Enjoy a 60-mile GAP ride without ever getting into your car. This route is made possible by catching an early morning train from Pittsburgh to Connellsville and then biking back to your starting point. Tack on another 34 miles by biking southeast to Ohiopyle before heading west back to the city.
My wife and I did this trip a couple of years ago while I was working with the Fayette County Cultural Trust on a placemaking initiative in Connellsville. In addition to the work I was doing locally to build upon Connellsville’s trail culture, I wanted to explore what an easy, car-free GAP ride could look like. This is what I came up with. It’s a great ride for anyone who enjoys riding about 30 miles a day.
Trail Overview and Tips
The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) spans 150 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. It’s part of the larger Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (one of just 11 National Scenic Trails in the U.S.!). Both the GAP and the adjoining C&O Canal Towpath are part of the Potomac Heritage Trail, offering 334 miles of dedicated trail connecting Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
While the GAP begins and ends in urban areas, the trail passes through the Allegheny Mountains and rural trailside communities. (For those who are familiar with Trail Towns, this is where the first Trail Town Program® started with the goal of positioning local communities to better benefit from the trail.) Ride the GAP, and you can expect to discover small towns, a largely forested trail, and warm hospitality.
AMTRAK’s Capitol Limited route has three stations along the GAP with walk-on bicycle service: Pittsburgh, Connellsville, and Cumberland. Bike spots can be reserved for an additional $20/bike. Limited spots are available. AMTRAK is notorious for delayed departures, so plan for the possibility of getting a late start on your first day.
About Connellsville: A city of about 7,000 people at Mile 88 of the GAP, Connellsville is central to this itinerary. Evidence of the community’s industrial past (the city supplied much of the coal and coke that once supported Pittsburgh’s steel industrial) remains along the trail and in the community’s impressive architecture. The trail passes through Connellsville’s West Side business district, where trail-serving businesses are readily available. In addition to the trail passing directly through the business district, Connellsville is well positioned as a starting point for GAP trips (assuming you are not doing the entire trail from end-to-end). To me, the AMTRAK station, plentiful lodging, and the city’s proximity to Ohiopyle State Park make Connellsville an obvious starting point. This, plus the city is actively investing in its connection to the GAP. Here’s a recent article.
While some people choose to take the train from Pittsburgh to Connellsville and bike back in a single day, we chose to make a multi-day excursion of it and added a day trip to Ohiopyle.
Day 1 – Pittsburgh – Connellsville (train ride) + a Connellsville – Ohiopyle round trip bike ride, 34 miles
- Biked from our home in Pittsburgh to the AMTRAK station. We left our house around 4:15 a.m. to catch the 5:20 train. Getting checked in (bikes included) went pretty smoothly.
- Breakfast – Valley Dairy in Connellsville (those pancakes were fuel for our upcoming ride!)
- Lunch – Falls City Pub in Ohiopyle
- Ice cream stop – Kickstand Kitchen’s Nightingale ice cream sandwiches in Connellsville
- Dinner – Ruvo’s Italian Restaurant in Connellsville
- Daily highlights – Visiting Ohiopyle Falls, napping along the Youghiogheny River, and the post-ride ice cream sandwich
- Lodging – Comfort Inn Connellsville, right along the trail (there are B&Bs in town as well)
Day 2 – Connellsville – West Newton, 26 miles
- Breakfast – Hotel continental breakfast
- Lunch – Tuna packets and garden tomatoes (there aren’t many places to go on this stretch of trail, plus we were excited to have some fresh tomatoes)
- Ice cream stop – Leona’s ice cream sandwiches at the Ruins Project*
- Dinner – Trailside Pub & Restaurant in West Newton
- Daily highlights – A stop at Colebrook Chocolate Company (in Connellsville, near the GAP), stepping into nineteenth-century coke ovens in Adelaide, visiting the Ruins Project, and craft beer and live music at Bloom Brew in West Newton.
- Lodging – Bright Morning Bed & Breakfast
- Note: as of March 2023, both the Bright Morning and the Trailside were on the market
*The Ruins Project is a gem of a stop along the GAP. It’s usually among my top recommendations to people biking the trail. Book a guided tour so you won’t miss seeing how the walls of a former coal mine have become the substrate of a long-term mosaic art installation.
Day 3 – West Newton – Pittsburgh, 34 miles
- Breakfast – Bright Morning Bed & Breakfast
- Lunch – Packed lunch from the B&B eaten at Dead Man’s Hollow Conservation Area
- Dinner – Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe in Pittsburgh’s South Side
- Daily highlights – Long breaks at Dravo Cemetery and Dead Man’s Hollow, views of Kennywood amusement park, and arriving at the trail’s terminus in Point State Park
- Lodging – Home 😊
What I loved about this trip was we were literally able to bike from our front door in Pittsburgh to the GAP. I still remember the pre-dawn bike ride. Rabbits kept hopping in front of us on the trail (a great way to keep alert at 4:30 in the morning!). Then, as we approached the AMTRAK station, we had the streets of downtown Pittsburgh practically to ourselves. We got to take in views of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny River Valleys from the train. And, of course, there was the three days of riding that followed (and we ended, once again, back home without ever having to use a car).