Author Topic: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC  (Read 14187 times)

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Offline SarahCyclist

Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« on: March 01, 2012, 03:04:26 pm »
Can anyone recommend a route or information from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC?

This summer I am going Western Express/ TransAm from San Francisco...but in Illinois cutting north to go through Pennsylvania to visit family.  I'd appreciate any information about this modification.

Offline nthabiseng

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2012, 03:16:05 pm »
You can go off road the entire way, from Pittsburgh to Cumberland on the GAP trail, then the C&O Canal towpath to DC.  Check them out!

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2012, 03:19:16 pm »
Great Allegheny Passage and C & O Canal Path trails:

I have not ridden them, though plan on at some point. Sure others here can chime in with first-hand experience.


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Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2012, 04:04:32 pm »
I have ridden most of the GAP and parts of the C&O.

The GAP is the most interesting rail-trail conversion I have experienced. It gains significant elevation--albeit at easy railroad grades--includes several interesting tunnels, and crosses many valleys on high trestle bridges that are quite spectacular. It is almost completely rural, although there are enough small towns to provide food and lodging. The surface is mostly crushed limestone, which was easy going in dry weather. I do not know about wet weather there.

Much of the C&O is also rural, but decidedly urban close to D.C., where you will meet joggers, roller skaters, and baby carriages. The unpaved parts further west might be muddy in spots when wet.

Both routes offer frequent rural roadway alternatives for variety and for services. Both are well documented on the web.


Offline Ed_in_Maine

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2012, 07:45:10 pm »
We did the GAP/C&O summer 2010 and to add to Fred's description. The Gap seems to be a constantly gradual uphill ride then a great descent at the Eastern Continental Divide into Cumberland MD. The C&O had nice areas but was also very beat up, for large sections a full suspension bike would have been best. We used hybrids. I would get current info on C&O before committing if you have a road bike.
Good Luck

Offline BrianW

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2012, 09:46:22 am »
I've written up trip journals for my rides on the GAP and C&O, with planning-type info included and links. See:


Offline jphatcher

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2012, 01:10:25 pm »
We rode from State of WA to DC this past summer.  The last section was from Pitt to DC on the GAP and C&O.  My bike was a Jamis Aurora, loaded with full panniers, about 85#.  Rear was a 35cm, front was a 32cm.  Had no problem at all with the riding on both trails.  There was some uneven and broken surface where work/repair was being done, but overall ok.  As for the elevation, kept looking for it, think it is overrated.  Friend rode his moutain/hybrid with fatter tires and was able to make better time and easier transit on the trails.  My advice, don't go for speed, relax and enjoy the trip, make stops whenever you want.  Did meet a lot of really good people. 

Offline SarahCyclist

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2012, 10:51:55 am »
Thanks, all.

Does anyone have routes for any roads from Cumberland to DC then? I know that rural Maryland has beautiful scenic roads, which I prefer over the jogger/skater -ridden bike paths.


Offline paddleboy17

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2012, 02:29:37 pm »
The GAP is mostly crushed lime stone, you are not going to find any skaters on it. 
My memory is hazy but there may be a paved section along the Western Maryland Railroad.

The C&O is based on a mule path for dragging canal boats.  I don't think you will see many roller bladers on that either.

If you want to come up with a road route, I recommend that you start with Google Maps for any time that you go off the trail.  Their bicycle option is amazing.

Offline cdavey

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2012, 10:58:08 am »
While I understand that you would enjoy Maryland road riding vs. the trails, keep in mind that you are crossing the Appalachin Mountains here. Don't let the fact that they are only 2000' - 4000' high fool you. They aren't hills; they really are mountains. The hillsides are steep, and the roads were built before they had dynamite, so they go over the hills not through them. Grades in the teens are common. Unless you can work out a stream valley route, expect to have to deal with this. If I were considering this, I would want to spend some time studying the topo maps to see what I was getting into so I could plan and train accordingly -- and you will need to train to do the grades especially of you are already loaded touring.

Not to discourage you, but the point of planning is to know what you are dealing with. Of course, if you have a great VO2, and like to climb hills, you're set to go! :-)

Offline Ike

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2012, 04:03:45 pm »
Even though the extreme eastern section of the C&O goes through dense suburban and urban areas, I still enjoyed a "rural" experience almost all of the way to DC. It was only within 10 miles of DC that the C&O became crowded. I rode this section the Sunday before Columbus Day and the weather was nearly perfect. If I had pedaled that section on a weekday morning, I doubt I would've had to share this section of trail with many other people. The C&O is shrouded by forest for most of its length so it was only within 5-10 miles of DC that it really felt urban to me. Plus, like others have said, the GAP and C&O's surfaces are mostly crushed limestone, so you shouldn't encounter many people "jogging/skating" away from towns the larger population centers along the trail like Cumberland, Harpers Ferry, and DC. This also applies to the GAP, especially near Pittsburgh.

In general, I abhor cycling through suburban areas, unless I am confident that the route is safe for bicycles. Too often, when riding towards a suburban or urban area, I've ridden semi-quiet rural roads that quickly became busy 2-4 lane highways with limited or no shoulders. I would highly recommend sticking with the C&O Canal all of the way to DC as it will take you nearly all the way to the National Mall without the stress of cycling on unknown suburban or urban streets.

Cdavey warns about the challenging terrain of Appalachians. He is right. The GAP/C&O almost exclusively follow stream and river valleys. It is the easiest route across the Appalachians that I know of. Tunnels along the way eliminate the need to climb any mountains unless you want to. There are plenty of opportunities to leave the GAP or C&O and explore quiet rural areas if you would like. I really enjoyed cycling up to Mount Davis (PA's high point) and exploring Antietam National Battlefield.

The GAP/C&O is a spectacular ride, even if it isn't the most physically challenging route across the Appalachians. I really would love to ride it again.

Offline irc

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2012, 04:07:08 pm »
I did a pretty similar route to yours in reverse. DC to San Francisco via the Western Express. I went north in Indiana to see relatives. I'd recommend the GAP/C&O. Yes, you'll see more cyclists in that week than the rest of the trip but many sections are still low traffic. Plenty free camping at the trailside.  I found 700x32mm tyres fine everywhere on the trail.

Going through Indiana Ohio the old Lincoln Highway is the way to go. Low traffic  and going through the center of the towns and now bypassed by the dual highways.

Offline kingstumps70

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #12 on: March 20, 2012, 01:56:24 am »
I'll be touring through that route from Buffalo,NY 3rd weekend of April on my first long solo trip.That will be the first part.

Offline cara2u

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2012, 05:09:33 am »
They just opened up a new trail extension from Pittsburgh Airport to the main trail.

Offline cdavey

Re: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC
« Reply #14 on: March 24, 2012, 03:04:37 pm »
A caveat to james2u post.

Yes, they did. It's part of the Montour trail system that runs from Coraopolis to McKeesport in a semicircle west and south of Pittsburgh. McKeesport is on the GAP. So yes, you could fly into Pittsburgh, put your bike together, hop on the trail and head off. There is a fly in this ointment, however. The Montour Trail still has some gaps in it that you have to road ride. It's certainly doable. I just don't want you think that you would be on a trail the entire time to McKeesport because you won't be. The Montour trail maintains a good website you can check:

Also, when I rode it back in 2007, the GAP trail alignment through McKeesport was not the easiest thing to follow. At that time most people started at the trailhead south at Boston. I think this may have changed since then with the opening of an old RR bridge over the Monongehela River. But you could check that also.