The Great Allegheny Passage – Part One

The Great Allegheny Passage is one of those bike trails which you really need to do at least once in a lifetime. You may not believe that the perfect bike trail exists, but the Great Allegheny Passage really does come pretty close. It is suitable for both beginners and expert riders. The scenery on the trail makes it one of those great challenges which is well worth it.

The trail is 150 miles long and runs mostly along an old railroad line. It has small towns located about every 10 miles along the trail, so it makes it perfect for taking things easy and enjoying the experience. You can take your time and always be close to civilization, but get away from it all at the same time.

The trail is suitable for most types of bikes. The crushed limestone surface is fine for most bikes, but many people have a hybrid bike. You need to think about what type of bike will be the most comfortable for a 150-mile ride where you may be doing extended mileages every day. This is probably not the time to test out that new bike to find out if it works for you for longer distances! You do not need a special bike, but you do need to know that it will work for you on those 150 miles. Make sure that all the maintenance is carried out before you leave and remember to pack essential tools and spares for the journey.

The Great Allegheny Passage connects Pittsburgh PA to Cumberland MD. The trail takes you through the beautiful southwestern mountains of Pennsylvania. The elevation never goes more than 2,375 feet, but you are still going to be able to enjoy some spectacular vistas. The gradients are not too difficult, even for a beginner.

The Great Allegheny Passage is very well maintained by a team of volunteers. The whole project took many years to complete.

great allegheny passage photo

Photo by jmd41280

The surface is mostly crushed limestone. However, this is a natural setting so you do have to be aware that sometimes the weather conditions mean that the trail can be blocked by trees or landslides. Sometimes trails quickly become difficult to pass because of erosion.

If you want to just travel on the paved surface you should start at the Pittsburgh end of the trail. You will have about 15 miles of paved surface before you run into the crushed limestone surface.

If you are going on a bike ride you must always consider the elevation and gradient. The Great Allegheny Passage some changes in elevation. The highest point is close to Deal where it crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. Here you will be 2,375 above sea level. If you are heading towards the C & O Canal you will be on the trail which drops 1,754 feet in 24 miles. Those heading to the west have a much gentler slope – over 24 miles the slope is 1,664 feet. Really, the Great Allegheny Passage is very manageable. Much of the trail runs alongside on old railway, so none of the ground has too much of a slope. Most of the time you will feel as though you are going on flat ground as the elevation changes are very gradual.