THE GREAT ALLEGHENY PASSAGE AND CHESAPEAKE & OHIO CANALWAY
General Information Although this website's goal is to connect trails via roads, biking into Pittsburgh from Ohio using roads is currently problematic at best. Some alternative ways to enjoy these trails are provided below.
Before you plan a trip, visit these comprehensive websites that detail both trails and their associated trail towns and amenities. I recommend checking the official GAP and NPS C&O sites for "alerts" to closings of trail sections and campsites. Construction work has been common in recent years and can require significant detours. Seasonal closings of campsites and tunnels should be anticipated. Great Allegheny Passage(GAP):gaptrail.org/ Chesapeake and Ohio Canalway:www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm and bikewashington.org/canal/ The Pedalshift website and the Pedalshift Project podcast are hosted by a frequent user of these trails and feature lots of useful and detailed information on the trails and bike touring in general. I recommended both for those just getting into bike touring. pedalshift.net/
Preparation - Suggested "test rides" in NE Ohio. The surfaces on these long trails through PA and MD are variable and mostly crushed limestone or gravel. If you want to test your bike on similar trails, the Towpath Trail north of the Botzum Trailhead (off Riverview Rd) has a similar surface as the GAP and some of the newer sections of the C&O closer to DC. The Headwaters Trail from Mantua to Garrettsville is another good option.
There are still some unimproved sections of the C&O that can be rough and muddy, especially between Hancock and Cumberland. For a preview of various C&O trail conditions, you might try riding the Towpath Trail south of Bolivar. At OH-800 the trail briefly follows the road east on bike lanes. As you exit OH-800 going south you will cross an old rail bridge. Take your first right to enter an unmarked trail that parallels the Towpath/Zoar Valley Trail, but runs closer to the river. This 2-mile segment starts as a bit of singletrack and continues as a trail of packed coarse stone with plenty of muddy spots after a rain. It ends at the top of a short hill at the Dover Dam. This bit of trail is always in somewhat rougher condition than anything the C&O offers, so if you succeed here, you'll be fine on the bad segments of the C&O.
Getting there from Portage County Drive, Park, Ride and Hire The safest way to experience the GAP and C&O is to leave your car at one end (or at a trail town along the route). Rent a vehicle, ride the train, or hire a shuttle to return. You can also park at a car rental location, drive the rental to a drop-off location, and ride back to your vehicle. When using the train, I often stay in a hotel the night before the trip and arrange to leave my car there until I return by bike.
Renting a SUV or van can often be the cheapest option if traveling with a friend or two. You can leave your car at the start of the trail and return using a rental, or leave your car at the rental location, drive to your starting point, and ride back to your car. One-way rentals are not available at every location, so plan ahead. Most airport rental locations will allow this. I have dropped rental vehicles at Reagan National Airport in DC (there are trails connecting the rental drop-off garage to the C&O), and Hagerstown, MD (an 8-mile road ride from the C&O at Williamsport). Starting at Reagan, it is about 5 miles to the official Mile Zero of the C&O (Near the Thompson Boat Center). I've had the best luck working with Enterprise. Cheaper options are available, but you risk confusion, delays and attempts at overcharging.
Amtrak's Capitol Limited train will take a limited number of standard bikes by reservation only. Plan far ahead to reserve spaces. Tandems are excluded and folding bikes in bags travel as normal luggage (no "bike fee"). You may be able to jump on the train in Cleveland, but the stations along the Pittsburgh to DC leg are most likely to accept bikes. Departure times on the eastbound route are very early. I have taken the train from both Cumberland and Connellsville to Harpers Ferry. Plan your day to include delays. You can easily ride to the stations from trailheads or hotels in Cumberland, Connellsville, and Harper's Ferry. Arriving at or leaving from Harper's Ferry on bikes involves carrying them up or down a couple of flights of stairs on the trail end of a bridge across the Potomac River. www.amtrak.com/capitol-limited-train Plan carefully for using the train. In spite of ample capacity, space for bikes is limited. Advertised "Bike Cars" (a few cheap racks on the wall) often do not exist and you may need to pile your bikes in a luggage car. Service can be seasonal and has been unexpectedly suspended.
Ride and Shuttle Compromises between biking and other transportation are available. Biking from Portage County to Beaver or Rochester PA at the Ohio River is fairly straightforward. It's the last bit to Pittsburgh that makes riding the whole way risky. A couple of routes to Rochester from the Kent, OH area are pictured in the map at the bottom of this page. I have used Rt 224 to go east (fast traffic with a narrow shoulder, but usually in good repair), but others have recommended the less-busy parallel roads south of this road.
There is bus service from Rochester, PA to a terminal very near "The Point" in Pittsburgh, which is mile zero for the GAP. As of this writing, "recreational bikes" are NOT accepted, but I suspect a folding bike in a bag would be OK. To confirm this contact The Beaver County Transportation Authority: bcta.com/
Riding Your Bike from Ohio to Pittsburgh (not a safe choice at this time) There are currently no routes that can be described as both safe and easy, but a few options have been used by intrepid cycle tourists. An appropriately-named website that will offer some opinions is crazyguyonabike (crazy on a bike) www.crazyguyonabike.com/ Here are a couple of alignments that have been used and will show up on posts there. I don't recommend either of these, even the one I posted :)
Approaching from the Northwest (via a variety of road options), you will encounter very dangerous roads (Route 51) between Monaca, PA and at least Crescent Township (10+ miles). This section has fast traffic, often lacks shoulders, and has resulted in a number of cycling fatalities. Shockingly and stupidly, this is designated a part of Pennsylvania Bike Route A. www.penndot.gov/TravelInPA/RideaBike/pages/pennsylvania-bicycle-routes.aspxImportant Note:A "theoretical trail" out of Monaca that has been listed on maps for over a decade does not yet exist. Ignore this if it pops up on routing apps. I'll update this page when it is completed. Someday this will be an awesome route...not now. Full disclosure: I naively did a version of this route in 2011. The above-mentioned fake trail was the crux of the problem, its lack of existence forcing us to reroute onto an unsafe section of Rt 51. Don't attempt it.
If you head east from the southern end of the Towpath Trail (near New Philadelphia, OH), there is less time on roads than the above route, but these segments can be also be challenging. There is a 20-mile road section connecting the New Philadelphia area to Bowerston, where you can jump on the Conotton Creek Trail for about 11 miles. Another ~30-mile segment connects Jewett to the Panhandle Trail at Weirton. The 50 miles (total) of road between New Philly and Weirton are reported to be hilly and busy with truck traffic. There is also a long, challenging climb out of the Ohio River Valley. The Panhandle Trail is paved once you enter Pennsylvania, and connects with the Montour Trail which then links up with the GAP in McKeesport.
Future (Possible) Network Connections The Great American Rail Trail The Ohio to Erie Trail, Towpath Trail south of Massillon, Conotton Trail, Panhandle Trail, Montour Trail and GAP/C&O are also part of this future cross-country trail route. www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail/ The missing 50 miles of road sections in Ohio and Pennsylvania are the same as noted above.
Road Routes from Kent, OH (A) to Rochester, PA (C). This is mapped as a loop, but the routes diverge at (D) in Canfield, OH at the south end of the Mill Creek Bikeway at W. Western Reserve Rd. Others have used this East-West road as a less-busy alternative to Rt 224. You are on your own from Rochester to The Point in Pittsburgh. See above.