about the trail

trail specifications

  • length: 150 miles
  • elevation change: 1787 vertical feet
  • surface: crushed limestone and asphalt

Great Allegheny Passage overview

The Great Allegheny Passage winds 150 miles through the mountains of Southwest Pennsylvania and connects Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, Md.  There are small towns every ten miles or so that provide the essential amenities.  Check out the trail towns page for details about the towns and their amenities. 

The GAP connects to the C&O Canal Towpath in Cumberland.  The C&O Canal is a national park which preserves the towpath which once transported goods between Washington, DC and the towns leading up to Cumberland.  The towpath follows the Potomac River for 184.5 miles and connects with the GAP at mile '0' (Canal Place).  Click here to learn more about the C&O Canal.  Even though its common to ride both trails together, the trails provide a very different experience.

the trail surface

The crushed limestone surface holds up well under traffic and generally provides a smooth ride. There is a small army of volunteers who monitor the  trail and provide maintenance as needed.  It is common during summer months to have strong thunderstorms pass through Western Pennsylvania.  Landslides, erosion and trees blocking the trail are no match for this group of trail maintenance super stars.  There's about 15 miles of paved trail on the Pittsburgh end which extend just south of Mckeesport, and a couple miles of asphalt as you approach Cumberland.  If your plan is to ride the "through" trip, meaning that your going to ride the C&O Canal to DC, you may need to prepare differently.  The towpath surface is much less improved than the GAP, as it is a dirt road with a strip of grass growing down the middle.  Be prepared for potholes, tree roots, and mud.


trail grade

Most of the trail is converted from abandoned rail beds, which makes for a nearly level riding surface with the average grade of less than 1%.  The steepest eastbound grade - 0.8% - is from Harnedsville to Markleton and Garrett to Deal. The steepest westbound grade is from Cumberland to Deal at 1.75%. The high point of the trail is where it crosses the Eastern Continental Divide near Deal (2,375' above sea level). From the Eastern Continental Divide heading towards C&O Canal, the trail drops 1,754 feet in 24 miles to reach Cumberland and, going west, it drops 1,664 feet in 126 miles to reach Pittsburgh.

The elevation numbers sounds like this trail may be a wild ride - don't worry.  Most of the trail is converted railroad bed so the changes are very gradual and often are hardly noticeable.  even the stwould be a When you look at the elevation charts and From Cumberland to Washington, DC, you drop 625 feet to sea level on the C&O Canal towpath. 

what's the best type of bike

The trail of fine crushed limestone provides a fairly smooth surface which can be managed with any type of bike.  The most popular bike style is a hybrid because the more upright riding position tends to be more comfortable for extended periods in the saddle and the tire size is optimal.