Beyond the Towpath: The Great Allegheny Passage 4
Author thumbnail By John Sherwood, DCSki Columnist

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.

About John Sherwood

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.

Author thumbnail

Reader Comments

Jean Mielczarek
August 22, 2001
thanks for the description of the trail. I'm an enthusiastic biker of Rails to Trails. I look forward to biking the Allegany trail next summer. I've been keeping an informal list of other Rail to Trail enthusiasts in the DC area. Hoping to assemble a critical mass to organize some trip-- anniers no camping staying at motels. This summer I enjoyed trails in Ohio, and three new ones in West Va. in the Morgentown area. The end of Sept. I'm scheduled to bike across Missouri on the Katy Trail. If you send me your Email address--I'll start to compile a list of those who love to bike through the woods. Thanks for taking the time to write about your travel. JEAN MIELCZAREK 1007-703-280
Dave Dorrin
September 4, 2001
Not that it matters, but I believe
that the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
is quite a bit further northeast. We
visited there a few years back,
staying in Wellsboro. A Google
search on the Pennsylvania Grand
Canyon brings up a couple official
webpages that note that the Canyon
is contained in 160,000 acres of the
Tioga National Forest and "begins south
of Ansonia along US Route 6 and
continues for approximately 47 miles,"
ending near Waterville.

All's I remember is that the northern
end is awfully pretty when covered
with 2 feet of snow with a -20F
wind chill.

But I'm sure Ohiopyle is pretty too. :)
Thanks for the trail information; the
link you provided is great.

Linda McKenna Boxx
March 11, 2002
While we in Western PA may want to claim to be the home of our state's "Grand Canyon," the designation actually belongs to the Pine Creek Gorge, home of yet another magnificent rail-trail project.
The Great Allegheny Passage has 100 continuous miles completed, from McKeesport, PA to near Meyersdale. We should finish contruction to the Mason-Dixon Line by late 2003.
Linda Boxx, President
Allegheny Trail Alliance
James Pavlock
November 18, 2008
The Grand Canyon of PA is in Wellsboro, in north central PA, not near Ohiopyle, as the writer suggests.

Ski and Tell

Speak truth to powder.

Join the conversation by logging in.

Don't have an account? Create one here.

0.02 seconds