The Great Allegheny Passage Trail - 2020 Ride

Trip Preparations

I first learned about the Great Allegheny Passage Trail from a bicyclist riding RAGBRAI (the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), who described it as the "country's best bicycle trail." It is a rail-to-trail recreational route through Pennsylvania and into Maryland, following the route of deactivated railroads. It is best described by the information on this website: and in the printed trail guide, which can be ordered at this link: A closed-member Facebook group - "Great Allegheny Passage / C&O Canal Enthusiasts" - was also very helpful. I consulted all of these sources as I prepared for my trip.

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail starts in Cumberland, MD, where mile 0 picks up at the end of the C&O Canal Towpath, and travels 150 miles in a winding, northwesterly direction to Pittsburgh, PA. The C&O, as its name suggests, is based on the old canal towpath - a road created for and used by mules. Its elevation profile is much flatter than the GAP Trail, and its surface often more muddy and rough with tree roots. An interactive map of the two trails can be found at this link: Alternatively, if you want a two-page color map in PDF format, click here to download it.

I elected not to ride the C&O Canal because I wanted a smoother ride more aligned with my fitness abilities. Because I chose to travel solo and during the ongoing COVID pandemic, I also wanted to minimize contact with others. So I was faced with a several choices when planning my trip with a start in Pittsburgh. I planned to leave my car at a parking garage in Pittsburgh, but the question was - how would I safely return to the car at the end of my ride?

I first considered using Amtrak to transport myself and my bicycle back to the starting point, but I quickly learned that the company had reduced the number of trains on the route due to decreased ridership, and there were only limited slots available for roll-on bicycle transport. ("Roll-on" means you simply roll your bike from the boarding platform and stow it in one of only eight bicycle places per train - vs. having to box up your bicycle for handing off to Amtrak personnel to load in a separate luggage car.) I wasn't interested in the luggage car option, and based on past experience with the whims of railroads, I decided against the Amtrak option. Another choice was to contact one of several shuttle services, who accept reservations for riders and their bicycles for transport from point A to point B. I sent an email message to a shuttle service based in Cumberland and learned that they have a two-person minimum. The more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea of riding for up to two hours in a closed vehicle with a driver and at least one other person. So I gave up on that idea.

The final option was to simply ride my bicycle back to the car in Pittsburgh. I rather liked this idea because I felt that it was probably within my fitness level (though I was not sure), and the idea of additional days of vacation appealed to me, too. This became my plan.

I made reservations at B&B's or motels along the route for each overnight spot, and I carried everything I needed (i.e., change of clothing, snacks, tools, toiletries, iPad, etc.) in two rear panniers or my handlebar bag. Each night, I did laundry and prepared for the next day's ride.

Earl, my Surly Disc Trucker, fully packed

Earl, my Surly Disc Trucker, fully packed and resting on the trail

Date Route Miles ridden
Sat, Aug 29 Drive from Charleston, IL to Pittsburgh (480 miles)
Sun, Aug 30 Visit sites outside of Pittsburgh (by car)   
Mon, Aug 31 Pittsburgh to West Newton 33.83
Tue, Sep 1 West Newton to Connellsville 27.49
Wed, Sep 2 Connellsville to Confluence 30.21
Thu, Sep 3 Confluence to Meyersdale 30.68
Fri, Sep 4 Meyersdale to Cumberland, MD 34.69
Sat, Sep 5 Cumberland, MD to Meyersdale, PA 33.7
Sun, Sep 6 Meyersdale to Confluence 30.15
Mon, Sep 7 Confluence to Connellsville 30.48
Tue, Sep 8 Connellsville to West Newton 25.49
Wed, Sep 9 West Newton to Pittsburgh 36.56
Thu, Sep 10 Drive back to Charleston  
Total miles ridden 313.28

I planned a leisurely ride, with about 30 miles a day (or less). I did not build in any rest days, but some of the days were very short, and I had opportunities to linger at places along the way. This was my vacation, after all, and I wanted time to explore and to stop and take photographs whenever it struck my fancy. I had about three weeks at home to do some training rides, and those consisted of daily 25-mile rides on the Charleston-Mattoon bicycle trail in the morning before work. But those miles were without the panniers. On the GAP Trail, I carried about 22 lbs. of gear in the panniers and got stronger as the trip progressed.

COVID Tour 2020 graffiti

Graffiti on a picnic shelter expresses how many trail riders feel about this year

chart with trail elevations

Trail elevations for the GAP Trail and the C&O Towpath

Next - Sat, Aug 29
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