Located between Cumberland, MD and Pittsburgh, PA the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) offers trail goers 150 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails. The gorgeous passageway is the longest rail-trail east of the Mississippi, taking you past great rivers and through plush mountain passes. This trail is rich with history as it traces the paths of the railroads that helped build America.
In the 1870’s, railroads were built to support the booming iron and steel industry. The majority of the GAP is built on the abandoned grades of the Western Maryland Railway and the Pittsburg and Lake Erie Railroads.
Originally, the Western Maryland was a small railroad that ran from Baltimore to Williamsport, MD. Together, the WM and P&LE carried freight traffic from Pittsburgh and the Midwest, which was bound for the east coast.
In the 1980’s the railroads lost connection with each other, and were eventually abandoned. On the GAP you will encounter bridges and tunnels that the railway passed through. You will also see old railroad artifacts such as telegraph poles, mileposts, foundations for signals and abandoned grades that led to long-closed industries.
The route offers splendid views of many types of terrain as it cuts through the rugged mountainous terrain of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Highlands. Along the way you will see crystal clear mountain streams, fabulous white water rapids, a 1000-foot long trestle and numerous tunnels. The trail offers an ideal surface for bikers and dogs as it is packed with smooth crushed limestone. The trail is also mostly level with an average grade of less than 1%.
The trail is popular for many activities year round. Bicycling and hiking are most popular; however parts of the trail are also open to equestrians. Horseback riding is permitted only on the grassy ears between Boston and Connellsville, Rockwood and Garrett and Frostburg and State Line. The trail also welcomes fisherman, birdwatchers, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing. The trail is dog friendly; just make sure to have your furry friend on a leash.
The trail has received extremely high reviews and has proven to be very popular by many outdoor enthusiasts. If you are interested in planning a trip, check out this website for more trail information: http://www.atatrail.org/tmi/about.cfm
The Montour Trail, once the Montour Railroad, is an excellent place to start if you and your four-legged friend are looking to travel the entire 150-mile GAP trail. This trail is a part of the Great Allegheny Passage, meeting up with it at its glorious beginning. Or end, depending on where you start. Being a short line railroad in its glory days has its path taking a different route than the main part of the GAP trail which mostly follows the old Western Maryland Railway and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. Its beautiful terrain is noteworthy all on its own, but one great thing about this trail is that if you and your pooch are flying in to the Pittsburgh International Airport with the intent of hiking or biking the GAP, then you can start as soon as you land. The Airport is right near the beginning of the Montour Trail which practically runs right through it.Over 40 miles of beauty and wonder will greet you as you and your pup start your journey toward your grand adventure. The trail is mostly smooth crushed limestone with a couple of paved areas, which both you and your friend should greatly enjoy. As you travel the first 8 miles out of Coraopolis, you will be following along with the small creek which the Montour Railroad derived its name from; the Montour Run. This area is filled with the lush green scenery that thrives when water is nearby. You can even expect to see a spattering of wildflowers. Continuing on, you’ll come across the Enlow Tunnel, also known as the Jeffreytown Tunnel. This is a U-shaped tunnel that was created in 1926 in order to eliminate a few curves of the original rail path, which would allow a straighter and more time efficient course. Trains no longer pass through, but you and your doggy will get to as you walk the path of history through this tunnel of over 500 feet. South of here you’ll then meet up with the short trail that leads to the Pittsburgh International Airport. The next noteworthy area is the McDonald Trestle which spans for over 900 feet in its magnificence. This viaduct takes the Montour Trail across the Panhandle Trail, which you will see below as you pass over. Wandering through the countryside you will run into a newer branch that breaks away from the main trail, taking you southwest a little over 4 miles. This trail is the Westland Branch and it will take you and rover right alongside an active railroad line. if your pooch is as much of a fan of trains as you are, then you’ll both enjoy this path. Once you’re back on the main path you will travel alongside your trusty companion through more rural landscape and enter another U-shaped tunnel that was built in 1913 as part of an extension. This 235-foot tunnel, originally built with wood, is now all concrete and part of the trail. A short distance later in Peters Township you’ll encounter the first paved section of the trail, known as the Arrowhead Trail. This is a 3.5-mile section that takes you through parks and neighborhoods in this lovely town. 500 trees were planted along the trail to add to the ever present beauty that the area provides. That’s a lot of squirrels to drive your dog nuts. You’ll cross over one more trestle, the Library Viaduct, before you reach the second paved area in Clairton. This two-mile stretch marks the end of the Montour Trail and the beginning of the rest of the Great Allegheny Passage.
The trail from Pittsburgh to McKeesport is approximately 18 miles long. It takes you and your dog past green parks and quiet neighborhoods before it throws you into the heart of the old steel industry. You’ll travel riverside trails and encounter a vast amount of Pittsburgh’s history during this section of the Great Allegheny Passage.The beginning of the GAP starts you off in downtown Pittsburgh. Point State Park is a National Historic Landmark, preserving the history of the French and Indian War. It sits at the point where three rivers meet, known as the “Golden Triangle.” The park offers a variety of activities, such as boating, fishing or hiking. You may also want to check out the Fort Pitt Museum if you are interested in the history of our nation and the role that this area played in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. With a variety of artifacts and interactive exhibits you will learn all about the beginning of Pittsburgh and even earlier. If you are interested in history enough to visit the Fort Pitt Museum, then you simply must go to the Fort Pitt Blockhouse as well. This is the only original structure left of Fort Pitt, which was used during both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. If walls could talk, these long standing mementos of American history would have much to say. Unfortunately, you’ll have to leave your furry friend outside if you want to go inside. Only the two-legged are allowed. The GAP trail and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail become one and the same for a period during the Eliza Furnace section of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Pittsburgh, being at one time a huge producer of steel, has a history involving some of the largest steel mills. You will see informative signs along the Eliza Furnace Trail that will tell you more about it. Be sure to read them aloud, so your pooch doesn’t feel left out. This trail is also known as the Jail Trail, since it takes you past the Allegheny County Jail. You’ll cross over the Monongahela River by using the same Hot Metal Bridge that carried iron by train many years earlier. Continuing on, you and your companion are still traveling both the GAP and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. You’ll pass through South Shore Riverfront Park enjoying the riverfront views as you journey along. Leaving Pittsburgh on the Baldwin Borough section of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail you will be in between the Monongahela River and an active rail corridor, which will lead you to the small suburb of Homestead and off of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. In Homestead you will see more evidence of how prominent the steel industry was in this area. You will see more informative signs along this part of the path. Don’t forget, dogs can’t read so be nice and share. These signs will tell you about the industrial furnaces of the Homestead Steelworks, a few of which are still standing. You will also see a few smaller artifacts of the steel industry. The Waterfront is a noteworthy area of Homestead, being a large outdoor shopping mall filled with things to do, buy and eat. As you continue south and out of Homestead, you will travel alongside the Monongahela River. Following this route will take you past even more remnants of old steel mill sites. In McKeesport the trail breaks off to the west, taking you and your doggy to Clairton and the Montour Trail.
This next section of the GAP, between McKeesport and Connellsville, is comprised of the former Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad. Built in 1883, this railroad carried freight from Connellsville to Pittsburgh. Eventually it merged and became a part of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. This 43-mile stretch of the trail is also called the Yough River Trail, named after the Youghiogheny River that it follows.In McKeesport, the Monongahela River meets up with the Youghiogheny River. From here the trail follows the Youghiogheny River, while the Monongahela disappears from sight. McKeesport is home to the National Tube works, which back in its glory days in the late 1800’s produced metal tubes of all shapes and sizes. If you think of all the many variety of things that require tubes of varying sizes, you might understand why this was the world’s largest pipe producer. They made major advancements in the shape and production of steel pipes.The McKee’s Point Marina is also something to see, with its 200 docks full to capacity it is a booming area in the summertime. As you and your pup venture out of McKeesport you will wander through beautiful green hillsides. In just 4 miles you will reach Boston. The trail will take you through a part of ‘Little Boston.’ Feel free to take a short break from the trail to explore Dead Man’s Hollow. This is a trail that you and your pooch will both have a great time on. The entrance is located right off of the Great Allegheny Passage half a mile downstream from the Boston Bridge. Along this wooded trail you will encounter the ruins of a ceramic tile factory and several benches to rest your weary paws. There’s even the added beauty of a pond. About 14 miles past Boston you will both enter into West Newton. The Trailhead Visitors Center is something you might not want to miss. It’s a replica of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie train station, from 1910. If you want, take some time exploring the history of this town. Check out the historic bridge that leads downtown before you and rover continue your trip down the GAP. You’ll pass several small towns and campgrounds on the last 26 miles of this stretch of the Great Allegheny Passage. Rolling hillsides and beautiful scenery bring you to the final stop at Connellsville.
If you and your four-legged friend are continuing your journey or just starting in this section, there are many great things to see and do in the 28 miles between Connellsville and Confluence. Connellsville was famous for its beehive coke ovens in the early 1900’s, it boasted about being the “coke center of the world.” A few of these ovens, which made this type of fuel, are still around if you can find them in the overgrown vegetation. A public art program was taken on to give you even more to look at along the trail here. There’s one that’s a stained glass arc you and your fur friend will get to pass under.Just south of Connellsville is a short 2-mile trail that shoots out west from the GAP, it’s called the Sheepskin Trail. If you’d like to take this little detour you will have some shade, walk along a stream and even have your choice of benches to sit on. A perfect place for you and your pooch to explore together. This trail ends at the town of Dunbar. After getting back on the trail you will venture south and east along the Youghiogheny River through more beautiful hillsides before entering into Ohiopyle State Park.There’s so much to do and see in Ohiopyle State Park that you could literally spend days just trying to see everything you want to. With over 20,000 acres of breathtaking beauty, this state park is definitely going to be one of the most memorable places that you and your dog will encounter along the Great Allegheny Passage. The Youghiogheny River is rough and wild here, which makes for great white water rafting. Although I wouldn’t recommend doing so with your dog on board. With its 79 miles of trails, gorgeous waterfalls, rock climbing and so much more, it might be a little hard to force yourself to continue on your way. Hopefully your furry friend will be more willing and will help you to find that motivation to keep going. Before you leave Ohiopyle completely, there’s one more thing you might want to see. Between 1936 and 1939, a house was built over a 30-foot waterfall. Designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, this house appears to not be on land at all, but just floating above the waterfall. You can reach this house via a 6.8-mile trail, mostly uphill, out of Ohiopyle. The only thing is, this trail isn’t a very bike friendly trail. Once you have managed to peel yourself away from this absolutely incredible state park, you and your pup will only have a few more miles to go until you reach Confluence and the end of this section.
After catching a break in Confluence you and your companion will journey further down the Great Allegheny Passage for another 28-mile stretch. From Confluence you leave the Youghiogheny River to do its own thing and instead follow the Casselman River in a zig zag northeastern direction. Admiring the natural beauty that a riverside trail has to offer, you’ll never cease to be surrounded by an abundance of nature at its finest.Soon you and your pooch will find yourselves at the Pinkerton Tunnel. This 850-foot-long tunnel used to be closed indefinitely, forcing you to take the 1.5-mile detour around it. Now you can either take the detour or the actual tunnel itself, since it has been reopened. Once you and your furfriend reach Rockwood you are a little over halfway through this portion of the GAP. While you’re here, check out the Rockwood Mill Shoppes and Opera House, it’s a historic building with a lot to offer. You can enjoy a nice meal at the café or catch a show at the Opera House. You may not be wanting to shop much, since you still have a ways to travel along the GAP Trail. But if you’re interested, the Rockwood Mill Shoppes has a store with unique and handmade items. There’s also an antique store and a museum. Or if you’d rather not go anywhere where your friend isn’t allowed then you could always make a note and come back a different time. From Rockwood, you start to journey southeast again, towards Meyersdale. After passing the small town of Garrett and before you reach the end of this trail section in Meyersdale you will cross over the Salisbury Viaduct. Built in 1912, this viaduct was once a bridge that trains would use to carry goods through the area. Now converted to a hiking and biking trail, the Salisbury Viaduct is 100 feet in the air and over 1,900 feet long. Hopefully you don’t have a pup who’s afraid of heights or bridges.
Meyersdale has been celebrating a local tradition by putting on the Pennsylvania Maple Festival for over 60 years. The Meyersdale area was once home to the Monongahela Indians, who would collect the sap from the maple trees and make maple syrup out of it. Keeping up this tradition, Meyersdale became known as the “Maple City.” This is also where you can visit the Western Maryland Railway Station. Once a bustling stop along the railroad, this station has been turned into a visitor’s center with a shop inside where all proceeds go to the local historical society.The trail leading out of Meyersdale will begin the final 32-mile stretch of the GAP for you and your amazing furry friend. The first landmark it will bring you to is the Bollman Bridge. This bridge is an historic iron truss bridge designed by Wendell Bollman. It was built in 1871 and relocated twice before settling in its current location. Half a mile down the trail is the Keystone Viaduct. This is another one of those old rail bridges, turned into trail. The 910 feet across this bridge provides a magnificent array of beautiful landscape. The continuing journey southeast climbs slightly in elevation until you reach the highest point on the Great Allegheny Passage at Mt. Davis. At 2,392 feet, you will cross the Eastern Continental Divide with your doggy and from here the last 20 miles or so of your adventure will be downhill. Just a small jaunt down the trail you will find the Big Savage Tunnel. Keep in mind that from late November to early April the tunnel is closed. But when it’s open, this is a 3,294-foot u-shaped tunnel made of concrete that you will travel through. You’ll be glad you have your dog with you on this one, it can be a bit creepy. Big Savage Tunnel is named after a surveyor, Thomas Savage, who was stranded there in 1736 with the rest of his party. It was a brutal winter and Savage offered for his friends to eat him to avoid starvation themselves. Fortunately, a rescue party showed up before this happened. The Savage River was named after him and later this tunnel followed suit. The view from here is something you won’t forget. Having your best friend at your side and being able to see such a great distance from so high up is truly an amazing experience. A couple miles south of the Big Savage Tunnel you will cross the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland. The Mason-Dixon Line extends over 230 miles and was named so after Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon settled an 80-year long land dispute. Before you and fido reach the city of Frostburg, you’ll go through another tunnel. The Borden Tunnel is a 957-foot-long u-shaped tunnel, surrounded by trees and natural beauty. Take a break in Frostburg and enjoy the amenities before continuing in a northeastern direction along the active Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. You’ll pass through a couple of small scenic towns as you and doggy make your ways along the Great Allegheny Passage until 5 miles from the end you will hit another tunnel. The Brush Tunnel is a 914-foot-long concrete tunnel. About a mile from the Brush Tunnel, just down the trail, is where Bone Cave is located. In 1912, when excavating a railway path, a cave was found partly caved in. Later, the Smithsonian Institute uncovered some interesting bones that are now displayed at the Natural Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. in the Ice Age Mammal exhibit. The bones were of a Pleistocene cave bear and a saber-toothed cat. Now there’s only 4 miles left of your grand adventure down the Great Allegheny Passage. Reaching Cumberland is your final goal. Unless you and your doggy plan on jumping on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath Trail and doing the full through trip all the way to Washington D.C. If this is your goal, then Cumberland is where your next great journey will begin.