My Experience Bicycling the GAP Trail from Ohiopyle PA
Meet the Great Allegheny Passage Rail-Trail
My partner and I went up to Ohiopyle to explore this place in person, finally. Pictures and videos can only do so much. The plan was to meet my sister and her partner there for a long weekend of outdoor adventure, going rafting on the Yough river and biking on the GAP trail. This is great for us – it’s what we do anyway on the weekend. My sis – well – not so much. She says I introduced her and her partner, Michael, to a brave new world – that she would NEVER have done if it weren’t for my insistent invitation to join me in my adventure exploring. We rafted the Lower Yough at high water (she and Michael are beginners at that) on Saturday, and Sunday was “bicycle the GAP” day. Ok, so half of Sunday, to be accurate. We were on vacation and chilled over coffee and river views in the morning, it’s true.
Everyone brought their bikes except me, since I am still riding a 1987 vintage Specialized Stumpjumper and didn’t haul it up from North Carolina. I rented a bike from Wilderness Voyageurs. It was a cruiser type bike, super comfy for short distances and worked fine, but next time I want to upgrade to a real mountain bike so I can stomp on those pedals a titch more over longer distances. I am a pretty experienced bicyclist and like a less upright position on a bike.
We got great advice from three separate staff at the Outfitter’s Store at Wilderness Voyageurs to pedal upstream along the Middle Youghiogheny River, from Ohiopyle to the next town, Confluence. There we could get some lunch and then ride back to Ohiopyle. It’s approximately 11 miles one way. Easy hour ride – right? Going the other direction (north) is 17 miles to the nearest town and wasn’t recommended. This turned out to be very good advice for several reasons: I forgot that my sister has never ridden more than about 3-4 miles on her bike in her LIFE, (we have ridden 50 miles in an afternoon but it was 2 decades ago – yeesh) and lunch with my family is always a lovely, lingering affair with great food and some cocktails, and pedaling downstream on a full stomach (and a cocktail) is still easier than pedaling upstream, no matter how minimal the rail-trail grade is. (It’s basically flat…)
Oh the views! The trail starts right across the bridge from Wilderness Voyageurs main facilities (store, pub, java, rafting check-in and basically right across from the bicycle rental & repair shop. The view on the bridge upstream is heavenly. We rode along that river, the entire way. We couldn’t stop oohing and awing at the greenery (yes it had rained for 40 days and 40 nights apparently in May/June/July till we arrived) and the canopy of trees we rode under on the firm, hardpacked, smooth, easy bike path. The river was on our left going upstream and a handful of interesting signs along the path told us about natural and human history. We rode leisurely, with lots of conversation, and stopped to take pictures frequently. My sis made it easily to Confluence. The guys hammered ahead of us, enjoying their “boy-time”.
Confluence was an adorable little town. We lunched at the Lucky Dog cafe, easy to find and food was really quite good. The staff was awesome. We ate and drank too much, lingered forever, then rode back to Ohiopyle. The ride back seemed quite fast – voila, what a little downstream grade can do for tired legs! My sis didn’t stop once – she was afraid if she did she wouldn’t start back up again! In fact, she rode it easily and kept up a great conversation most of the way. (Nice job sis!).
I was thrilled to see a handful of people on the trail of all sizes and ages. That’s my way of saying this is an uber-friendly trail that all of us can get out on and enjoy. Little kids rode their own bikes, there was a trail-a-bike pulled by a smiling parent, there were older and younger folks, some savvy riders (the tight bicycle clothing gave them away) and the rest of us. Walkers, runners were on the trail too. Once I was on the trail and experienced how delightful, nay, magical it was, I was surprised that MORE people weren’t on the trail. It is such a gem and so easy to get to, right there in the middle of Ohiopyle. You can hop on it for an hour, an afternoon, or heck – you can ride it for a week and stay at inns along the way. It’s an awesome way to use up kids’ energy after a car-ride, and stretch your legs, yourself. Riding the trail, with the basically flat grade, also cooled us all off really nicely. It was HOT in Ohiopyle that weekend, and spinning along the path with the air blowing past us each direction we rode in was like our own human-powered air conditioner.
Ride the GAP – Convert the beginner cyclists into avid enthusiasts.
I knew we were on to something when my sister called me up and said she and Michael were so thrilled to have discovered Ohiopyle and Wilderness Voyageurs with me, and that they were already planning to go back on their own. (They live in Carlisle, only 3 hours east of Ohiopyle.) Best part of all – my sister is now an avid cyclist! She is riding 8 miles, 3 times a week, because now she LOVES cycling. Ba-boom! Mission accomplished that I didn’t know I had!
We can’t wait to go back, too. But what we really want to do is bring more dear friends and interesting family members and book a week long inn-to-inn bike tour on this easy, historical, gorgeous, Great Allegheny Bike rail-trail path. Now THAT sounds like fun! There are three different flavors of GAP bike tours with Wilderness Voyageurs: a 4-day GAP only tour, Pittsburgh PA to Cumberland MD, a 6-day GAP and C&O Canal tour, from Pittsburgh PA all the way to DC (what we want to do), and a 3-day Easy Rider tour, from Cumberland MD to DC on the C&O Canal Towpath only.
(This blog post was written by Julie Thorner, our marketing partner who helps with our website, emails, brochures and other stuff. This was her first time in Ohiopyle and on the GAP trail, so we asked her to tell us what she thought. She’s in love with her GoPro but forgot it on this ride (dang it!) so she had to make do with only iPhone pictures.)