C&O Canal/GAP Spring
This spring, you won’t need to worry about traffic as you ride your hybrid or mountain bike some 330 miles on hard-packed, gently graded gravel and dirt trails from the heart of the nation’s capital north to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
We start in Washington, DC, where we’ll enjoy a quick tour of the many historic monuments before rolling through farmland and sun-dappled woods as our surroundings soon become more wild. There will be plenty of off-bike opportunities throughout the tour, from Appalachian day hikes to visiting Revolutionary and Civil War battle sites.
With stellar car-free riding and gentle grades, this is an ideal tour for the first-time, self-contained tourist or for the rider who wants to ease into the season.
"I enjoyed the support and encouragement of the group — I was amazed at how well everyone got along and supported each other!"
Day 1. Washington, DC, 0 miles
We’ll gather in the heart of Washington, DC, where we’ll meet our seasoned leader and have our first map meeting, dinner, and overnight. If you arrive early enough in the morning, you’ll have the opportunity to join us on a guided cycling tour of the National Mall.
Day 2. Washington, DC to Brunswick, Maryland, 61 miles
Our ride through history begins by pedaling across the National Mall 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 onto George Washington's route west. 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.
Day 3. Brunswick to Williamsport, 61 miles
Today our group will ride a section of the C&O that runs along the Appalachian Trail. Later we'll take leave of our bicycles and walk up the steps and over the bridge spanning the Potomac to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, the place where the Civil War began. You may choose to take a side trip 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.
Day 4. Williamsport to Little Orleans, 43 miles
After a tour of Fort Frederick State Park, which preserves a pre-Revolutionary War British outpost, we'll jump off the dirt-surface C&O and onto the Western Maryland Trail, a 22-mile-long, 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.
Day 5. Little Orleans to Cumberland, 45 miles
Today we will pass through arguably 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.
Day 6. Cumberland to Rockwood, Pennsylvania, 46 miles
First thing this morning, we'll pedal onto 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. Today you'll surmount the Eastern Continental Divide, which marks the division point between the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico watersheds, as well as 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-long Big Savage.
Day 7. Rockwood to Adelaide, 48 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. There's also a wealth of terrific hiking trails in the state park in case you'd like to get off the bike for awhile 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.
Day 8. Adelaide to Pittsburgh, 60 miles.
We'll pedal through the old mining towns of Dawson and Whitsett and then ride out of the Allegheny Mountains toward McKeesport, where the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers converge. We'll finish the ride at the Point in Pittsburgh, where we will spend the night and celebrate our achievements with a hearty dinner.
Day 9. Shuttle to Washington, DC.
After we convene, it's time to enjoy a shuttle back to our starting point in Washington. 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.