The Great Allegheny Passage is a crushed gravel rail trail surface with a grade of less than 1%. Short portions of the trail near Pittsburgh and Connellsville are paved. The trail grades slightly uphill as you ride south; this becomes noticeable on longer ride days of 60+ miles. The most significant elevation change is found at the Eastern Continental Divide, the section between Deal, Pa., and Cumberland, Md. Here the grade is closer to 1.75% and slopes downward to Cumberland. If you are riding from Cumberland northward, then expect to ride this uphill over the majority of your Day 1. It is not difficult, just make sure to take time to rest and have some water and snacks on the bike with you.
The C&O Canal Towpath is managed by the National Park Service and is kept consistent with its historic use as a canal towpath. The majority of the trail is dirt and similar to a forest road. The towpath is not technically difficult to ride, but you will feel the vibrations and over time it can become taxing. The trail can also get soft and muddy after rains.
We encourage all riders to look at our page on Trail Conditions to get a sense of what they will be riding and how best to plan.
“When is the best time to bike on the GAP or C&O?”
Our trail season starts in late April and ends in late October. This schedule is dictated by weather and trail conditions. Most riders choose to ride between mid-May to early October.
September/October is typically the peak season, although many riders enjoy the hotter weather of June-August. Late September to early October is the time for fall foliage; while summer is ideal for riders who love the long days, sunny and dry weather, and have vacation time from school and work.
April can be rainy, colder, and the trails can be soft; so we recommend riders early in the season be prepared to ride with layers and deal with some mud. Likewise, further into October the weather will get cooler and you can see snow at the higher elevations around Meyersdale by late October. The C&O Towpath stays more temperate well into October and makes for a gorgeous fall ride.
Planning your Great Allegheny Passage and/or C&O Canal trip can start a year or more in advance. Many of our customers confirm their trip plans with us about 6-9 months ahead to grab the best room options, but reservations even up to 1 month ahead are still common.
There is no, one answer for the “best” time of year to ride – but read more about our recommendations on our Blog posting here.
“How in shape do I need to be to bike the GAP and/or C&O Towpath?”
The Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath are both relatively easy, flat trails with almost no hills or technical sections.
Most riders of any level find that 30-40 miles/day is very comfortable; perhaps, with a few shorter days of 20 miles or less.
Experienced riders who enjoy longer distances typically like to ride 50-70 miles per day, which allows you to complete the 335-mile trail in about one week.
We’ve also created custom trips of less – and more – miles per day to better accommodate rider preferences and time frames. We do find that the GAP and CAP/C&O trip packages we’ve created tends to fit the bill for the majority of our riders.
So how should you train to get ready for your GAP and/or C&O bike trip?
We strongly encourage training geared to more DAYS on the bike, rather than more MILES on the bike. The day-after-day friction of riding on a bike trip is what tends to create the most discomfort for cyclists who don’t ride regularly. If you do not ride often and want to be sure that you are prepared for your trip, you are better served to ride just 5 or 10 miles/day for 3 or more days a week, rather than riding 30+ miles on a weekend only once a week. An ideal training schedule would be 2 or 3 short (10 mile or less) days and then two longer (30-40 mile) days on a weekend as you get close to trip time.
As you train, watch for areas of friction and/or pain from the seat (seams and shape can cause discomfort – invest in some padded shorts and try out multiple saddles), bike fit (seat height and pedal placement), and handlebar set up (try changing the angle, changing bar and grip shapes, and distance between seat and handlebars).
A hybrid/trail bike is recommended for both the GAP and C&O, but please read Bikes – Renting or Bringing Your Own to understand what will work best for you.
Tandem bikes are well-suited to the trails, but be aware that some shuttles may not be able to handle more than one at a time. Recumbents and trikes are also often seen on the trails; some trikes can find the burm along the C&O Towpath to be an issue. Shuttle space can also be a challenge for recumbents or trikes without advance planning.
Folding bikes have been used on both trails and riders report that a touring set up is preferred if bringing your folder on the GAP or C&O.
"The best thing about what [BTG] offers is that the trip is self-guided."
"This means you ride when you want, how you want, and at your own pace."
– Kenta S.