This fall, you won’t worry about traffic as you ride your hybrid or mountain bike 330 miles on gently graded gravel trails from the heart of the nation’s capital north into Pennsylvania. Historically, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal served as a lifeline for early settlers. Today, it serves as a pathway to an unforgettable cycling experience.
We’ll begin with a visit to the National Mall, and then, after bidding adieu to DC, we’ll head through stylish Georgetown and deep into rural Maryland. We’ll visit Antietam National Battlefield, site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, and Fort Frederick, a restored 1756 British outpost. In lively Cumberland, Maryland, we’ll move over to the Great Allegheny Passage, a stellar rail trail completed in 2006. Upon finishing in Pittsburgh, we’ll catch a shuttle back to Washington, DC.
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"We came to cycle and were not disappointed. We enjoyed each days ride."
Day 1. Arlington, Virginia, 0 miles
We’ll gather just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, where we’ll meet our seasoned team of leaders and have our first map meeting, dinner, and overnight. If you arrive early enough in the morning, you’ll also have the opportunity to join us on a guided cycling tour of the National Mall.
Day 2. Arlington to Brunswick, Maryland, 59 miles
Our ride through history begins by pedaling across the Potomac River together and stopping to snap a group photo on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. After a few miles on the Capital Crescent Trail, with its dozens of joggers and cyclists, we’ll ride into deep hardwood forests and on to George Washington’s route west: the towpath paralleling the C&O Canal, a 184-mile-long National Historical Park. Soon you and your new friends will ride past Great Falls Park, where the Potomac River gathers speed and force as it tumbles over a series of jagged boulders in the narrow Mather Gorge. The farther we get from the nation’s capital, the wilder our surroundings become. We'll set up our tents next to the canal.
Day 3. Brunswick to Williamsport, 50 miles
Today our group will ride a section of the C&O that runs along the Appalachian Trail. Maybe we’ll even catch sight of a few through-hikers heading north. Later we’ll take leave of our bicycles and walk up the steps and over the bridge spanning the Potomac to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the place where the Civil War began. We may temporarily leave the C&O and pedal through a rolling farmscape to Sharpsburg and the Antietam National Battlefield. The peaceful atmosphere at Antietam today belies its place as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, on September 17, 1862. We’ll wrap up today with a program by the National Park Service on the history of the C&O Canal and camp tonight just outside of Williamsport.
Day 4. Williamsport to Little Orleans, 46 miles
After a tour of Fort Frederick State Park, which preserves a pre-Revolutionary War British outpost, we’ll jump off the dirt-surfaced C&O and onto the Western Maryland Trail, a 22-mile, hard-surface rail trail. Next up is the quaint little town of Hancock, where Weaver’s Restaurant & Bakery serves what are reputed to be some of the very best homemade pies east of the Mississippi. We’ll set up our tents and later a local historian will give us even more insight into this fascinating area.
Day 5. Little Orleans to Cumberland, 45 miles
Today we will pass through the single most impressive structure on the entire C&O Canal: the Paw Paw Tunnel. Excavated between 1836 and 1850, this cool, damp, and mysterious passage burrows through the hills for some 3,100 feet. Our final stretch of the C&O Canal will take us into the beautiful town of Cumberland, with its friendly citizens and classic downtown pedestrian mall. We’ll also sample the frozen treats scooped up at the Queen City Creamery. At this half-way point, you’ll enjoy an indoor stay along with all Cumberland has to offer.
Day 6. Cumberland to Rockwood, Pennsylvania, 44 miles
First thing this morning we’ll pedal on the crushed limestone surface of the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail to begin a long but gentle uphill that takes us into the Allegheny Mountains. Our group will surmount the Eastern Continental Divide, which marks the division point between the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. We’ll also cross the famous Mason-Dixon Line, going from Maryland to the Keystone State of Pennsylvania. Today’s ride proffers the best long-distance views of the entire tour and also presents the opportunity to pedal through another impressive tunnel, the 3,300-foot Big Savage.
Day 7. Rockwood to Connellsville, 49 miles
Early on, we’ll spin through Ohiopyle State Park, with its beautiful bridges and waterfalls, perhaps pausing to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s nearby architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater (a shuttle will be provided between Ohiopyle and Fallingwater). There’s also a wealth of terrific hiking trails in the state park in case you’d like to get off the bike for a while and stretch a new set of muscles. For much of the day, our group will follow the Youghiogheny (YOCK-uh-gay-nee), known as the whitewater mecca of the East. If autumn is in the air, we’ll inhale the hearty essence of duff decaying on the forest floors and the delicious scent of hardwood smoke wafting from farmhouse chimneys. You’ll set up camp right on the river’s edge outside the town of Connellsville.
Day 8. Connellsville to Pittsburgh, 57 miles
On this, our final day, we’ll pedal through the old mining towns of Dawson and Whitsett, as well as through Cedar Creek Park, and then ride out of the Allegheny Mountains toward McKeesport where the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers converge. We’ll finish the ride at Station Square in Pittsburgh with an option to ride on to “The Point,” Point State Park, and back. After we convene, it’s time to enjoy a shuttle back to our starting point in Arlington. True, the trip may be over, but the memories of the traffic-free pathways you pedaled through one of the most historically important regions of America will stay with you for years to come.
Know before you go
Information for eBike riders:
Because every rider, eBike, road condition, and elevation profile is different, it is ultimately up to the participant to judge best whether their battery will last through each tour day. We recommend using pedal assist in its lowest setting or off when not needed to maximize battery range. Bringing a second battery is also recommended and can be carried by staff on our fully supported events.