Location and Length
The 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Maryland to create a 334.5-mile traffic and motorized vehicle-free route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. The Montour Branch will, when completed, connect McKeesport to the Pittsburgh International Airport and Coraopolis.
Trail Grade and Surface
The trail has a packed crushed limestone surface for a smooth ride. Built mainly on abandoned rail beds, the trail is nearly level 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%. Near the Big Savage Tunnel, the trail crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. From that point going east, 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.
From Cumberland to Washington, DC, you drop 625 feet to sea level on the C&O Canal towpath. The towpath is overall much less improved than the GAP, as it was built for mules and not railroads. Be prepared for ruts, tree roots, mud and mosquitos.
Trail Activities, Horse and other Accessibility
Bicycling and hiking are the two most popular activities. In addition, sections of the trail system are open to equestrians. Horses are permitted only on the grassy areas between Boston & Connellsville; Rockwood & Garrett; Frostburg & State Line. The trail system is universally accessible between dawn & dusk. Winter snow allows cross-country skiing and snow shoeing. Fishermen take the trail to favorite fishing spots. Bird watching is another favorite activity.
Visitors to the trail: Once you leave the trail and enter into the towns, please respect and regard local traffic. Town streets are not bike trails and cyclists are encouraged (by law!) to abide the rules of the road. You are now a "vehicle" and should proceed single file, with traffic. Stop at stop signs. Don't ride on sidewalks. Be considerate when you chain your bike. Treat the town properties as you would want visitors to treat where you live.
Weather in southwestern Pennsylvania and western Maryland
The Great Allegheny Passage is a trail for all seasons. At the same time, when planning your trip, you will want to consider the weather.
Trail use is highest during spring, early summer and early autumn when the weather is most comfortable. Click on the links for pertinent weather information.
National Weather Service
Wear appropriately designed athletic shoes when walking or jogging. Remember to bring water! When biking, most people use hybrids or mountain bikes. A popular choice is a hybrid or touring bike with slightly knobby hybrid tires or a mountain bike with semi-slick tires instead of off-road knobby tires. A good saddle makes a lot of difference.
Check out the Preparation & Checklist before planning your day or through trips.
Average Trail Travel Speed
Walkers and hikers typically average two to three miles an hour; cyclists might cover seven to 10 miles an hour. The speed limit on the trail is 15 mph.
Planning Your Trip
In this section, you'll find sample trips of a variety of lengths and suggestions for planning your trip for safety and enjoyment. Please keep in mind that you are in the outdoors and may encounter adverse weather and/or environmental challenges. Planning is essential. Check out Preparation & Checklist before setting out.
In the 128 miles from Pittsburgh, PA at 730' feet above sea level to the Eastern Continental Divide at 2,375' above sea level, the trail gently rises 1,665 feet. In the 22 miles to Cumberland, 625' (C&O Brochure says 605") above sea level, it descends 1,754 feet. Thus, many "Through Trekkers" choose to make the ride from east to west.