Last Updated on February 5, 2021 by Jeremy
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The Great Allegheny Passage is a rail-trail leading out of Pittsburgh that can only be described as a gem. This 150-mile path connects downtown Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, and links up with the C&O Canal trail which spans all the way to Washington DC.
While we are working our way up to the multi-day bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, we have been exploring the sections of the GAP closest to Pittsburgh in numerous outings. In this one, we wanted to share some of our favorite highlights and what you can expect when getting out on the trail for a ride!
This guide covers the first 40-miles of the Great Allegheny Passage between Pittsburgh and Belle Vernon, PA. As we explore further sections of the trail we will update this guide accordingly.
What You Can See on the GAP Near Pittsburgh
One of the best things about riding the Great Allegheny Passage near Pittsburgh is that there is no shortage of interesting things to see.
The trail itself starts at Point State Park in the heart of the city where you can see the confluence of the three rivers, the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, and more. As you leave, you make your way east along the Monongahela River past downtown. Here you can either cross on the Smithfield Street Bridge and pass through South Side (where you can see Color Park) or continue along the north side of the river and later cross the Hot Metal Bridge (named as such as it was used in the steel industry to carry crucibles of molten iron across the river). You'll have great views with either option, but we prefer the views from South Side.
Passing through the Waterfront you will see some remnants of the steel industry, including the site of the Homestead riots with a historical marker. Further down you'll notice the iconic Carrie Furance across the river, Kennywood theme park (quite literally right next to you), as well as the Edgar Thomson Works (also across the river) which is still producing to this day.
Once you pass the steel mill, the trail starts progressing more into nature. There is a stretch of a few miles where you bike through McKeesport and go around current and former industrial buildings, and then you'll find yourself biking along a decent stretch of the Youghiogheny River into the Laurel Highlands. Here you'll pass through (gradually) rolling hills, small boroughs, see an acid mine drainage waterfall (aptly named the Red Waterfall), and briefly pass through two pretty beautiful parks- Dead Man's Hollow in Boston as well as Cedar Creek Park in Belle Vernon.
Biking on the Great Allegheny Passage
As far as biking in Pittsburgh is concerned, the Great Allegheny Passage is simply one of our favorite trails in the region. This is because the trail is long enough that you can bike whatever distance you want before turning around, has many parking areas for easy accessibility, is relatively well maintained, and as mentioned above, has a ton to see!
While we think the GAP offers an easy ride through Cedar Creek Park in Belle Vernon (roughly 40 miles from Pittsburgh- the furthest we've biked to so far), there are some things you should know about different sections of the trail.
First off, it is worth noting that the GAP is a mix of paved trail and gravel / crushed limestone. The closer you get to downtown Pittsburgh, you'll find long stretches of the trail are paved- but segments in and around Homestead are crushed limestone as well. Once you reach Dead Man's Hollow in Boston, the trail switches from pavement to being almost exclusively gravel and limestone. That being said, during our frequent rides we rarely note any potholes or major concerns beyond the surface changes and frequently see volunteers working on the trail for maintenance.
The next concern worth noting is that the area in and around McKeesport requires biking on city roads. Some stretches are dedicated bike lanes but others are non-divided roads only marked with signs to alert drivers that they're sharing the road with cyclists. This may be a non-issue for most as the roads are relatively light on traffic whenever we pass through them, but we admit signage on where to go is minimal so you'll do well to pay attention. Likewise, a few stretches of the trail around here are quite exposed to the sun.
From here, it is worth noting that while the trail is mostly flat through less than 1% grade, there are several small hills as well as overpasses which require brief uphill climbs followed by a decline shortly thereafter. We noticed more of a grade between Boston and Belle Vernon overall when compared to the stretches closer to Pittsburgh (mostly down if going away from Pittsburgh)- but in the grand scheme of things this was very minimal when compared to other trails nearby.
Beyond biking concerns, riders will also find a water tap near Kennywood in the city, and the boroughs of Boston and West Newton have amenities for bikers very close to the trailheads. If you find yourself on the trail in the afternoon, especially on a weekend, a detour to Bloom Brew in West Newton may be in order for a beer!
Parking for the GAP Trail is plentiful with public lots located in the South Side at S 4th Avenue, below the Birmingham Bridge at S 22nd Street, at the Waterfront in Homestead (near E Waterfront Ave and Amity), by the Rivers of Steel Pump House and Tower on E Waterfront Ave, and more. Note that parking can be limited at times based on how busy the trail is. As you get into the Laurel Highlands, more parking areas can be found intermittently with bigger lots available in Boston and at Cedar Creek Park.
As we are working our way down the GAP, we'll update this article as we explore more. If you are in need of a bike rental to hit the GAP, check out Golden Triangle Bike rentals at 1000 First Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh!
Do you have a favorite section of the GAP to bike? Comment below to share!