The Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath is a must-ride trail for all bike travelers. These two bike trails create two distinctly different experiences and one epic journey.
The forested canopy and small town life of the GAP offers relaxed cycling to invigorate the senses and unplug from your cares. This is followed by the incredible history and bustling energy of the C&O Canal Towpath. Day after day of cycling, quality B&Bs stays, great scenery, and good food make this a one of the best bike trips you’ll ever experience.
Prefer to plan your own trip? Check out our GAP/CO Bike Tour Blueprint!
Welcome to Pittsburgh! Arrive a day or two early and spend time exploring the city. Enjoy a city bike tour, visit the Warhol museum, or take in a Pirates baseball game at PNC Park.
On Day 1, you’ll start your GAP trip in Downtown Pittsburgh at the western terminus in Point State Park. Take a moment to grab a photo at the start, then follow the Monongahela River out of the city. The transformation of Pittsburgh is on display as you cycle past the former steel towns that drove the U.S. in the 20th century.
Meals: On own
On this ride day you’ll have the chance to pedal through some of the most gorgeous sections of the GAP trail. Stop for a leisurely lunch in Connellsville and maybe a well-earned frozen yogurt, before cruising on into Ohiopyle State Park. Arriving in Ohiopyle, take your time exploring the small town and surrounding hiking trails. Relax by the falls and watch the rafters and kayakers make their way through the rapids. Bike another 11 miles to Confluence in the afternoon.
On Day 3 the trail leads you through the dense woods and rolling farmland of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The newly opened Pinkerton Tunnel is your first of several tunnels on the GAP (use caution entering and exiting!). Ride across the Salisbury Viaduct and take a moment to pause and enjoy the spectacular view.
Today’s highlight are the incredible views to be found at the top of the Eastern Continental Divide – you can see three states on clear days! Even better, after you’ve had your fill of the view you can spend the afternoon enjoying 20 miles of gentle downhill riding (1.75% grade). The trail here follows alongside the Maryland Scenic Railroad line; watch for the historic steam engines which still runs on some days.
Riding out of Canal Place in Cumberland, you are now entering the C&O Canal Towpath. The towpath was a historic engineering marvel, and you’ll see why as you ride its 185 length. The Paw Paw Tunnel is a particular highlight of your ride today (be sure to have a light) and perfect for photos ops. Upon reaching the Fifteenmile Creek Recreation Area you’ll take the turn up the road to Bill’s Place and stop for dinner. Call your B&B to arrange for your shuttle ride up the hill and learn why Town Hill B&B is a piece of National Road history and unbeatable kitschy fun!
Overnight: Little Orleans
After a shuttle back down the hill to the towpath, you can choose to ride the C&O all day or take a break on the paved Maryland Scenic Rail Trail which parallels the towpath just west of Hancock and then beyond to Fort Frederick. Stop in the town of Hancock for lunch. For history enthusiasts a stop at the reconstructed 18th century Fort Frederick may be in the cards. End your day in the canal town of Williamsport.
After breakfast in Williamsport it’s back onto the C&O and more riding. The Big Slackwater section (around MM 85) is unique on the towpath as you ride on a cantilevered concrete path above the Potomac River. You can ride on water! Entering the heart of Civil War history, end the day in Shepherdstown, Wv., just across the Potomac from Sharpsburg, Va. and Antietam National Battlefield. Civil War buffs will want to take a half-day to visit the battlefield – biking is allowed in the park.
Shepherdstown may be one of the cutest college small-towns in the US and has some great cafes and bakeries, plus great boutiques and book stores. You may find it hard to leave! The C&O Towpath today continues into Civil War country and you’ll pass by multiple historic markers and structures – including several reconstructed aqueducts which were built for the canal. At MM 60.8 you’ll want to take a trail break and walk over to Harpers Ferry, Wv. The Lower Town is part National Park Service exhibit, part art shops and boutiques, and all charm. It’s also a perfect place to find lunch. Finish the day by taking the Whites ferry across the river and meeting your shuttle to Leesburg.
After a morning ferry ride back across the Potomac, begin your last day of riding on the C&O Canal Towpath. The trail here is well traveled and highlights include Great Falls Park (a good lunch stop), Georgetown, and Washington, D.C.! Your destination is Mile Marker 0 (we provide mapping and text since it can be a tricky marker to find) and the end of an incredible journey.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Meet your shuttle at Thompson Boat Center (location of mile marker 0) or ride to your final destination around Washington, D.C.
Hotel nights before and after the trip can be added to your trip. Just ask!
Post-Trip Option: Spend an extra day or two in D.C. and explore the many bike trails that follow the Potomac, bike around the National Mall, visit some museums, or even take the Mount Vernon Trail all the way to Alexandria and George Washington’s Mt Vernon plantation. We’re happy to help provide suggestions, reservations, and planning.
$1,355 per person for trip + shuttle
$1,905 per person for trip+luggage+shuttle
No return shuttle, discount $495 from total price
ALL prices are based on Double Occupancy
•Solo riders add 85% to listed price without luggage transfer, or 90% to the listed price with luggage transfer.
•Groups of 6 or more (requiring at least 3 double occupancy rooms) receive a 10% discount.
This trip includes lodging for 7 nights and 7 breakfasts, 1 lunch.
For non-included meals we provide daily suggestions and will consider your dietary requests, making special arrangements as needed. Please be aware that some restaurants close one day a week, and often that will be on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, depending on the town.
Our Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal Towpath bike trips utilize the best in local B&Bs to ensure a comfortable and refreshing stay each night. Most B&Bs are located right next to or within a few blocks of the trail; shuttling to hotels off trail are included in price.
Hotel nights before and after the trip can be included.
There are a very limited number of single rooms, as well as suites, along the trail. If you require either room set up please let us know at the time of your quote request.
We do our best to advise of vegetarian and vegan options for dining along both trails.
Those with significant dietary restrictions, please also advise us AT THE START OF YOUR QUOTE PROCESS so that we can discuss your itinerary options. Food is important!
Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal Towpath tours are offered between late April and mid-October. This schedule is dictated by weather and trail conditions. Most riders choose to ride between mid-May to early October.
Spring on the GAP/C&O is a wonderful way to restart your cycling season. April and the start of May can have periods of rain followed by periods of gorgeous spring sunshine. Spring flowers are found all along the trail and add a special color to your trip.
Summer is ideal for riders who love the long days, sunny and dry weather. Long sunny days allow for full days of biking, side trips, and socializing.
September and October is peak season on the trail – groups should book trips at least 9 months in advance when possible. Fall foliage occurs generally in early to mid-October, although exact dates do vary each year.
Great Allegheny Passage/C&O trips start in Pittsburgh and end in DC. We find this direction works best for the flow of the trip and travel logistics as riders fly or drive to Pittsburgh. If flying, you can fly into Pittsburgh and out of Dulles airport (see Pricing tab if no return shuttle is needed).
This trip can be offered in the opposite direction on a limited basis, but no bike rental is available.
The Great Allegheny Passage is a crushed gravel rail trail surface with a grade of less than 1%. Short portions of the trail near Pittsburgh and Connellsville are paved. The trail is well-maintained and kept clear by volunteers and local municipalities. There are restrooms at several trailheads along the way, and frequently towns where riders can stop for food, water, and bathrooms.
The trail grades slightly uphill as you ride south, particularly in the section between Confluence and Meyersdale. Once the trail reaches the Eastern Continental Divide just beyond Meyersdale, the grade slopes downward to Cumberland at about 1.75%.
The C&O Canal Towpath is a dirt surface and bumpy, similar to a forest road, and is managed by the National Park Service. Portions of the surface have a grassy berm in the middle of two lanes. The towpath is not technically difficult to ride, but you will feel the vibrations and over time it can become taxing. The trail can also get soft and muddy after rains. [The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) parallels the C&O for about 20 miles from just west of Hancock, eastward to Fort Frederick. The WMRT is fully paved and can be a nice change after the bumpy C&O surface.]
Expect to ride the towpath at a slower pace than road or crushed-gravel trail surfaces.
The GAP trail is not particularly isolated, although it does run through mostly small town and rural communities. You’ll find towns with food and bike services every 20 miles or so.
The C&O Canal Towpath is a national park and is monitored regularly by NPS rangers. There are hiker/biker campsites with port-a-johns and water pumps (water may be capped by the park service) every 8-10 miles. The western section is fairly isolated between Cumberland and Hancock. East of Williamsport you will encounter towns with food and bikes services somewhat regularly.
Cell coverage is fairly good along the Great Allegheny Passage and Verizon covers most of the area. Wifi can be limited, although most B&Bs and hotels will offer the service. *There is no wifi and limited cell service in Ohiople. Coverage on the western portion of the C&O (between Cumberland and Hancock) is very limited and wifi unavailable.
The best bike for the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Towpath is a hybrid-style bike with at least 32 mm-wide tires with tread; 40+ wide tires are even better. We discourage the use of road bikes and tires on the C&O. Parts of the towpath also tend to be muddy depending on the weather. Many parts of the towpath are similar to a dirt road, there is a mounded, grassy middle berm and sometimes ruts. Trikes and bikes with trailers which will have tires running along the middle of the trail can find this surface to be difficult.
Remember that if you are riding with loaded panniers, the added weight will affect your tire traction. If trail conditions are wet and you are running a loaded bike, a wider tire (or less inflated tire) is recommended so you don’t sink into the trail too much, making pedaling more difficult.
If the trail has been moist for an extended period of time, trail conditions can be soft and slow going.
Bike rental can be included in this trip (Pittsburgh start only) at $245/bike through Bike the Burgh. If you will not be returning to Pittsburgh, there is a Cumberland drop-off fee of $99/bike.
Bikes can be picked up the afternoon before or morning of your trip. They are well-suited to the GAP with upright, comfortable geometry, front shock, and disc brakes.
All rental bikes come equipped with rear rack, rear panniers (2), handlebar bag, DIY tool kit (multitool, tubes, patch kit) pump, bell, headlight, lock, and helmet. Most bikes have 2 bottle cages; small frames (for heights 5’4″ and shorter) have space for just 1 bottle cage.
If you can box and rebuild your bike on your own, and if you have good bike cases for shipping, BikeFlights.com or another shipping method can be much cheaper than renting a bike. If you need help boxing and rebuilding a shipped bike, we can direct you to bike shops along the trails which can assist you for a fee (usually $40-75/bikes).
A one-way shuttle from D.C. to Pittsburgh is included in ALL trip prices. The drive time is approximately 5.5 hours barring unusual traffic. The shuttle can be eliminated if you do not need to return. See the Pricing tab for more information.
Most often the shuttle is taken on the afternoon of your last ride day and returns you to Pittsburgh. Thompson Boat Center (D.C.) shuttles leave at 1:30 p.m. The shuttle can be scheduled for a later date if spending time in D.C. at the end of your trip. Morning shuttles leave around 10 a.m. but other times can be requested.
Daily luggage shuttling can be included on this trip.
Luggage must be ready each day by 9 a.m. and is transferred to your next overnight location by 4 p.m. We request each rider bring one carry-on sized piece (approximately) and one smaller, personal bag. Luggage should weigh no more than 40 lbs per person. Odd-sized and/or bulky pieces such as bike stands, coolers, or bike racks are not permitted.
You will be directed each morning where to bring your luggage – typically to the front desk or B&B common area. The luggage will not be accessible during the day, so you will need to have with you anything you require including cameras, change of clothes (if swimming/rafting), and food. Most B&Bs/hotels do not allow check in before 4 p.m.
We had a great time on our ride, both on the GAP and C&O portions. It was easier riding than I expected, and the historical sites and interpretive signs made it even more interesting. Nearly all of the people we met along the trail were friendly and the locals were helpful. I felt many went out of their way to be helpful to cyclists, especially the bike shops and restaurants.
You did a great job making and communicating the arrangements. I would consider doing the trip again sometime. Thank you for helping us put together a great riding experience!
Our trip was excellent! We had prepared ourselves well, had just the right bikes and gear and our heads were in the right place for a “through ride”. Your planning was spot on: distances were appropriate for us and stopovers were great. Having no rain and a dry trail made for a different experience too. We did not experience the dreaded mud pits of the C&O. It was 75 +/- 3 degrees the whole way. Nice.
The green tunnel and the bridges were magnificent and fun. We had lunch in Ohiopyle, watered up, walked around, stretched and shopped a bit. Very pleasant and not crowded when we were there mid-week, but I could see how the town and trail would be packed.
We loved, loved, loved the Hanna House. We would have been happy to have stayed in a place like this every night. If you embrace the idea of having a B&B experience, this is the place. Personal conversation, rich history, one of a kind setting, great breakfast.
PS, We like the luggage tags. Nice Touch.
FYI, We used old school Jandd Expedition panniers. Ileen carried the front pair in the back of her vintage Raleigh C40 hybrid bike with Schwalbe 38 tires. I rode a Felt F75x, a cyclocross bike with Schwalbe 35’s and carried the large panniers. This setup worked fine.
I’m not much of a B&B person….but the B&B accommodations were outstanding. Inn at Lenora, Hannah House, Thom. Shephard Inn and Town Hill B&B were great. The best part was the breakfast spread all these innkeepers provided. Amazing quantity and selections of food. These Innkeepers truly enjoy the hospitality industry.
…but the lady who ran the [Desert] Rose Cafe was a true gem. Great Bkfst and the lunch she provided was more than filling. Fairfield Inn had a hot tub which really helped after our 65 mile “hump day”. Great location.
Comfort Suites was nice. A great take-away lunch provided by the Comfort Suites.