the French and Indian War, the fort today is preserved and remembered as a state park. Then it’s on to the quintessential canal town of Williamsport, where we’ll spend the evening.
Day 6, we will detour off the C&O Trail to the National Battlefield at Antietam. We’ll walk the grounds of this storied Civil War landmark and later return to the trail and ride on to historic Harpers Ferry, at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Day 7 we’ll continue our historical journey past canal locks, remains of the railroad vs canal race, past the only remaining auto ferry across the Potomac and on to Great Falls Park This site marks what once posed the most formidable obstacle to navigation on the Potomac. From here we will shuttle to a hotel for the night in the outskirts of our Nation’s Capital. Day 8 will be our grand finale as we cycle the last 15 miles through Maryland into Washington DC and mile 0 of the C&O Canal. Construction is continuing to revitalize the first miles of the canal, but for now, mile 0 is discretely marked with a small plaque on a stone, surrounded by multiple busy roads. Despite this setting, the history that surrounds us in our nation’s capital is overpowering and must be commemorated with a small extension to our ride. It is 3 miles of paved bike path to the National Mall where you can’t help but be overwhelmed with patriotism and wonder. There will be some time to wander the mall and its memorials before our last pedal to the home of the man who is behind the existence of the C&O Canal – George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. The 18-mile paved bike trail which continues along the Potomac River to the historic mansion will mark the end of our passage over land and through time.