Bicycling the Great Allegheny Passage
“Are you sure you can find this Great Allegheny Passage bike trail?” Mr. Spoked asked, skeptically. He’s often suspicious of my internal GPS, after years of getting lost. Sometimes we compensate by heading in the opposite direction of where I’m convinced our destination lies.
On this particular day, though, I peered over my spectacles at the tablet screen, where Google maps had zoomed in on something called Ohiopyle State Park. “I think we put in at this park with the funny name,” I said. “It’s just down the road from Fallingwater.” I hadn’t a clue how to find the bike trail inside the park.
In our gigantic western parks, you can drive around an extra hour or two if you don’t enter at the exactly the right spot. But this was the East, where parks are reasonably sized and bountifully signed. So, after spending the morning at Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece—Fallingwater—we drove south on highway 381 and quickly found Ohiopyle State Park. We followed the signs to a busy cluster of buildings that made up the tiny town of Ohiopyle. Ahead, we saw families splashing in the rocky shallows of the Youghiogheny River. To the right, bicyclists rolled across a fancy bridge high above the waters. To the left, we spied a parking lot near a bike rental and an ice cream parlor—a juxtaposition that told us the townspeople understood the significance of their location on the Allegheny bike trail.
We unloaded our bicycles in the parking lot and picked up the Great Allegheny Passage heading west, across the river. Also known as the GAP, the rail-to-trail starts in Cumberland, Maryland, and follows the old B&O Railroad line about 140 miles to just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ohiopyle is located near its midpoint. The setting of the Ohiopyle bike trail is wooded and hilly but the bed is quite flat, with a wider bed than most other rails-to-trails we’ve ridden. Its pea gravel bed is easy to ride.
We rode west/northwest on the GAP for about 8 miles before turning around and heading back to Ohiopyle, then continued east on the opposite side of the town for another few miles. Most of this section runs very near or along the banks of the Youghiogheny River. We watched whitewater rafters pop the river rapids on one side of the tail, and skirted massive stone boulders on the other side. The trail wasn’t crowded, but it was busy. We came upon one group of slow-moving boys accompanied by several adults on overloaded bikes, their tin cooking pots clanking with every bump. The boys each had bedrolls strapped to their bikes because they planned to stop for the night at the Kentuck campground near Ohiopyle. I felt a little jealous, not of their heavy loads but of the opportunity to camp along the trail. Most cyclists we encountered were day-trippers like us, enjoying the mild summer afternoon.
The Great Allegheny Passage bike trail connects to the C&O Towpath at Cumberland, Md., and that trail continues to Washington, D.C., for a total of 325 miles. It’s long, but it’s not the longest rail-to-trail in the country. That distinction belongs to the Katy in Missouri, much closer to my home. Here in Kansas volunteers are building the Flint Hills Nature Trail; it eventually will connect to the Katy, and I’ll be able to ride to them both via the Landon Trail out of Topeka. That day cannot come soon enough for me, but for now I content myself with cycling completed portions of my country’s trail system. Happy times, my friends, occur on a bicycle on a trail.
This is the final post in my Velo Vacay series for 2012. Check out the others:
- Niagara Falls (Bike New York)
- Erie Canal (Bike New York)
- Covered Bridges in Vermont (Bike Vermont)
- Champlain Islands (Bike Vermont)
- Montreal (Bike Quebec)
- On the Burlington Bike Path (Bike Vermont)
Entry filed under: Bicycling. Tags: Allegheny bike trail, B&O Railroad, C&O Towpath, Great Allegheny Passage, Ohiopyle bike trail, Ohiopyle State Park, Rail to trail, rails to trails, Youghiogheny River.