The C&O Canal and the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

Summertime means bicycle touring time! My favorite!

Every summer, I see riders arrive in Washington, D.C. who have pedaled 330 miles, mostly on trail, all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  How did they do it, you ask? They rode the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and the C&O Canal.

In total, riders traverse 330 miles between the two trails.  The Great Allegheny Passage Trail is 145 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. There, the C&O Canal picks up and takes riders on a 184.5 journey into the heart of Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Felkerino and I love to tour, but we have never ridden the C&O/Allegheny Trails in their entireties. It is on my to-do list, though! I just have a few other places to cross off first.

This weekend, as we were returning from our coffee ride, we spied a couple of riders on the C&O Trail with both front and rear panniers. Felkerino and I immediately suspected they were completing at least a C&O Canal tour and we started waving and shouted enthusiastically to them, “Where are you coming from?”

“Pittsburgh!” was the reply. So exciting!
“Congratulations on your ride!” we shouted back to them. I felt so lucky to share in a tiny part of their journey and recognize their accomplishment.

Pittsburgh to D.C. Almost finished!

We asked them more about their tour and learned that a small group of riders had toured both trails over seven days with the Sierra Club, averaging around 45 miles per day. More details of that tour are here. It looks pretty cool.

Completing 330 miles of riding.

I love encountering touring cyclists. The only thing better is being on tour myself.

Touring is such a special activity and one of my favorite things to do. It’s just you and your bike, maybe a friend or two, navigating the world together, exploring, and earning every meal you eat through a hard day of pedaling.

I. Love. It.

8 thoughts on “The C&O Canal and the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

  1. Small world. I posted about a tourist encounter today too.

    I’ve done the two trails from West Newton PA to DC and can confirm it’s just a terrific ride. The C&O actually got boring after a couple of days. So much beauty, ho hum. The GAP has an excursion railroad, several cool tunnels, awesome trestles, a wind farm. and scenery to die for. It’s hard to beat. In Connelsville PA, I met some through riders who had stopped off route at a winery. Their panniers were stuffed with wine bottles!!! They were covered in mud (it was pouring out). Nothing a church key and a hose couldn’t solve.

    So when PBP is in the bag, fall in to the GAP!

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  2. I did the C&O portion (both ways) with a friend when we were 15 or 16, just after Hurricane Agnes. We rode Schwinn Continentals, and had a canvas Boy Scout tent, canned food, and nothing lightweight. My friend, much the handyman, sewed his own panniers. We stayed in Youth Hostels including a rehabbed slaves’ quarters, caught a snapping turtle in the Potomac with hot dog as bait on hook and line overnight, skinnydipped, and had a huge tree get hit by lightning right next to our tent during a earth-shattering thunderstorm.

    I’d never been to a truly “big city” before and we toured all the sights in D.C. which was festooned with flags for Breznev’s visit. As you can tell, that trip lives with me still. Thanks for your post reminding me of that sultry summer tour.

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  3. A few years ago I incorporated the 72 mile Northbend Rail Trail into a tour across West Virgina. The trail was very scenic with 12 long tunnels. However, the trail was not well maintained for long stretches. Tall grass growing on the trail and landowners just buldozing the trail out to make a driveway. I also felt more beat up by the trail then four days of crossing the Ridge and Valleys of West Virginia. I think it’s because your riding on flat ground so your riding position never changes.

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    1. Russ, I agree w/ you that flat terrain can be more tiring than having hills, especially if the ground isn’t smooth. I’ve never riddent the North Bend Trail so thanks for the summary of your ride there!

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  4. MG

    Many years and quite a bit of knee cartilage ago, I was a distance runner. There was no doubt in my mind that long, flat courses were more tiring because the same muscles were used over and over again. Gently rolling terrain was much more forgiving.

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