Biking the GAP and C&O trails

So back in July I rode from Pittsburgh to DC over 6 days with my dad. I’ve been meaning to post about the trip but it’s pretty daunting to try and cover all of the details we collected over our journey.

But it’s almost November, so clearly I need to just get over the fact that this post isn’t going to be the perfect tell-all guide to the GAP/C&O that I had envisioned. But if it inspires some bike travel, I’ll be satisfied with that. I took approximately one billion pictures, but in order to not break the internet I’ll just post some highlights here.



The logistics of riding the trail end to end were definitely helped by the fact that my parents live near(ish) BWI, my dad was game to do this ride with me, and we had a friend in DC who graciously let us use his guest parking pass for the week (Thanks again Andrew!!). I flew into BWI, we drove into DC, loaded up the bikes and took the metro to Union Station where we could connect with Amtrak to take us up to DC, where we would ride Southeast back to DC.



My main advice for this part is to read the guidebooks and then just act like you know what you’re doing. Also, we were in the metro before rush hour so it wasn’t too difficult.



We reserved spots for our bikes when we bought our tickets to Pittsburgh, and we were the first group to load up and board the train (I think it was almost an hour before departure time).



The train left around 4 and the trip to Pittsburgh was 7.5 hours, but between a leisurely dinner, naps and chatting with a group who had just ridden the trail, it passed reasonably quickly.

Before we set out the next morning, we had to check out the fun sculptural bike racks scattered about downtown Pittsburgh.





We finally made our way to the confluence where the trail officially starts..



And after a false start realized we cross this bridge to get to the correct side of the water and to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail (which connects to the GAP).



We encountered some minor traffic as we started out..



But before long we were enjoying the scenic vistas we had come for.



It did rain more than we had anticipated, but this made us appreciate the tunnels all the more




Ohiopyle was a lovely place to stop and take a side hike (Ferncliff trail was lovely, although it turned out a map would have helped us out)





It was a gradual, slight uphill to the Eastern Continental Divide, after which we enjoyed a nice downhill section.



The Mason & Dixon line and monument was a pleasant surprise. The GAP/C&O cross in between Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland and it’s easy to forget what state you’re in as you go along.



In Cumberland, Maryland we said farewell to the GAP and ventured onto the much more rustic C&O towpath for the rest of the trip.



Although there were parts that were manageable (like below), the rain made for a good bit of mud and slush that made us glad we had opted for mountain bikes.


The famous Paw Paw Tunnel made us glad we had brought my bright commuter lights, and that we had decided to walk the bikes through instead of attempting to ride it (I thought I would, and then I saw it, and that was a whole big pile of noooope).



Between Paw Paw WV and Hancock MD, we found the access point for the Western Maryland Rail Trail which gave us 20 miles of much welcome pavement and reprieve from the rough & tumble of the C&O.





Plenty of photo breaks made for long days, but the scenery was too lovely to just breeze by.



At Harper’s Ferry, we stayed at the Knight’s Inn, and across the street we had the best meal of the entire trip. Definitely check out the Guide House if you have the chance (the chef was happy to make vegetarian tacos, which were just incredible).



After Harper’s Ferry we enjoyed river vistas for several miles as we followed the Potomac towards DC.




As we got closer to DC on the last day, the scenery continued to cause many stops for pictures. I’ve never seen so many turtles in my life!



We were more than ready for a good shower at home by this point, but you can’t not stop at Great Falls.



Finally, to the bewilderment of many a camera wielding tourist, we arrived in DC. After 6 days averaging 60 miles per day, it felt good to be finished (although we’ve already started planning our next one).


Biking the GAP and C&O trails

7 thoughts on “Biking the GAP and C&O trails

  1. Don Hudson says:

    Mary, I lived the way you did the report and will use this style in the future. After the BRP ride we have been planning a ride to do the Skyline Dtive Parkway then into D.C. Are you game?


  2. LOVE the pics – the one with the frog on your bike pedal is too cute!! So many great memories with your dad – how cool!! 🙂 I so wish I coulda done the whole trail!! ah well – it will always be there!


    1. My tires had tread but not very knobby, just wide. It was a Raleigh 8 speed dual sport with disc brakes and it worked great for this trip! I saw some other cyclists going end to end on cyclocross tires (manageable, especially if you’re not carrying a lot of weight), and some on hybrid tires (maybe 32s, not much tread and I wouldn’t recommend that).


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