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  1. #1
    Senior Member jeneralist's Avatar
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    When to try C&O/GAP?

    Two of my goals for this year are to ride the C&O/GAP, and to do an English Century. I've just gotten my list of weekends my boss is asking me to work for the rest of the year, so I'm looking at my calendar and seeing what I can do when.

    My question for the assembled advisors: when to do the C&O/GAP?

    I'm assuming that high summer -- July and August -- is not the best time for riding near DC. Words like "humid" and "muggy" come to mind, trailed closely by "sweltering." Am I correct in that?

    If that's the case, my choices are:
    Sept 4 - Sept 12 -- includes Labor Day weekend; would give me a chance to use the tour as prep for the as-yet-to-be-chosen century

    or,

    Sept 25 - Oct 3. Later in the season, cooler, less crowded; but I'd probably wind up doing the century first, which seems a bit odd.

    So -- how crowded does the trail get during Labor Day weekend? Would I be OK if I planned on camping? Is August actually tolerable (say,14-22)?

    Thanks for your help!
    - Jeneralist

  2. #2
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    Summer in that area is pretty hot and humid, but not unbearable. It's been a while since I've been on the C&O, but it should be mostly shaded. But I suppose it depends on your tolerance.

    September and October are totally variable, and it can get cold at night. If you go real late in the season, you also have shorter days to contend with.

  3. #3
    Neil_B
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    Two of my goals for this year are to ride the C&O/GAP, and to do an English Century. I've just gotten my list of weekends my boss is asking me to work for the rest of the year, so I'm looking at my calendar and seeing what I can do when.

    My question for the assembled advisors: when to do the C&O/GAP?

    I'm assuming that high summer -- July and August -- is not the best time for riding near DC. Words like "humid" and "muggy" come to mind, trailed closely by "sweltering." Am I correct in that?

    If that's the case, my choices are:
    Sept 4 - Sept 12 -- includes Labor Day weekend; would give me a chance to use the tour as prep for the as-yet-to-be-chosen century

    or,

    Sept 25 - Oct 3. Later in the season, cooler, less crowded; but I'd probably wind up doing the century first, which seems a bit odd.

    So -- how crowded does the trail get during Labor Day weekend? Would I be OK if I planned on camping? Is August actually tolerable (say,14-22)?

    Thanks for your help!
    I rode the trail in August 2008, those exact dates. Much of the GAP is tree covered and a lot more elevated than, say, Philadelphia, so it's cooler than you would think. The C & O outside the tourist-section from DC to 20 miles out is almost entirely tree covered. While it was hot, it wasn't miserable like Philly. There often was a breeze from off the rivers too.

    Camping shouldn't be a problem. Plan your sites ahead of time where you can.

    The only places I found crowds on any of my three trips down these trails were Ohiopyle, Cumberland, and the last 14 miles into DC, from Great Falls to Milepost Zero. Cumberland was crowded because it was a city, and the other two because they are tourist areas. Look out for lots of "Sunday cyclists", especially into DC - one woman nearly sent me into the Potomac when she cut me off when passing me.

  4. #4
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    I did 100 miles of it in early November, and got by fine. It was quite pretty with no leaves on the trees. Only ran into 1 or 2 other tourists, and one super sketchy homeless dude. Got a little chilly at night, but I like that.

  5. #5
    Senior Member CGinOhio's Avatar
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    We rode Pit to DC starting on Sept 12 last year. Liked it. Dryer time of year. Starting to cool, but still long days. Not many people except on the weekend near Pit and close to DC. As a bonus, the paw paws were ripe and laying on stretches of the C&O.

  6. #6
    Senior Moment Member jagraham's Avatar
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    What The Historian said...

    It's all good except maybe early spring around Ohiopyle when the deer flies are biting, and the rain in April and remnants of summer hurricanes pushing thru the DC region in August.

    Relish the cool water rushing down the Meadow Run Natural Water Slides in August. Enjoy the feeling of solitude as your wheels crush the dried leaves - the tannic aroma wafting back as you pedal along, tree limbs like dead man's fingers pointing out to the river (late October/early November). Escape to the shaded green tunnel that protects you from the glaring sun in July. Hope for the best weather, but prepare for the worst. I couldn't believe we wore sweatshirts in August one year! I won't even mention the ordeal the guys went through last June when it rained...

    Enjoy your ride... maybe I'll see you out there.


    My favorite time on the canal is late July/early August. I like people-watching, fishing and loafing.

    phasenine23 - was that homeless person camped at a hiker/biker between Leesburg and Point of Rocks? I think you and I were in the area at the same time.

  7. #7
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    Jagraham - I can look up our exact dates for that trip. Basically, we rode from Georgetown out to Harper's Ferry and back. The evening we were heading into Harper's Ferry, we passed a campsite that had a cyclist with a trailer at a campsite. There was an obviously homeless man sitting at a picnic table with his garbage bag of personal items, seemingly brooding at the same site as the tourist. We were pretty bonked, otherwise we would have stopped to say hi to the cyclist. We went on to Harper's Ferry.

    The next day, when we were heading back towards Georgetown, we passed the same site, and there was a very weird pattern in the fall leaves. It looked as someone had dragged 'something' around the site, and then off onto the trail. Myself, with my paranoid rambling, worried about god-knows-what, took a look around, seeing as though there was a fellow tourist there the night before. No signs of foul play, everything seemed all good. Apparently there is a history of homeless types hanging around the C & O? Hence my Counter Attack bear spray

  8. #8
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    The advantage of the summer months is that you're less likely to encounter mud on the C&O towpath. Even when rain comes in the summer, it both drains and evaporates from the towpath much more quickly than when it's cooler.

  9. #9
    -=Barry=- The Human Car's Avatar
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    If you are camping (not B&B) nothing beets the C&O on a long weekend, no reservations, just go. Spread out lots of people over sever hundred miles and it becomes very tolerable if not pleasant to run into other people.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member jeneralist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Human Car View Post
    If you are camping (not B&B) nothing beets the C&O on a long weekend, no reservations, just go. Spread out lots of people over sever hundred miles and it becomes very tolerable if not pleasant to run into other people.
    That's part of what I had been concerned about. I enjoy camping -- as long as there's a nice campground.

    So if I do the tour over Labor Day week, I can use it as training for my century later in September. Woo-hoo! Now to let my boss know about my vacation plans!
    - Jeneralist

  11. #11
    Flying Under the Radar X-LinkedRider's Avatar
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    I traveled the across the C&O in mid May. It was a beautiful ride, but but somewhat soggy due to late rain that year. I could see it being pretty hot due to the humidity in july and august for sure. I would say, your pest bets would be more like may or September, but everybody handles heat differently. I am as Irish/German white as it comes, so the heat is not one of my best friends.
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  12. #12
    Flying Under the Radar X-LinkedRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Human Car View Post
    If you are camping (not B&B) nothing beets the C&O on a long weekend, no reservations, just go. Spread out lots of people over sever hundred miles and it becomes very tolerable if not pleasant to run into other people.
    Also +1 on the camping. But this is true for almost any trail in PA and Ohio.
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  13. #13
    Neil_B
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    That's part of what I had been concerned about. I enjoy camping -- as long as there's a nice campground.
    !
    How do you define "nice"?

    There are campgrounds with running water and flush toilets at Adelaide/Connellsville, Ohiopyle (up a steep, steep hill), Confluence, Rockwood, Cumberland (YMCA), and Brunswick. There are primative campgrounds without running water but a chemical toilet at Dravo, Cedar Creek, Slush Run, and every five or six miles along the C & O.

    Of the camps with running water, I think the Overflow Campground at Confluence, run by the US Army Corp of Engineers, is the nicest. The restrooms were clean, the town is nearby and bike friendly, the train noise was minimal, and the campsites are very pretty. River's Edge in Adelaide is OK, and it has a pool. Both of these were less than ten dollars a night.

    The chemical toilet sites are free, and sometimes you get more than you pay for. Dravo doesn't have showers but it does have running water, and it's a very pretty site. Cedar Creek also looks nice. Slush Run looked like a good location for a murder, so I left after a few minutes. (Also, the name "Round Bottom at Slush Run" has to be the ugliest campground name I've come across.) Judy can fill you in on good sites on the C & O.

  14. #14
    -=Barry=- The Human Car's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by X-LinkedRider View Post
    Also +1 on the camping. But this is true for almost any trail in PA and Ohio.
    Correct me if I am wrong but I thought in PA you had to reserve your camping spot especially on major holidays.

    I will also note that on the C&O camping is allowed anywhere between the canal and river (though using the camp sites is preferred,) which can come in handy as some campgrounds are small and can only handle a couple of groups. I only had to resort to this once but in no way did it detract from the experience.
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  15. #15
    Neil_B
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Human Car View Post
    Correct me if I am wrong but I thought in PA you had to reserve your camping spot especially on major holidays.

    I will also note that on the C&O camping is allowed anywhere between the canal and river (though using the camp sites is preferred,) .
    PA State Parks have a reservation system, and it's a good idea to reserve around a major holiday. But you aren't required to.

    As for camping on the C & O, the National Park Service is pretty clear:

    http://www.nps.gov/CHOH/planyourvisit/camping.htm

    "Camping is allowed only in designated sites."

  16. #16
    Senior Member jeneralist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Historian View Post
    How do you define "nice"?
    Let's start with a "real" campground, ie, not stealth camping. Some sun, some shade. Toilet facilities and water to drink. Showers a plus.
    A concession stand, or places to get food nearby, also a plus.

    A lot of being "nice" is just not being "skeevy" -- would I feel safe spending the night there?
    - Jeneralist

  17. #17
    Neil_B
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    Let's start with a "real" campground, ie, not stealth camping. Some sun, some shade. Toilet facilities and water to drink. Showers a plus.
    A concession stand, or places to get food nearby, also a plus.

    A lot of being "nice" is just not being "skeevy" -- would I feel safe spending the night there?
    OK. Here's what the hiker/biker sites on the C & O and GAP look like. This is Indian Flats, 42 miles from DC, August 2008. The chemical toilet and water pump are up the hill, next to the towpath.



    Here's the tent and bike at the same site. There was a bench and fire ring, but nothing else.



    And another photo, from another site:



    Paw Paw, one mile from the tunnel, and a mile across the river from the WV town.



    Here's Dravo, which I shared with a Boy Scout troop the night I camped there:





    Slush Run. The little camping/hiking shelters reminded me of every bad horror film I've ever seen. I'm sure that table had to have been used in a Black Mass at some point.





    Cumberland YMCA. Not free, but cheap, and you get use of the Y. It's a mile off the trail, over the river in Cumberland. The only drawback is train noise at night.


  18. #18
    Neil_B
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
    Let's start with a "real" campground, ie, not stealth camping. Some sun, some shade. Toilet facilities and water to drink. Showers a plus.
    A concession stand, or places to get food nearby, also a plus.

    A lot of being "nice" is just not being "skeevy" -- would I feel safe spending the night there?
    River's Edge in Adelaide, on the June 2009 Bike Forums tour.



    River's Edge, August 2008:



    Cedar Creek Park, just south of West Newton. This isn't the camping area, but the park is very nice.



    Outflow Campground, Confluence, August 2008



    Trail hostel in Meyersdale, located in the basement of the old high school.


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