Great Appalachian Passage and C&O Canal tour

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is 184 miles long, starting on the north bank of the Potomac River from Washington, DC and ending in Cumberland, MD. Much of the canal has been drained and reforested but the towpath along the canal remains popular for hiking and cycling. The towpath surface is hard-packed dirt for much of the way, and can be muddy after a heavy rain.Visit the National Park Service site.

At Cumberland Maryland, the Canal meets the Great Allegheny Passage trail, continuing 141 miles to Homestead PA near Pittsburgh, for a total of 325 miles from Washington DC to Pittsburgh.

Route at RideWithGPS
View and print cue sheet
View and print map
GPX file

TCX Course

The GAP and C&O Trail
330 miles of trail from Pittsburgh to Washington DC

The 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Maryland , creating a 334.5-mile motorized vehicle-free stone dust/ packed stone cycling trail between Pittsburgh PAand Washington, DC. The GAP trail follows abandoned rail beds and thus has a nearly level grade, generally less than 1%. The westbound section from Cumberland to Deal is the only exception at 1.75%, reaching its high point at the Eastern Continental Divide. The two trails travel through several long tunnels, all lit except for the 3000 ft. Big Savage Tunnel, where you must walk your bike and will need a good flashlight. The C&O trail from Cumberland is a generally a single or double track canal towpath, with hard packed stone and dirt, occasional mud holes and tree roots. We rode the entire distance of the two trails on touring road bikes with 700 x 28 tires but were fortunate to have dry weather. We suggest mounting 700 x 32 tires with a light texture pattern for greater stability on these surfaces. We saw many people riding hybrid bikes. Mountain bikes would be fine as well, but are not necessary for either of the trails.

The 184.5 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal follows the north bank of the Potomac River from Cumberland MD to Washington DC. The canal was built between 1828 and 1850. In 1971 the canal became a National Historic Park. Download a detailed map of the C&O Trail and it’s historic features.  Download trail notes and other information about the C&O Canal Trail.

The following is based on a route we took in the summer of 2013, including the inns we stayed at each evening as the day’s destination point. Even though the trails are essentially flat, the trail surface will provide more resistance than paved roads, and we averaged about 10-11 mph. 60 miles each day is about right to allow you to enjoy the features of the trail and come in before sunset.

Cue sheets and files for GPS devices are included below. Note that for much of the day you will neither be on a marked road or cross one, so the instructions will often be in directions rather than giving road names.

GAP trail Pittsburgh to West NewtonDay 1 Pittsburgh PA to West Newton PA (start GAP Trail)

Distance: 34.0 mi
Elevation: + 1042 / – 1009 ft
Start: Firstside Park, Pittsburgh. Parking is not available at this location.
End: Bright Morning Bed and Breakfast, W. Newton MA (map). You will be able to clearly see the inn on the right side of the trail just before reaching West Main Street. Phone: 724 872-0792
Trail Note: The trail is not complete in McKeesport and not all detours are marked As you leave town you will cross the 15th St. bridge and then turn left for a one mile on-road section.
Cue Sheet and Map
TCX Course
GPX Track (.gpx)

West Newton to Confluence on the GAP TrailDay 2 West Newton PA to Confluence PA

Distance: 53.5 mi
Elevation: + 2434 / – 1886 ft
Start: Bright Morning Bed and Breakfast, W. Newton PA (map).
End: Rivers Edge 203 Yough Street, Confluence, PA (map)
Cue Sheet and map
TCX Course
GPX Track (.gpx)

Confluence to Cumberland on the GAP trailDay 3 Confluence PA to Cumberlannd MD (end GAP trail)

Distance: 63.3 mi
Elevation: + 3653 / – 4356 ft
Start: Rivers Edge 203 Yough Street, Confluence, PA (map)
End: Fairfield Inn, phone: 1-301-722-0340. The inn sits at the point where the GAP and C&O trails join.
Trail note: There are not many towns along the way so make sure you have water and food. The last section from the Continental Divide to Cumberland offers a pleasant downhill ride, on a loose stone dust surface.
Cue Sheet and map
TCX Course
GPX Track (.gpx)

Cumberland to Hancock on the C&O TrailDay 4 Cumberland to Hancock (begin C&O Trail)

Distance: 59.5 mi
Elevation: + 1224 / – 1413 ft
Start:  Fairfield Inn, downtown Cumberland MD, phone: 1-301-722-0340. The inn sits at the point where the GAP and C&O trails join.
End: River Run B&B 301-678-6150 This very nice inn is a renovated old commercial building and will be on your right in a large parking lot on your right as you enter town.
Trail note: For approximately 10 miles before reaching Hancock and 10 miles the next day, our route follows the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail, which parallels the C&O Trail on the opposite side of the canal.
Cue Sheet and Map
TCX Course
GPX Track (.gpx)

Hancock to Harpers Ferry on the C&O TrailDay 5 Hancock MD to Harpers Ferry WV

Distance: 64.5 mi
Elevation: + 1486 / – 1458 ft
Start: River Run B&B
End: Stone House B&B 156 High St, Harpers Ferry, WV ‎ (view map)
Trail note: For approximately 10 miles leaving Hancock continue on the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail or cross over to the C&O Trail on the opposite side of the canal.
At the end of today’s ride you will need to carry your bike and panniers up a large winding stairway and walk your bike on the footbridge across the river to Harpers Ferry. The inn is nearby in the Old Town just a short distance up the hill.
Cue Sheet and Map
TCX Course
GPX Route (.gpx)

Harpers Ferry to Washington DC on the C&O TrailDay 6 Harpers Ferry WV to Washington DC

Distance: 61.0 mi
Elevation: + 820 / – 1077 ft
Start: Stone House B&B, 156 High St, Harpers Ferry, WV ‎ (view map)
End: Georgetown Visitor Center, C&O Trail, connecting to Rock Creek Park Trail in Washington. (map)
Cue Sheet and Map
TCX Course
GPX Track (.gpx)

Connecting and NearbyTrails:

Montour Trail, Pennsylvania
Panhandler Trail, Pennsylvania
Western Maryland Rail Trail, Hancock MD
Capitol Crescent Trail: Washington to Silver Springs.
Rock Creek Trail, Washington (download map)
Deckers Creek Trail WV
Mon River Trail, WV
North Mon River Trail, WV
South Caperton Trail, WV
North Bend Rail Trail, WV, a multi-use recreational trail operated by West Virginia State Parks. Formerly an abandoned spur of the CSX system, the trail is part of the 5,500 mile coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail. Stretching 72 miles from I-77 near Parkersburg in Wood County to Wolf Summit in Harrison County, this scenic trail passes through 13 tunnels and crosses 36 bridges.The trail nearly parallels US Route 50 east and west.  Download map

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