Great Allegheny Passage Bikepacking Trip

This trip was 6 days of hell. Also, I’m still writing all of this but no one reads these anyways so it doesn’t really matter lol.

So… my roommate, another friend, and I had the bright idea of biking the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath sometime during our sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon. -This was the first mistake lol-

Trail Map

Anyways, we figured that we would have the best opportunity to tackle this challenge during spring break as we all had summer plans. -This was the second mistake-

While yes, our experience on the trail was incredible…. something about 20-40°F temperatures made it just that much worse.

For those looking into planning a trip, I’d take a look at The site has very detailed and helpful maps of the GAP and C&O Canal. Additionally, while we did our trip during the spring, I think it’s pretty obvious that late spring, summer, or early fall would have been a better time. One of our big issues was the closure of the Big Savage Tunnel. There are really no good trail detours when the tunnel is closed. The only real detour is to take the Cumberland Highway (very fun downhill but somewhat sketchy).

Shirleys Hollow Rd, Cumberland Highway, and Woodcock Hollow Rd Detour

We had the option of going PGH->DC or DC->PGH. We ended up choosing PGH->DC because then we’d only have to climb on the first and second days. This turned out to probably be our only smart decision. I can now say that I strongly suggest those looking into tackling this trail go from PGH->DC.

Gotta feel bad for those doing the climb from Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide.

Elevation Map

Day 1: Pittsburgh, PA - Connellsville, PA

Day 1 Map

On the first day, we biked from Carnegie Mellon University Campus to the Stewart’s Crossing Campground totaling 59 miles. Beginning from a densily populated city is certainly interesting as the environment began to get more and more sparse as we traveled alongside the Monongahela river. One of the interesting places we passed was the city of Mckeesport. You could tell that the city used to be a bustling manufacturing hub. Though in its current condition, it was practically a ghost town.

Homestead, PA

The worst part of the first day was certainly the weather. Within a 4-5 hour time frame we endured rain, hail, sleet, and snow. While the weather was quite annoying, the real problem (one I never thought of) was how it would affect the trail conditions - they were slush. This was made worse by the fact that my tires were quite thin and that I had lots of weight on my rear tire from the panniers. In some spots, I was crawling at measly 3-4 mph while pumping out at least 200 watts. Very problematic! I’d deal with this problem on Day 2.

We grabbed dinner in Connellsville at New York Pizza & Pasta and ended the day camping at Stewart’s Crossing Campground. This campsite was by far the best campsite we used throughout the entire trip (besides the hotel room). Each site had an awning like shelter that renders a tent unncessary. Additionally, there were hooks for hammock use!

Stewart's Crossing Campground
Stewart’s Crossing Campground - Connellsville, PA

Day 2: Connellsville, PA - Meyersdale, PA

59 mile day - Maps Day 2 Map

This day started very late as I needed to get a new set of tires. We visited the bike shop in Connellsville, Bikes Unlimited. Turns out much of the GAP and C&O rides smoother and more efficiently with thicker tires.

Pinkerton Tunnel

The second of half of the mileage was some of the toughest biking i’ve ever done. The elevation gain was incredibly brutal. Because of the late start, we were facing sunset with 15+ more miles to go, yikes. Also I would strongly advise against taking detours near Meyersdale. Google Maps did us dirty.

A really sketchy detour
Ascending at night

Day 3: Meyersdale, PA - Paw Paw, WV

63 mile day - Maps Day 3 Map

This was the fun day.

After a long rest in a local hotel, we began biking 15 or so miles to the highest altitude on the trail: the Eastern Continental Divide.

Eastern Continental Divide

After this notable marker, we decided to take a road detour as the Big Savage Tunnel was still shut for the winter; It was quite unfortunate that we couldn’t experience the tunnel… sad. We came too early as the tunnel usually opens up in April and closes around October/November. FYI, the GAP Facebook Page is a helpful resource to check for trail conditions, trail maintance, and trail closures.

Anyways, our road detour entailed a downhil segment on the Cumberland Highway. While this was pretty steep and sketchy, we pulled it off safely and within no time we were nearing Cumberland, Marlyand - the end of the GAP and the beginning of the C&O Canal.

Cumberland Highway Detour
Sunset on the C&O Canal en route to Paw Paw, WV

Day 4: Paw Paw, WV - Washington County, MD

66 mile day - Maps Day 4 Map

Paw Paw Tunnel

Lunch: Buddylou’s Eats Drinks & Antiques This lunch spot was definently one of the coolest places I’ve eaten at. The first floor is full of antiques and such and the food was great!

C&O Canal Dam #5

Day 5: Washington County, MD - Montgomery County, MD

65 mile day - Maps Day 5 Map

A really defensive turkey
Horsepen Branch Campsite

Day 6: Montgomery County, MD - Washington, D.C.

27 miles day - Maps Day 6 Map

Horsepen Branch Campsite - Morning

Thank god it was ending!

There wasn’t really anything special about this day. You don’t need to hear my take on what D.C. looks like; I’m pretty sure everyone in the U.S. knows what it’s like.

I guess the wildest part of this day was the gradual increase of civilization. Our campsite the night before was peaceful, quiet, and had an excellent view of the river. Seeing that transition into a sea of concrete was certainly special. Although tbh, it was about time we reintegrate into society. The first thing I bought in D.C. (besides food) was a stick of deoderant.

As for our travels back to Pittsburgh, my roomate and I had purchased train tickets through Amtrak. The tickets were around 100 dollars per person and 20 dollars per bike. Covering six days of sheer masochistic biking in eight hours while reclining in the train and eating potato chips was quite the reward.

Thanks for reading all this rando stuff Hope it was helpful / entertaining The End