For those tired of biking or hiking along the C&O Canal, I recommend a trail called the Great Allegheny Passage, an alliance of seven rail to trail conversions in western Pennsylvania and Maryland. This 152 mile system will eventually run all the way from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. However, currently not every section is complete, forcing riders and hikers to use roads marked with bicycle signs to traverse certain parts of the route. For a full list of what sections are completed, see the following map:
My wife Darina and I met another couple from Pittsburgh at Ohiopyle State Park just south of Pittsburgh. Ohiopyle, about three and a half hours from DC, consists of a 14 mile gorge, known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” formed by the mighty currents of the Youghiogheny river. White water enthusiasts come from all over the East to test their skills on the river’s class III and IV rapids, but we chose to enjoy this 19,000 acre wilderness in the Laurel Highlands by bike instead.
We started our journey from the parking lot at the village of Ohiopyle and followed the trail along the river to Confluence, about 11 miles southeast. The trail had a crushed stone surface and was smooth enough to accommodate a road bike, although I chose to ride an urban ATB and my wife, a mountain bike.
The ride to Confluence took longer than the one back because of the slight uphill grade of the former rail bed. No one complained. Everyone seemed to enjoy the wonderful views of the river. Every mile or so, we passed benches to rest on, but none of us was in the mood to stop.
We arrived in Confluence in about an hour, gorged ourselves on blueberries from a local market, and continued back from whence we came. As we crossed the Yough (pronounced “yaach”) at Confluence, I noticed a bevy of fly fishermen stomach deep in the stream. I wished I had brought my pole.
That evening, we cooked out at the picnic area along Cucumber Run, and then headed for a small fisherman’s motel called Traveler’s Rest that we had booked in the town of Markleysburgh. Our room was $40 and extremely clean and quiet - perfect after a long day of biking and driving.
The next day, my wife and I biked an 18 mile segment of the trail from Markleton to Meyersdale, PA, and then back again for a total of 36 miles. We encountered fewer people along this route and more diverse terrain, ranging from forests to open fields. We passed a lovely little trailside B&B in Rockwood, but did not stop for re-fueling until Meyserdale.
Meyersdale proved to be a rewarding destination. We passed the Green Mountain Wind Farm situated on a high ridge as we entered the town. The farm’s eight windmills stretch 200 feet into the air to capture the power of wind for conversion to electricity, and are presently the only such windmills in Pennsylvania.
We next came to the 1,908 long Salisbury viaduct bridge. This re-furbished 1911 rail bridge crosses over the Casselman River and route 219. The trail officially diverts to the road at this point but a lack of signage confused us and we continued along a much rougher gravel stretch of trail for a mile and then diverted to a local road that took us to the towns.
We ate at a diner and then at the owner’s suggestion took another road to the official Meyersdale jump off point for the trail, a partially restored 1911 railway station with all the basics (bathrooms and soda machines). I was glad we did not have road bikes for the next 1.5 miles because this stretch was under construction and did not possess the nice, smooth surfaces typical on the other sections of the trail we biked.
We made it back to the car in under two hours, and noticed that a small concession stand had just opened up at the lot, offering me a chance to buy a 50 cent coke for the drive home. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Allegheny Passage later this summer.
John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.