The Great Allegheny Passage is a bicyclist’s dream, being touted by the Washington Post, Fodor’s Travel, and New York Times as one of the top long-distance biking trails in the United States. With 12 major bridges and four former train tunnels, the GAP winds around or through mountains rather than over them, making it welcoming for beginners, and delightful for overnight and thru-riders seeking long days in the saddle. Trail towns like West Newton and Frostburg are well-spaced with bike-friendly lodging, cafes, restaurants, and ice cream. Thousands of bicyclists complete thru rides on the GAP each year, and many continue on to Georgetown via the C&O Canal Towpath. An array of outfitters and shuttle services make getting on the GAP and to your next destination a breeze.
With long stretches of shaded canopies and plenty of access points, the Great Allegheny Passage is perfect for daily runs, 10K training, or ultramarathoning. It’s nearly level between Downtown Pittsburgh and West Newton, for example. Ohiopyle State Park offers trailside waterfalls for a quick cool-down. You can soar across the Salisbury Viaduct high above the Casselman River, or race the scenic railroad between Cumberland and Frostburg. Each mile is marked with a granite post, so you can find the right pace from start to finish. Every year, hundreds of runners register for the GAP Relay, a 150-mile overnight team relay, a perfect adventure benefiting the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy.
Step by step, backpackers take on sections of the Great Allegheny Passage knowing that in addition to quiet vistas outside the Big Savage Tunnel and deep woods near the Pinkerton High and Low Bridges, there are campgrounds along the GAP for overnight rest. For a better night’s sleep, trail towns like Frostburg and Connellsville break up your trek and offer up bed & breakfasts, grocery stores, and general stores. The GAP connects to the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Ohiopyle and features great side trips in Dead Man’s Hollow and through Ferncliff Peninsula, to name just two.
From end to end, anglers have their favorite spots along the Great Allegheny Passage. Burbling Flaugherty Creek runs about six miles between the Eastern Continental Divide and Meyersdale, and is stocked with trout and making it a popular fishing location. A stretch of the Casselman River between Rockwood and Confluence supports stocked trout and smallmouth bass fisheries. Near Confluence, Laurel Hill Creek is stocked with rainbow trout, along with brown and brook trout, both stocked and wild. The Youghiogheny River features a nine-mile, all-tackle trophy trout section, several fly fishing areas and easy access at Ohiopyle State Park. Please note that many parcels of property between the GAP and the rivers are private, and that you should only fish from public lands.
From Downtown Pittsburgh to McKeesport, all but one mile of the Great Allegheny Passage is paved, making it an excellent section for rollerbladers to get moving. Tracing the Monongahela River and crossing it twice — via the Hot Metal Bridge and the Riverton Bridge — skaters can zoom past the historic Pump House, up the Whitaker Flyover and down the Port Perry Flyover minutes later. You can take a break in Homestead or on Pittsburgh’s South Side, where water fountains and restaurants await. Remember, the speed limit is 15 miles per hour!
While most overnight travelers on the Great Allegheny Passage prefer the hospitality of guesthouses and hotels, folks willing to haul more gear can enjoy campgrounds right along the GAP. There are several first-come first-served hiker-biker campgrounds, including Dravo Campground and Cedar Creek Campground, and many other privately-operated campgrounds boast extra amenities. The Kentuck Campground in Ohiopyle State Park, while up a steep footpath, is perfect for stargazing on summer nights. Along the neighboring C&O Canal Towpath, over 30 primitive campgrounds make trip-planning flexible. For a complete list, pick up a copy of TrailGuide: The Official Guide to Traveling the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage.
Paddling and Rafting
The Great Allegheny Passage traces river valleys between Downtown Pittsburgh and Cumberland, and each waterway offers up unique paddling experiences, with boat launches at many trailheads. The mighty Potomac River offers kayakers some excellent water near Cumberland. Paddlers can meander along the Casselman River above Confluence. Whitewater enthusiasts love hiring one of Ohiopyle’s outfitters for a rafting excursion on the fast-moving lower Youghiogheny River. Paddleboarders enjoy slower waters near Cedar Creek Park. And a boat launch on the Monongahela River along Pittsburgh’s South Side gets you out under the GAP as it is carried by the Hot Metal Bridge.
Between any two trail towns, the Great Allegheny Passage provides a traffic-free commuting corridor for people who travel to work outside the box. Bicyclists, particularly, appreciate the GAP’s serenity and pace. A popular section is between McKeesport and Downtown Pittsburgh; commuters know that shops on Pittsburgh’s South Side and in Homestead offer coffee, wi-fi, and an escape from wet weather. E-bikes must have operating pedals and no more than 750-watt motors, and of course, the speed limit is 15 mile per hour even if you’re late for work.
Bring your binoculars on your next trip to the Great Allegheny Passage! As the GAP corridor meanders past meadows near Meyersdale, there are great vantage points for spying red-winged blackbirds, ruffed grouse, and eastern towhees. You’ll hear warblers and woodpeckers in Ohiopyle State Park (touted as one of the top 100 places for birdwatching in Pennsylvania), and see swallows and swifts near Cumberland. Along the Youghiogheny River’s quieter sections near West Newton, look for herons and mallards. Birders are fond of the section of the GAP between McKeesport and Pittsburgh, where ospreys and eagles have established nests visible from the GAP.
Art and Architecture
From enormous sculptures to whimsical murals, public art and historic architecture adorn the trail towns along the Great Allegheny Passage and add visual interest to side trips. For example, Cumberland’s prominently-spired Emmanuel Church rises high above the town’s commercial buildings, one of which displays a beautiful mural celebrating the town’s history. Westward, several playful, bike-themed sculptures escort travelers up a switchback toward Frostburg’s historic business district. Rockwood’s giant metal penny-farthing welcomes travelers to its trailhead. Near Ohiopyle, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered Fallingwater and cozy Kentuck Knob hold ticketed tours, and in Connellsville, a splendid stone and colorful glass arch spans the GAP near Yough River Park. A reflective labyrinth is positioned adjacent to the GAP and the Pump House in Homestead. And on Pittsburgh’s South Side, vibrant murals and mosaics are on nearly every block.
Skiing and Snowshoeing
During the winter months, the Great Allegheny Passage occasionally accumulates enough snow for good nordic skiing or snowshoeing. The section from Meyersdale to the Eastern Continental Divide is relatively level and includes some of the highest elevations (and coldest winters) along the GAP. The same is true from the Mason & Dixon Line to Frostburg. Ohiopyle State Park is another likely place for deeper snows and good skiing or snowshoeing, and with its mountain laurels and rhododendrons, is beautiful and uncrowded during the winter. Of course, with the right tires — fat bike, anyone? — a ride in light snow is a peaceful way to get a winter workout. Remember, we close the Big Savage Tunnel during the winter months to protect its inner lining, so plan your cold-weather travel accordingly.
Tracing corridors once traversed by the Western Maryland Railway and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, the Great Allegheny Passage offers railfans glimpses into history and great views of current rolling stock. Stand along sweeping Helmstetter’s Curve and hearken back to a day when the engineer and conductor could wave to each other from across a semicircular mountain pass. Spy restored cabooses, and check out the amazing model train sets, in Meyersdale and Connellsville. Photograph a retired passenger car at the West Newton Visitor Center, and look for a series of concrete whistle posts nearby. Race the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad as it climbs up to Frostburg. From the Pinkerton Low and High Bridges, see freight trains rumble by next to the Casselman River. Hear the clank of coal hoppers as they pass through McKeesport. From the Whitaker Flyover, watch a mile-long train of tanker cars slow-roll underneath your feet. And for the ultimate trip on the GAP, take your bike one-way on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, which stops in Pittsburgh, Connellsville, and Cumberland, and embark on a leisurely ride back.
Between miles 76 and 77 on the Great Allegheny Passage, within Ohiopyle State Park, a series of four rock walls, some reaching upwards of 100 feet, offer a combination of top-roping and sport routes for climbers of all abilities. Short entrance trails leading to the rock faces are blazed in blue and visible from the GAP. Schoolhouse Crag offers mostly steep overhanging sport routes. At the bottom of Maple Wall, you’ll find yourself standing below the bulging, overhanging central wall with more moderate routes nearby. Rivers End offers a higher concentration of bolted face climbs, and its left wall receives full sun in the fall which makes this a great spot on chilly afternoons. And for those seeking great bouldering, a mile up the intersecting Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is a wide field of sandstone boulders spanning the whole hillside; some are accessible to beginners, and others are best left to seasoned scramblers. Inexperienced climbers should consider a guided trip with one of the outfitters in Ohiopyle.
Some sections of the Great Allegheny Passage are open to travelers on horseback. As long as you keep off the limestone trail surface and instead ride on the adjacent grass, equestrians are permitted between Boston and Connellsville, between Rockwood and Garrett, and between Frostburg and the Mason & Dixon Line. Please be aware of passing bicyclists, runners, and walkers, and enjoy a sunny day on the GAP!
From cool Cucumber Falls in Ohiopyle to springtime rivulets near Rockwood, you can find dozens of waterfalls along the Great Allegheny Passage, making your travels wet and wonderful. In Ohiopyle State Park alone, more than 30 waterfalls splash adjacent to the GAP, including cascading beauties like Jonathan Run Falls, Sugar Run Falls, and Fechter Run Falls, each a short walk off the GAP, and dozens of early-season ethereals carrying showers from high spots down to the Youghiogheny River. Near West Newton, the Red Waterfall displays the colors of iron oxide and belies its source as coal mine drainage. A few miles away, the White Waterfall carries aluminum oxide to the trail’s edge. A hike through Dead Man’s Hollow, a woodland preserve accessible from the GAP near Boston, rewards you with a lovely waterfall high above the GAP. And in urban Duquesne, a waterfall is secreted away and only visible from the GAP after a good rain. Of course, the Great Allegheny Passage begins in Cumberland next to a playful fountain in front of the Western Maryland Railway Station, and ends with a majestic 150-foot spray at Point State Park in Downtown Pittsburgh.
From azure bluets and white baneberry in the spring, to butterfly weed and cardinal flower in the summer, to spotted touch-me-nots and lance-leaved goldenrod in the fall, the Great Allegheny Passage is flush with wildflowers. Once the winter snows are gone, sunny sections of the GAP near Confluence are perfect for finding early-season beauties along the Casselman River. The woods near Cedar Creek Park reveal red trilliums. By July, the meadows between the Bollman Bridge and the Eastern Continental Divide pop with yellows, oranges, and pinks. And deep in Ohiopyle State Park, when the leaves are falling, purple asters escort you along the GAP. Bring your guidebook to identify what you find, and take lots of pictures!
Viewpoints and Vistas
From any angle, the scenery along the Great Allegheny Passage gives photographers and peace-seekers plenty of reasons to pause. For example, you can peer into the Cumberland Bone Cave and take a trip back to the Pleistocene era. From high on a ridge outside the Big Savage Tunnel, you dangle your legs at a bench and gaze into four states. Capturing bucolic views from atop the Salisbury Viaduct yields amazing photos of the maple farms surrounding Meyersdale. Miles into Pennsylvania’s deepest gorge, you can spy whitewater rafters far below the GAP on the Youghiogheny River. In McKeesport, surround yourself with the 1,800 roses in Renziehausen Park. Near Homestead, lift your head to see the towering roller coasters at nearby Kennywood Park. And from the Hot Metal Bridge, you can look out at the gorgeous skyline of Downtown Pittsburgh at sunset. Bring your camera, document your trip, and post your unique shots to our Instagram page.
The Great Allegheny Passage is kept smooth and beautiful by local residents over its 150-mile path, most of whom are volunteers who each give hundreds or thousands of hours annually. You can pitch in, too, with one of nine volunteer groups, by cutting grass, removing invasive weeds, cutting fallen trees, patching potholes, laying down new limestone, stacking firewood, or repairing drainage culverts. They each have scheduled volunteer days or a pool of available hands for dealing with emergency issues.
Is maintenance not your thing? Instead, you can volunteer to tally GAP travelers by sitting trailside with a counter a few times a year. Or operate an exchange zone during next year’s GAP Relay presented by UPMC Health Plan. Not from the region? Your financial donation to one of these groups or to the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy will help purchase materials, update signs, replace tools, or support local fundraising events along the GAP. Consider a dollar a mile traveled as a gift way to give back to the GAP to keep it open and ready for visitors.