GAP Trail and C&O Canal Gravel Riding

Trip Length 6 Days
Group Size 4?11
Activity level
Starting from
$2,199 for REI Members
$2,394 for non-members
Departures Jun 2020-Sep 2020

Spend 6 days cycling and camping along the entire length of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.

Ranked as one of the top ten long rail trails in the US by Bicycle.com, the Great Allegheny Passage Trail (GAP Trail for short) was also an inaugural inductee into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. It spans 150 blissfully car-free miles from Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh all the way to Cumberland, MD. This nearly level crushed limestone trail begins by taking us through Pittsburgh?s industrial roots, past coal, steel and mining communities. Following the trail, we ride through the Laurel Highlands, visit Frank Lloyd Wright?s Fallingwater home?a UNESCO World Heritage Site?summit the Eastern Continental Divide, ride through old railroad tunnels, and cruise downhill until we reach milepost zero of the GAP Trail in Cumberland, MD. That?s where we pick up the C&O towpath.

One of the nation's premier cycling routes, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is a 185-mile packed-dirt trail stretching from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC. Originally conceived by President George Washington, the canal was ultimately constructed from 1828?1850 remained in operation until 1924. It became a National Park in 1971. The area surrounding the canal is steeped in Civil War history?it passes through the town of Harper?s Ferry and over Antietam Creek, not far from Burnside?s Bridge and Antietam Battlefield. The packed-dirt trail can become a challenging ride after heavy rains, but we always appreciate the extra excitement! The towpath?and our cycling adventure?comes to an end in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Together, these two iconic trails comprise the longest off-road, easily bikeable trail system in the US. Tackle every inch of both trails on one of our top-notch gravel bikes, which turn every ride into a can?t-stop-grinning, incredibly fun time.

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Trip Highlights

  • Cycle the entire length of the legendary GAP Trail and C&O Canal Towpath
  • Visit Frank Lloyd Wright?s Fallingwater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Stand at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in historic Harper?s Ferry, WV
  • Ride back in time as we pass important Civil War and Revolutionary War sites
  • Summit the Eastern Continental Divide and cross the Mason-Dixon Line in rural Pennsylvania

Activities

This trip is rated Vigorous [4]. Trip members should be comfortable riding on dirt/gravel for approximately 4?7 hours per day for six consecutive days. Rides range from 38?74 miles per day (58 miles per day average) with minimal elevation gain or loss; 7600' total.

  • Cycling
  • Gravel Riding

What's Included

High performance gravel bike; 2 professional guides; all park fees and permits; entrance fee to Fallingwater; tent; sleeping pad; group cooking and camping gear; group first aid kit; all meals as noted in itinerary; snacks, beverages; water, soft drinks, electrolyte mix; saddle bag with emergency tool kit.

Accommodations

REI Classic camping, 4 nights; Hotel, 1 night

Your wheels for the journey

Every great tour begins with a great bike, and our top-flight fleet has been carefully curated for your cycling adventure.

Want to bring your own bike?  You can do that too.

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Pittsburgh: Point State Park and the confluence of three rivers

We meet our guides in the lobby of our host hotel at 9am. After a tour orientation and a bike fitting, we ride to Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converge to form the Ohio River. We take in the stunning skyline view, snap a few group photos, then begin our journey by riding east across the Hot Metal Bridge, named for the barges of molten iron that passed beneath on their way to steel processing plants in years gone by. We ride through Pittsburgh?s industrial past and along the Monongahela River, making our way to rural Pennsylvania through old small mining towns. When we reach West Newton, PA we find our first campsite, where our guides prepare our evening meal and help us set up camp. Lunch and dinner included.

Cycling: 38 miles (3?4 hours, crushed limestone trail), Elevation gain/loss: +1,074' / -1,055?

Day 2

West Newton to Confluence, PA: Rivers, railroads and rambling trail

We get an early start after breakfast and point our bikes toward Ohiopyle and Confluence, PA. The trail gradually rises in elevation as we ride upstream along the Youghiogheny River, continuing our journey east. The crushed gravel trail is smooth and wide as we pass through small mining communities and a few larger ones with full services. We plan to reach Ohiopyle by lunch, where we grab a bite to eat before taking a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright?s 1935 Fallingwater house, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back on the trail, we ride 11 more miles to Confluence, PA and our campsite for the evening. Named after the confluence of the Youghiogheny River, Casselman River and Laurel Hill Creek, Confluence is a hub for river rafting, cycling and outdoor activity. Our guides prepare our evening meal as we build a campfire and enjoy sleeping among the stars. All meals included.

Cycling: 54 miles (5?7 hours, crushed limestone trail), Elevation gain/loss: +1,693' / -1,138

Day 3

Confluence to Cumberland: End of the GAP

Perhaps the most memorable ride of the tour, today we summit the Eastern Continental Divide. From there, it?ll be all downhill toward Washington, DC. Among the many points of interest today, we ride along the Western Maryland Salisbury Viaduct and past the Meyersdale train station. The viaduct is about 100 feet high and nearly 2,000 feet long, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside, the Casselman River and the CSX railroad line?truly breathtaking. Shortly after Meyersdale we cross the Keystone Viaduct, which is smaller but no less impressive as it viaduct crosses roadways, rail lines and creeks. Although the miles today are big, once we crest the Eastern Continental Divide, we have a 22-mile, 2% grade downhill through the Mount Savage tunnel (and two lesser tunnels). It takes us across the Mason-Dixon line and along the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad until we reach the Queen City (Cumberland, MD) and an evening in a local hotel. Tonight we enjoy hot showers, comfy beds, and as much free time as we?d like. Cumberland is a very walkable town, with ice cream shops, BBQ, live music, and a lively outdoor atmosphere. Dinner is on your own tonight and there are ample possibilities throughout town. If you arrive early, check out the Cumberland Visitor Center, C&O Canal National Historical Park or the local Cumberland bike shop. Breakfast and lunch included.

Cycling: 63 miles (5?6 hours, crushed limestone trail), Elevation gain/loss: +2,831? / -3,532'

Day 4

Cumberland to McCoy?s Ferry: C&O Canal

After a hearty breakfast, we leave Cumberland, MD on our bikes and begin our journey on the C&O Canal Towpath alongside the Potomac River. The canal was originally conceived by President George Washington as the best water route to reach the Ohio Valley. Originally intended to reach Pittsburgh, the canal never made it past Cumberland, MD. Our first stop of the day is Old Town, MD where we find the oldest privately held toll road in Maryland. The low bridge crosses the Potomac river and is set near a restored area of the canal with locks, water in the canal, and authentic canal houses. Catch your breath before we continue down the canal to the famous Paw Paw Tunnel, a 3,100' tunnel that saved six miles of canal work when it was conceived, and is a thrill to ride through.

We may divert slightly from the towpath to experience 22 miles of smooth pavement on the Western Maryland Rail Trail near Hancock, MD as we head into town for lunch. This trail eventually reconnects with the C&O Canal not far from Fort Frederick, a Revolutionary War-era fort that never came under attack. Tonight we camp trailside at McCoy?s Ferry campground between the canal and the Potomac river. It?s a primitive campground with toilets and water, but not showers. We use in-camp washbasins to freshen up after a long day on the trail as our guides prepare dinner and a campfire. All meals included.

Cycling: 74 miles (6?8 hours, packed dirt towpath), Elevation gain/loss: +814' / -1,050'

Day 5

A ride through American history: The trail to Harper?s Ferry

A modest day of riding awaits us today, as we continue along the canal towpath, past the infamous Antietam creek and Civil War battlefield. The Potomac River is at its shallowest here, allowing the Union and Confederate Armies to cross on several occasions in pursuit of a victory. We ride pass Dam 4 and Big Slackwater, where the canal disappears into the Potomac and barge operators had to navigate the shoreline of the river before re-entering the canal. It?s a very flat day of riding until we reach Harper?s Ferry, where we begin a steep climb out of Harper?s Ferry National Historic Park and into our camp for the evening. Harper?s Ferry stands at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers (yes, you can put your feet into both simultaneously), and was a vital ammunition storage depot during the Civil War. The town is also known for John?s Brown raid, which attempted to take the depot as a base for a slave revolt in 1859. After ample opportunity to walk around the park and the town, we tackle the ascent to our campsite for the evening. Once settled in, we take a van ride to the historic section of Harper?s Ferry where we can enjoy dinner on our own at one of the many options in town. Breakfast and lunch included.

Cycling: 53 miles (5?6 hours, packed dirt towpath), Elevation gain/loss: +807' / -685'

Day 6

Harper?s Ferry, Great Falls, and Milepost 0 of the C&O Canal

After breakfast, we break camp in Harper?s Ferry and cross the Potomac River, continuing our journey along the C&O Canal Towpath to its terminus at Mile 0 in Washington, DC. Today is our second-longest day in miles, but one of the easiest riding days as we cruise downhill along the Potomac River. When the day?s done, we can all check off the GAP Trail and C&O Canal Towpath off our bucket list of must-do rides.

Our ride today will take us across the Monocacy Aqueduct, the largest of eleven aqueducts along the canal. The aqueducts allowed the canal to flow over all the creeks that feed the Potomac River?like a bridge of water over water. We?ll take a short rest at the Great Falls Visitor Center before the final 12 miles of our ride. As we take in the magnificence of these rushing waterfalls on the Potomac River, we understand why the Potomac River was not navigable and why the C&O Canal was deemed a necessity. Water still flows in this section of the canal, and it contains several locks that allowed for the passage of canal boats.

As we arrive at milepost zero in Washington, DC, we exchange high fives all around for a great, hard ride and the successes of the week. A celebratory meal at a local Georgetown established will be enjoyed before we hop in the van for a short ride to Old Town Alexandria in Virginia and our post-trip hotel drop off. An evening walk around Old Town, with its historic architecture and street lamps, is a memorable way to top off a great week of gravel riding. All departing flights should be scheduled for after 10pm this evening, or you could extend your stay to explore the nation?s capital. All meals included.

Cycling: 64 miles (6?8 hours, packed dirt towpath & paved trail), Elevation gain/loss: +351? / -893'; Van transfer: 30 mins

Gear List

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Collection of selected R E I Co-op cycling merchandise and snacks laid out to pack for a bike tour

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.