It’s called the Great Allegheny Passage because “The Utterly Fantastic and Unforgettably Beautiful Home of Life-Altering Adventures Allegheny Passage” didn’t fit on the signs. The 150 miles of reclaimed rail trail linking Cumberland in the south to Pittsburgh in the north is nearly flat, making it the perfect route for casual day-trippers and serious milers alike. Bring your bike on Amtrak for an easy and convenient adventure launch with hotels like the Savage River Lodge set up to ferry you from the train to the trail head.
Awesome Maryland outfitters such as Cumberland Trail Connection, Get Out and Play Outfitters, and Mountainside Bike Tours can set you up with a leisurely five-day bike from end-to-end or, for the seasoned rider, do it in two! And if that’s not enough for you, the GAP trail links with the equally amazing C&O Towpath in Cumberland, inviting trekkers to continue on through the Western Maryland mountains all the way to Washington, D.C.
Check out our list of eight great tips to make the Maryland leg of your GAP adventure even better!
1. Cross the Heights of the Eastern Continental Divide
Make the steady, easy climb to the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. Here, the great continental plates meet, splitting the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico watersheds and offering staggering views of this unforgettable, ancient landscape. Marking the highest spot on the trail at 2,390 feet above the sea, heading west, the trail drops 1,664 feet over 126 miles to Pittsburgh, or head east for a thrilling 1,774 foot drop over 24 miles into Cumberland.
2. Come Home to Cumberland
Since its founding, “The Queen City” has been a gateway between East and West, and a starting point for adventure. Linking the GAP with the C&O Canal, Cumberland is a great place to launch or finish your trek. Worth the journey all on its own, The Queen City was instrumental in the formation of Bluegrass and is home to Delfest, the best darn music festival in the mountains. Coming into Cumberland feels like coming home. Find out more about Cumberland here.
3. Make a Side Trip on the Western Maryland Rail Trail
Some 23 miles of paved, linear trails tracing the old C&O Canal along the Potomac River, the Western Maryland Rail Trail is a great ride on its own, but makes for a fantastic change of pace on your GAP journey. With an easy grade running between Hancock and Fort Frederick, hitting Big Pool and other scenic spots along the way, for most riders the whole trip end-to-end is only about an hour-and-a-half.
4. Scale Lover’s Leap at the Cumberland Narrows
The Cumberland Narrows, or just “The Narrows” as the locals call it, is a low split through the Alleghenies between Wills Mountain to the north and Haystack Mountain south. This mountain water gap also proved a great spot to build the Historic National Road, a fantastic journey all on its own. Make sure to take a break from your trek and head to the top of Lover’s Leap, a fascinating outcropping of squared rocks 1,652 feet up Wills Mountain. It’s one of the most beautiful – and popular – views in the entire range.
5. Stand with One Foot on Each Side of the Mason-Dixon Line
Looking for a great selfie spot? The GAP trail crosses the Mason-Dixon Line, separating Maryland and Pennsylvania, and an easy ride from Cumberland. Stand with one foot on each side and let friends guess which foot is in Maryland.
6. Fantastic Frostburg
Home to the always-happening Frostburg Arts & Entertainment District with landmarks such as the beautiful Palace Theater and Thrasher Carriage Museum, Frostburg is the perfect place for a break from your journey. Pop the cork on your adventure at the Toasted Goat Winery in the historic Hotel Gunter, the perfect spot to relax and get your legs ready for another day of adventure. Or if you need an energy boost, like any good college town, Frostburg has a fantastic coffee culture with eight great spots to get your java fix. Find out more about Frostburg here.
7. Take a Ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
Whether you’re peddling or hoofing it, there comes a time on every great trek when you’re ready to let somebody else do the work. The historic locomotives of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad offer the perfect opportunity to see the mountains with all the romance of traditional rail. Take a break with an easy excursion trip, or cut down on your peddling with a scenic trip between Cumberland and Frostburg.
8. Continue Your Journey on the C&O Canal Towpath
You’ve done the 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, or maybe you just need a warmup before heading west. Extend your adventure on the C&O Canal Towpath. An early American marvel, the C&O Canal helped open the West. Now it’s the perfect route to hike or bike between Cumberland and Washington, D.C. For a unique experience, spend a night in one of the path’s historic lockhouses, but make sure to book early. For more great ideas along the C&O Canal, follow this link.
Check out “The Great Ride,” a fantastic GAP trail documentary.