Cycling the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia
- Visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water
- Tour the Antietam National Battlefield Park
- Stroll the historic streets of Harpers Ferry
- Nightly lodging
- Shuttle from Washington, D.C. to the trailhead
- Local guides and historians
|Dates||Jun 1–8, 2014|
This trip has already run.
To search our full lineup by destination, date, activity, or price, please visit our Advanced Search page. Or give us a call at 415-977-5522 to find the trip that's right for you.
One object of my journey is to facilitate as much as in me lay the Inland Navigation of the Potomack - George Washington, 1784
A young George Washington explored and surveyed the upper Potomac Valley. With foresight, he envisioned a canal that would link the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River. Construction of that canal began in 1828. The C&O Canal would only reach halfway to the Ohio River, culminating at Cumberland, Maryland in 1850. It was left to the railroads to carry the traffic the rest of the way to the mighty Ohio River in Pittsburgh. The Potomac Heritage Trail follows that rail bed through the Allegheny Mountains and the towpath of the famous C&O Canal. The 360-mile pathway is an ambitious multi-use trail project that is nearing completion. This outing is intended to be a cultural tour on bicycles. Assisted by local historians and interpreters, this cycling trip will be a passageway into the history, scenery, and culture of Western Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. We will pedal our bicycles past quaint towns, along beautiful rustic rivers, and through the rolling farmland of the countryside. Moderate cycling distances will provide time for the exploration and interpretation of local history, culture, and ecology. We'll enjoy local restaurants and stay nightly in motels and B&Bs.
In 2012, the dream of many Eastern recreation enthusiasts finally became a reality. The Great Allegheny Passage trail project, constructed of many local trail systems, was finally completed. It now runs uninterrupted from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. There, it joins the already complete historic towpath of the C&O Canal to create an ideal 355-mile cycling corridor connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
Day 1: We'll meet at 6:30 a.m. in the long-term parking lot of Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C. We will travel with our bikes aboard a shuttle van for a five-hour transfer to the ride's starting point on the Ohio riverfront in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. The shuttle is not mandatory. Participants may meet the group in Pittsburgh. Following a moment for pictures and historical discussion, we will mount up and ride 15 miles to Boston, PA. After dinner and local live music, we'll spend the evening together at a bed and breakfast that's located a very short distance from the trail.
The outing will start and end in Washington D.C. We shall meet at 6:30 a.m. on day one at the Reagan Airport economy parking lot just outside Washington, D.C. We will load ourselves and our bikes aboard a shuttle van for a ride to the starting point in Pittsburgh. Washington is easily reached by car. It also has multiple airports served by many major airlines. Amtrak also serves Washington. Bicycles can be shipped to a nearby bicycle shop that will reassemble and deliver it to the trailhead for a fee. The Washington area is served by a wonderful far-reaching Metro transit system. Bicycles are permitted on Metro trains and there is a station at the Reagan Airport. Detailed lodging and transportation suggestions are available upon registration.
Accommodations and Food
We will all be sharing accommodations at motels and B&Bs that have been selected for their quality, location, availability, and affordability. The trip fee is based on double occupancy, and singles will have to share rooms. Roster information will be provided to all participants. Breakfasts will be provided some mornings by our lodging hosts. All shuttles, tours, and admissions are included in the trip price. Most lunches and all dinners are not included in the trip price. We will eat lunches along the trail, and eat dinner together as a group each evening.
This outing requires cycling experience. Most experienced cyclists will find this outing to be only moderately difficult. The itinerary contains one unavoidable 60-mile day. All other days will be approximately 45-50 miles. The Alleghany Passage portion of the itinerary is well paved, with a durable crushed limestone surface. The C&O Canal towpath surface is hard-pack dirt and gravel and somewhat rougher. The riding conditions on the C&O canal portion of this outing depend greatly on its recent weather. Large rainfalls can render it somewhat muddy and rutted, and will increase the level of difficulty. We will also ride on some local streets and highways to get to restaurants, lodgings, and interpretive sites. The trail itself is not hilly and the grade does not exceed five percent. However, on the first three days, the trail does climb imperceptibly, gaining over 1,600 feet to the Eastern Continental Divide. After crossing that divide, the remainder of the trip is downhill. We do have one day on our itinerary where we will be riding 22 miles off the designated pathway. That day we will ride on two-lane rural highways, with moderate hills, and a paved shoulder most of the way. This is a self-contained tour. There will be no support vehicle. Participants will only need to carry their clothing and personal items along with them in panniers on their bicycles. We will be staying nightly at pre-arranged motels and B&Bs along our route. We will ride daily, regardless of the weather. However, the leader always considers the health and welfare of the group.
Those who apply for this outing should be mentally and physically prepared for such a journey. They should be self-confident in their cycling abilities and be able to assure themselves and the leader that they are capable. Our outing is early in the summer season, but the leader expects participants to have been riding in preparation for this outing. The leader would be happy to advise participants on suggestions for equipment and fitness preparation. The minimum age for trip acceptance is 18, unless the leader provides approval.
Equipment and Clothing
Participants will need a bicycle and bike packs (panniers) to carry their gear on the Alleghany Passage/C&O Canal Pathway. Bicycles must be mechanically sound and in highly reliable condition with new tires. Participants are encouraged to have their bicycles serviced by a capable mechanic prior to the outing. Road, mountain, or "hybrid/cross" bikes can all be suitable for riding this trail. However, the pathway can be coarse, muddy, or wet in spots, and narrow road tires are prohibited. Rental bikes are available and can be reserved at a moderate price. There are numerous bike shops along our route where parts and experienced mechanics may be available. Detailed bulletins explaining all equipment requirements will be sent upon registration.
The success of the Potomac Heritage Trail is a sturdy testament to the power of regional activism. The Rails-to-Trails movement has been successful in preserving abandoned rail corridors for use as multi-use recreational trails. The effort to improve and expand the trails in the region will be highlighted. Another conservation focus of this outing is the continued need to fund the preservation of historic sites. Due to urban sprawl and lack of funding, many of our cherished places are threatened. We shall also observe a sprawling wind farm and discuss the issues regarding this alternative energy source.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park.