Pittsburgh-to-DC trail offers fun rides, but don't do it all at once

Bicyclists ride along the Greater Allegheny Passage trail near the boundary of Baldwin and Pittsburgh. This section of the trail is near a bald eagle viewing area.

HOMESTEAD — The Greater Allegheny Passage-C&O Towpath bicycle trail is among the more ambitious regional rides, running from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

But riders don’t need to tackle the entire 350-mile ride all at once. The relatively flat trail is lined with amenities — including hotels, bed-and-breakfast stops and state parks like Ohiopyle in Fayette County — that can serve as a base for shorter rides over a portion of the trail.

I took advantage of that characteristic in June with a ride from a hotel at the Homestead Waterfront, a center for dining, shopping and entertainment, to Point State Park in Pittsburgh and back, a round trip of about 12 miles. Like most of the Pittsburgh-to-DC trail, the path’s first — or last, depending on your perspective — 6 miles are relatively flat.

The portion I rode roughly follows the Monongahela River’s south bank past Sandcastle water park and a wooded area before emerging in Pittsburgh’s South Side near the Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh shared football practice center. Riders cross the river at the Hot Metal Bridge’s shared pedestrian-cyclist deck.

After crossing, the path follows along the Monongahela’s north bank into downtown Pittsburgh, where cyclists share bike paths with bus lanes and most roads lead to the point.

East of the Waterfront, the trail passes the Steel Heritage Center and goes into a rise as it goes through West Newton, Connellsville, Ohiopyle to the Eastern Continental Divide, elevation 2,392 feet — a change of 1,664 feet in 126 miles.

The Greater Allegheny Passage transitions to the C&O Towpath trail at Cumberland, Md. The C&O Towpath section is far steeper than the GAP — an elevation change of 1,754 feet in 24 miles, which sounds like fun if you’re heading east, but that’s an uphill ride when traveling west.

Most of the two trails are converted abandoned rail lines. For more information, including trail maps and elevation charts, check out the Greater Allegheny Passage website, https://gaptrail.org/.

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