The appeal of the GAP - Fall Colors Bike Tour on the GAP - CycleBlaze

October 10, 2021

The appeal of the GAP

The Great Allegheny Passage offers a unique cycling adventure

A typical display of Autumn glory along the GAP
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The Great Allegheny Passage is one of America’s most iconic rail trails. It uses the footprint of railroads that fed the thriving steel valley in the hills surrounding Pittsburgh. Mines in the Allegheny Mountains fed raw materials to the heavy industrial furnaces and forges during America’s industrial age. Time and progress were not kind to the small towns and cities along this railroad corridor. The rattles and clangs of trains rumbling through the mountains became less common in the last half of the 1900s.

Life began to return to the railbed in 1986 with the first section of Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) in Ohiopyle State Park. It would be 27 years before the last segment of the GAP would pass along the steelyards and deliver cyclists, hikers, and adventure seekers to Point State Park in Pittsburgh. The age of steel is alive along the trail. Some steel furnaces remain belching flames and smoke. Other steel mills have been transformed into urban multi-purpose retail and housing destinations.

My bicycle becomes a time machine traveling through the history of the GAP. Tunnels, trestles, train depots, and other industrial artifacts tell the story of the prosperity and progress of the years past. The rivers, babbling brooks, waterfalls, and wildlife of the Allegheny Highlands remind me that nature thrives along the trail. The reinvention of towns into trail towns is uplifting. Tourists seeking outdoor experiences find adventure rooted in the industrial heritage while celebrating the abundance of natural wonder along the trail.  

The impressive Western Maryland Railroad Depot in Cumberland is home to milepost zero. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail heads east to Washington DC snaking along the Potomac River and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The GAP begins with an ascent to the top of Big Savage Mountain immediately immersing you in the Allegheny Highlands for ninety miles. This is my favorite place on the GAP. The solace of cycling through this natural beauty makes the miles pass under my wheels quickly. I often find myself off the bike enjoying my surroundings.

The GAP takes on a different look and feel heading west from Connellsville. High mountains yield way to the foothills of the Alleghenies over the next sixty miles to Pittsburgh. Former steel company towns become more prevalent hugging the river and former railbed. Most are shadows of their glory days of steel. Many have embraced the new wave of adventure tourists. Others struggle to find new identities.

McKeesport is my sign that Pittsburgh lays twenty miles ahead. The solace of nature along the trail is replaced with the vitality of modern-day industry. The Waterfront in Homestead and Pittsburgh’s Southside Works are prize examples of repurposed steel mills into modern destination shopping and dining in vibrant neighborhoods. This diverse landscape adds excitement and anticipation to the arrival to the trail end at milepost 150. The fountain at Point State Park is on the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers. It is a stellar backdrop for a selfie commemorating 15o miles of cycling.

I hope that these paragraphs capture the things that bring me back to the GAP. I am an avid trail cyclist and bicycle tourist. Every trail has its personality. I enjoy the GAP's mix of nature, history, industry, revitalized small towns, and vibrant urban neighborhoods. These define the personality of the GAP

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