Everything You Need to Know About the GAP Rail-Trail
The Great Allegheny Passage is one of America’s Most Famous Rail Trails
The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP, for short) is one of America’s best rail trails. It’s a 150-mile, (mostly) crushed-limestone trail from Cumberland, MD to Pittsburgh, PA. The GAP connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, MD to create a 334.5-mile route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC, free from traffic and motorized vehicles. The Great Allegheny Passage trail is one of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame trails! In all, the trail crosses 20 bridges and runs through five tunnels. It’s free to ride and open daily, from dawn to dusk.
The trail follows the history of an abandoned railroad and its triumphant return as a destination cycling trail. The GAP is built on an abandoned railway corridor of the Western Maryland Railway Company. In 1978, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased 26.75 miles of abandoned rail corridor near Confluence, PA. In 1985, the first section of the GAP was built in Ohiopyle State Park. This part of the was called the Yough River Trail. The rest of the trail was constructed piece by piece by local volunteer groups and local government agencies. Now it’s maintained by the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of seven trail organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania and western Maryland that is charged with promoting and enhancing the Great Allegheny Passage and a number of other trails in the area.
In 2013, the trail was finally completed from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD. The final “gap” in the GAP, the Pinkerton Tunnel, was finished in 2014 with generous private donations. Now the trail is mainly volunteer-managed and maintained — they’re constantly working to trim trees, cut grass and keep the trail smooth and safe for thousands of cyclists, runners and walkers to enjoy each year.
The path of the Great Allegheny Passage
From Cumberland (mile 0), the GAP winds up through the mountains, following streams and creeks uphill to Frostburg. Continuing upward, the trail crosses the Mason-Dixon Line, pops out of the forest for a sweeping view of the surrounding hills and valley, runs through the 3300-foot Big Savage Tunnel, and crosses the Eastern Continental Divide (here the watershed changes from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico).
On either side of Meyersdale, viaducts lift the trail above the valley. First the 910-foot Keystone Viaduct, rises over Flaugherty Creek. Just north of Meyersdale, the spectacular Salisbury Viaduct stretches 1908 feet across the Casselman River Valley. The trail dips back into the trees to Rockwood, crossing the Casselman River several times along the way. It runs through the newly-restored Pinkerton Tunnel and pops out at a scenic river overlook.
At mile 60, the trail passes the town of Confluence. This is where the Youghiogheny and Casselman Rivers come together with Laurel Hill Creek below the surrounding mountains. The town of 800 offers B&Bs and restaurants, as well as the Youghiogheny Lake River Recreation Area for boating, fishing and swimming.
North from Confluence, the next 11 miles in Ohiopyle State Park are the oldest and most popular section of the Passage. The rail-trail follows the Youghiogheny River—beloved by anglers, whitewater rafters and kayakers—past dramatic rocky outcroppings and wooded, boulder-strewn banks. In Ohiopyle there are places to stay the night, outfitters, restaurants, a visitor center and viewing platforms to see the falls. From here the trail crosses the Youghiogheny once on a beautiful bowstring truss bridge and again in a half-mile on the Ohiopyle High Bridge, great for watching rapids and rafters below. The next wooded stretch offers trailside waterfalls and follows the churning Yough to Connellsville.
At this former coal boom-town of 9000, the GAP leaves the mountains and the river gets calm. Other towns that once flourished with the mining, steel and glass industries—dot this peaceful stretch.
The GAP follows the winding Youghiogheny all the way to the Pittsburgh suburb of McKeesport (mile 132), where it meets the Monongahela River. From McKeesport, the trail is paved as it passes more of Pittsburgh’s industrial suburbs and its famous amusement park, Kennywood. The trail winds past Pittsburgh’s Waterfront District, full of shops and restaurants, and the site of the historic Battle of Homestead, a steelworkers’ strike that began on June 30, 1892, culminating in a battle between strikers and private security agents. The trail follows the Monongahela all the way to downtown Pittsburgh, to its terminus at Point State Park, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio. The Point is conveniently close to the Amtrak station, a number of hotels, and lots of opportunities to eat and shop!
Experience the Great Allegheny Passage on an Inn-to-Inn Bike Tour.
Join one of our fully-supported Great Allegheny Passage bike tours, where we take care of everything. We organize meals and lodging, move your luggage, provide rest stops and even maintain your bike!
Want to do your own GAP tour? We offer GAP bike shuttles and support for independent riders, too.
Our Great Allegheny Passage Bike Tours go west to east — we start in Pittsburgh and ride the GAP to Cumberland. This is because the trail climbs very gradually from Pittsburgh, at about a 1% grade. From Pittsburgh to the Eastern Continental Divide, the trail climbs only 1664 feet in 126 miles. At the Divide, the trail drops 1754 feet in 24 miles to reach Cumberland. If you ride it the opposite way, you don’t get a fun downhill at the end!
A cyclist on the GAP trail at the Eastern Continental Divide – the high point!
What’s the Best Time of Year to Ride the GAP?
If you ride in the spring, you’ll see lots of wildflowers, and temperatures will be relatively cool and possibly rainy. Summer has the longest days, temperatures tend to be warm to hot, and rain can be abundant. Autumn will give you beautiful fall foliage and generally the driest weather, but days get shorter. If you’re planning a through-trip, avoid winter because the Big Savage Tunnel between Meyersdale and Frostburg closes from December to early April. Also, most of the trail will be covered in snow this time of year.
Bring your rain gear at any time of year!
For information on trail closures and conditions, check “Trail Alerts” at GAPtrail.org.
What Kind of Bike and Bike Tires Should I Use to Ride the GAP Rail-Trail?
Check out our helpful video on the GAP Trail surface condition, with tips on what kind of bike and tires to use for the GAP trail. https://youtu.be/RsBuMu2zdr4 We recommend bike tires at least 35mm in width, not skinny road bike tires, because the GAP trail surface is hard-packed crushed cinder most of the way with some paved sections. Rainfall will make the trail soft enough for skinny road bike tires to have to work harder to ride, whereas wider tires are more efficient and comfortable in all conditions.
Where should I park on the GAP?
There are plenty of places along the Great Allegheny Passage to park if you’re planning on riding for an hour, a day, or even a whole week! Our favorite trailhead is in Ohiopyle, but maybe we’re a little biased..
If you’re planning to park overnight, or if you might arrive at your vehicle after dark, you should contact the local police station or Visitor Center and provide them with a descriptive information on their car. This will save the police from worrying about where you are and save you from getting your car towed!
These trailheads have adequate parking space:
Cumberland, MD 21502 (C&O Mile 185/GAP Mile 0) Howard Street Parking Area, located near Canal Place, below Interstate 68 Register at Cumberland Visitor Center located at 13 Canal Street by phone (301-722-8226); or in person. Visitor center is open daily 9AM-5PM. West Harrison Street Parking Lot (fee), located near Canal Place
Meyersdale, PA 15552 (GAP Mile 32) Western Maryland Railway Train Station 527 Main Street Registration at the station is required.
Rockwood, PA 15557 (GAP Mile 43) 131 Rockdale Road
Confluence, PA 15424 (GAP Mile 62) 855 River Road
Ohiopyle, PA 15470 (GAP Mile 71) Gated Lot off Ferncliff Parking Area – Registration at Train Station Visitor Center or Park Office required. Train Station Visitor Center: 7 Sheridan Street, Ohiopyle: Staffed May through October 10 AM-6PM daily. Park Office: 171 Dinnerbell Road, Ohiopyle: Open year-round 8 AM-4PM weekdays, weekends during the summer.
Connellsville, PA 15425 (GAP Mile 88) Parking area at the corner of North 3rd Street and Torrance Avenue
Belle Vernon, PA 15012 (GAP Mile 110) Cedar Creek Park Parking is available at the end of Evergreen Drive. Registration information is available at kiosk.
West Newton, PA 15089 (GAP Mile 113) West Newton Station Visitors Center 111 Collinsburg Road Long-term parking available in gravel parking lot at the north side of the building, park at your own risk. Please do not block the door, steps, ramp or ingress/egress. Visitor center is open 11AM-4PM Monday through Friday.
Homestead/Munhall, PA 15120 (GAP Mile 139) Pump House at the Waterfront (fee) 880 East Waterfront Drive, Munhall, PA 15120 To register, go to www.riversof steel.com; things to do; trails; find section on becoming a friend of the trail; purchase window sticker decal.
Pittsburgh, PA 15219 (GAP Mile 148) Station Square Garage (fee) 301 West Station Square Drive
Top 10 Trail Towns along the GAP Rail-Trail
Cumberland, MD is Mile 0 of the Great Allegheny Passage and Mile 184.5 of the C&O Canal Towpath. This charming Victorian community is a crossroads for all sorts of travelers. Canal Place, where the GAP mile marker 0 is located, is home to the National Park Service Visitor Center, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, and many restaurants. Close by, Cumberland’s historic city center has a pedestrian mall with shops, boutiques, galleries and dining. Cumberland also has many lodging options that are accustomed to catering to cyclists.
2. Frostburg, MD
Frostburg, nicknamed “Mountain City,” is home to Frostburg State University. Frostburg’s Main Street, up a short hill from the GAP trail, has several restaurants and galleries in walking distance. The town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and named a “Maryland Main Street Community.” We recommend the Mountain City Coffee House & Creamery, Fat Boy’s Pizza Shack and the Toasted Goat Winery.
3. Meyersdale, PA
The highest town along the GAP, Meyersdale is Pennsylvania’s maple syrup capitol. It tends to be quite a bit cooler here than in Cumberland, so bring an extra sweater! If you happen to pass through Meyersdale in March, you can catch the Pennsylvania Maple Festival. Take a load off at any of Meyersdale’s quaint bed & breakfasts (we love Yoder’s Guest House and the Levi Deal Mansion), visit Maple Leaf Outfitters for any of your trail needs, and don’t miss the maple syrup milkshakes at Donges Drive-In.
4. Rockwood, PA
Rockwood is a small, but pleasant place to stop along the trail. The Rockwood Mill Shoppes on Main Street has a historic opera house to tour, as well as pizza and ice cream. If you’re stopping for the night, the Hostel on Main has safe bicycle storage, showers and laundry. The Gingerbread House Bed & Breakfast is a more private lodging option.
5. Confluence, PA
Confluence is Ohiopyle’s sleepy neighbor. But don’t be fooled, Confluence still lots to offer! Have a margarita and a snack at the Lucky Dog Cafe, then spin into town to check out Confluence Cyclery, Confluence Creative Arts Center, and a scenic view of the Youghiogheny River. Confluence has a campground, as well as a few B&B’s and vacation rental properties.
6. Ohiopyle, PA
Don’t blow past pretty little Ohiopyle! This river town, smack in the middle of Pennsylvania’s biggest state park, is a real highlight along the GAP trail. This is where our Wilderness Voyageurs headquarters and outfitter store is located, as well as our full-service Ohiopyle bike shop. The Youghiogheny River flows directly past our outfitter store, where we offer whitewater rafting trips for any experience level. Take a stroll to Ohiopyle Falls and check out the new State Park Visitor Center. Don’t forget about the two Frank Lloyd Wright properties within five miles of town! Refuel at Falls City Pub before camping either at the State Park Campground or checking into your lodging for the night.
7. Connellsville, PA
Just 60 miles from Pittsburgh, Connellsville offers a few more amenities, like a huge grocery store and a Wal-Mart! Connellsville has bike and gift shops, restaurants, a hospital, museums and lodging, including a large hotel right next to the GAP trail. You’ve made it this far, so find yourself a treat: visit the Colebrook Chocolate Company for ice cream, fancy chocolates and more. If you’re feeling healthier, there’s also a frozen yogurt shop called New Haven Trailside Treats.
8. WestNewton, PA
A small and charming town, West Newton has bed & breakfasts, retail stores, restaurants and pubs. The West Newton Bicycle Shop can do service and repairs if you need any. If you’re in for a layover day, you can rent a canoe and float down the Yough for a while to give your biking muscles a rest. Bloom Brew, an excellent local craft brewery, has 24 beers on tap.
9. McKeesport, PA
McKeesport sits at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers, 12 miles upstream from Pittsburgh. George Washington stopped here a lot during the French and Indian War. Now McKeesport is a “trail town” and has three trails within the city – the GAP, the McKeesport-Versailles Loop Trail and the McKees Point Trail. Visit the 181-slip Marina at McKees Point Marina, with boating, fishing, outdoor events and weekend breakfast buffets. McKessport also has a hostel with lodging from $30 per night.
10. Pittsburgh, PA
The ‘Burgh’s got it all! Pittsburgh is located at the Forks of the Ohio, where the Monongahela River and the Allegheny River join to form the Ohio River. Once a center for heavy steel and coal industry, Pittsburgh has cleaned up its act and is now reaching toward the age of tech development. Riverfronts are being thoughtfully developed, with an eye for the beauty and recreation opportunities of the city’s many riverbanks. There’s a lot to do in the city, from eating at upscale restaurants and visiting museums to hiking the city’s many parks and going to sporting events. Biking around the city, with its many hills and one-way streets, can be a fun challenge. The city has made great strides in building safe bikeways and raising public awareness for cyclists. So Visit BikePGH.org to find a bike route map and read about cycling safety. If you’re riding in traffic, always use your lights and signal turns with your hands!
Shuttle Services Are Available along the Great Allegheny Passage
Wilderness Voyageurs provides a shuttle service on the GAP year-round. We’ll drop you off wherever you’d like to start biking along the Great Allegheny Passage. As a rule of thumb, you want to shuttle from where you’re leaving your car, so that you are biking towards your vehicle. We can accommodate 12 riders per vehicle with the capacity to move up to 50 riders at a time. All of our shuttle vans are equipped with bike-specific roof racks.
Our Fallingwater shuttles are $30 round-trip, for up to 5 people.
Make your reservations for your house tour first, once you have a confirmed tour time, then call us to reserve your shuttle We are not always able to accommodate walk-in shuttles. Saturdays and during the fall foliage season, house tours will sell out, so plan in advance!
FYI: There’s no Uber service in most of these towns, so get your transportation squared away before you go!
Most Popular Shuttle Routes on the GAP Trail:
We will shuttle to any GAP trailhead, but these ones are the most popular!Call 800-272-4141 to schedule your shuttle.
Mckeesport – Cumberland (132 miles)
Mckeesport – Meyersdale (100 miles)
Boston – Cumberland (128 miles)
Ohiopyle – Meyersdale (41 miles)
Ohiopyle – Mckeesport (61 miles)
Ohiopyle – Boston (56.5 miles)
Ohiopyle – West Newton (43 miles)
Ohiopyle – Perryopolis (30 miles)
Ohiopyle – Connellsville (17 miles)
Connellsville – Confluence (28.3 miles)
Train Travel on the GAP
Amtrak now offers walk-on bicycle service on the Capitol Limited, the train line that runs parallel to the Great Allegheny Passage trail. For an extra $20 on top of the ticket price, eight passengers per train can bring their bikes aboard a baggage car and get on or off at any station between Chicago and Washington, DC. Spots are limited, so make plans in advance!
Again, we recommend parking your car at the place where your trip will end. That way, you’ll be riding toward your car. The train ride is an awesome way to see the landscape and towns that you already passed through on your bike.