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?
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
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'
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'
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'
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