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Tips for GAP/C&O Tour

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Tips for GAP/C&O Tour

Old 04-02-18, 07:36 PM
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markjenn
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Tips for GAP/C&O Tour

Hi, I'm planning a tour in Sept 2018 from Pittsburgh to DC via the GAP and C&O trails.

There will be three in the group, hoteling, riding CX bikes or hybrids with wide tires, but not MTB's. Planning on a six-day trip, so about 55-60 miles per day. We'll all be flying into Pittsburgh the day before to meet our bikes. My two friends will fly out of DC at the end, but I'll probably extend my tour out to Annapolis, then up to Carlisle PA to visit with family.

I'd appreciate any tips, suggestions, etc. Specifically, we need to ID Pittsburgh and DC bike shops to receive and ship our bikes. (We've contacted Golden Triangle Bike Rentals on 1st in Pittsburgh and they seem nice enough.) Also any must see's, hotels, restaurants?

I'm getting the impression that the GAP is in pretty good shape most of the year and you can make good time, but that the C&O can be very rutted and muddy. I'm on a CX bike with 35mm knobby tires and my friends will be on hybrids with 40mm tires, so we can handle a little muck, but I'm going to work up some alternative pavement routes if we catch bad weather.

Thanks for any help or suggestions,

- Mark
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Old 04-02-18, 07:47 PM
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Did that tour in June 2017. Have fun don’t do too many miles in a day like I did (96) you’re mileage plan looks good IMHO. I stay a few nights in Uniontown Pa then rode northward to Pittsburgh. Drove back to Uniontown then proceeded southward to Cumberland. Had a support chase vehicle. The scenery in Pa especially the rivers are great. The history along the C&O following the Potomac river is awesome as well as the scenery. I’m doing the GAP C&O or The Katy this June I haven’t decide which one. You won’t be disappointed and you’re choice of 35mm - 40mm tires is perfect.
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Old 04-02-18, 07:53 PM
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Note: Uniontown is not directly on the GAP it was about 10 miles outside of Connellsville where I started on the GAP trail. Uniontown had more motel/hotel options.
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Old 04-02-18, 08:00 PM
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Never did, but talked to a few groups that did. GAP is great. C&O was really hard and rough on a group who had switched to MTBs at the CO, they were an over 50yo group. Another group of younger cyclists said they went through about 10 miles of shin deep mud on the C&O.

So, good luck and godspeed to y'all.
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Old 04-02-18, 08:15 PM
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Are you flying with your bike or shipping ahead? If flying with you can ride right from the airport down the bike trail.

You would then have three options to get to the GAP. You could take the Montour Trail all the way to the GAP, go through the city or do a combination of the trail and the city. The combo plan would mean a ride on our light rail so you won't wan to have a trailer. But with rentals I guess you are going to want to go to the city but you could still ride the Montour if you really wanted to.

The Montour is every bit as beautiful as the GAP (minus maybe Ohiopyle) IMHO.

You probably should take a day to see the city. There is a lot to see including our bicycle museum which is supposed to be the largest in the world. It is well worth seeing.

If I am around and not working, I could pick you guys up at the airport, give you a tour of the city, get you on your way. Just PM me.

If you give me an idea of what area you want to stay first night, I can suggest hotels. I am assuming you will want to stay in the city and skip the Montour since you are renting bikes but still let me know what you decide. There are a couple of places right on the trail and not too far from the bike rental.


If you want to see the city, I would suggest the Yough Shore Inn, in Boston. It is only 20 miles from the city so you could make it in plenty of time after seeing the city all day. The place has to be seen to be believed. Lin is a wonderful person and she is just as much a hoot as her place. She has each room decorated in a theme complete with large murals on the wall. There is a great Italian restaurant just across the river.


Rockwood is a good place to stay. They have a hostel with private rooms if you want. There is a guest house in Harpers Ferry. Don't stay at the motel unless you want a steep climb. There is also a hostel on the same side of the river as the trail.

You should have fenders for the C&O. If you don't you will regret it. At least fashion some from milk bottles if the rentals don't have them.

The pawpaw might still be closed so just be prepared for a climb.

Last edited by spinnaker; 04-02-18 at 08:18 PM.
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Old 04-02-18, 09:07 PM
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Thanks for everyone's input. I really appreciate it.

Just to define our trip a little better, we're having our bikes shipped to Pittsburgh and two of the three of us will ship bikes out of DC. Probably use Bikeflights. We have the plane tickets and are locked into a six-day riding schedule, arriving the day before we leave Pittsburgh and for two of us, departing DC the day after we arrive there. Family, jobs, etc. constrain things.

The more I hear of the C&O, the less I'm enamored with it. I'll navigate around puddles and the occasional mud hole, but I'm not going to MTB/portage for sixty miles in a day. If anyone has any guidance on the good/bad sections of the C&O, let me know. Thanks,

- Mark
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Old 04-02-18, 09:16 PM
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Originally Posted by markjenn View Post
Thanks for everyone's input. I really appreciate it.

Just to define our trip a little better, we're having our bikes shipped to Pittsburgh and two of the three of us will ship bikes out of DC. Probably use Bikeflights. We have the plane tickets and are locked into a six-day riding schedule, arriving the day before we leave Pittsburgh and for two of us, departing DC the day after we arrive there. Family, jobs, etc. constrain things.

The more I hear of the C&O, the less I'm enamored with it. I'll navigate around puddles and the occasional mud hole, but I'm not going to MTB/portage for sixty miles in a day. If anyone has any guidance on the good/bad sections of the C&O, let me know. Thanks,

- Mark
Leaving Cumberland was a little muddy but not bad but I was in good weather. The C&O is basically a dirt/gravel road that park service vehichles travel making repairs etc. I lucked out with weather but I can see the trail being a next to impossible ride with heavy rain. The GAP being crushed limestone was good even in the wet areas.
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Old 04-03-18, 08:52 AM
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The Western, MD rail trail will get you around at least some of the C&O. It is paved asphalt.

You can also cross at Whites Ferry onto a paved trail but you will miss Great Falls (as far as I know). Great Falls is worth seeing.

If you get behind or just had enough of the C&O you could always take the Capital Limited from Cumberland or Harpers Ferry assuming there are bike slots available.
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Old 04-03-18, 09:17 AM
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During and after heavy rainstorms, the bad section of the towpath is Mile 0 to Mile 184.5. Otherwise, I prefer the C&O to the GAP. Overall, more interesting and varied. The GAP has nice areas, but tends to get a bit tedious.
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Old 04-03-18, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
During and after heavy rainstorms, the bad section of the towpath is Mile 0 to Mile 184.5. Otherwise, I prefer the C&O to the GAP. Overall, more interesting and varied. The GAP has nice areas, but tends to get a bit tedious.

Wow I think that exact opposite. With few exceptions, I found the C&O very tedious. Great Falls is excellent, Pawpaw is nice but now closed. Harpers Ferry is kind of nice. Can't think of much else. The occasional lock houses are interesting.
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Old 04-03-18, 10:21 AM
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The C&O is apparently a real crapshoot depending on the weather. I did it in September several years back....it had been a dry-ish summer and the trail was so dry it was almost pavement-like. I am then amazed to hear reports of shin deep mud.

There is a decent motel in Hancock MD within walking distance of the center of town where there are restaurants and a bike shop (assuming everything is still open).

The PawPaw tunnel was very cool, literally and figuratively. If history interests you, Fort Frederick and Harper's Ferry are right on the trail. Harper's Ferry requires carrying bikes up a spiral staircase to access the bridge across the Potomac. Not a big deal really. The town is great with multiple dining/lodging options, including a B&B located in a house used by the legendary Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson as his HQ.

Enjoy your trip!

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Old 04-03-18, 11:03 AM
  #12  
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I rode both in wet weather and I had a great time. I had fenders on my bike that helped.

You said your friends are ending in DC but you are continuing on. When I did GAP/C&O, we stayed at the HI Hostel in DC for 2 or 3 days while we did sightseeing. That was in 2013. If nothing has changed since then, I would recommend the HI as an affordable place to stay, they had a little shed out back inside a locked area where I could lock up my bike. They fill, so if you want to go that option, make reservations. They had a special, buy a membership and it came with a second-night-free coupon which made the stay even cheaper but I have no clue if they still offer that.

I have no clue where any good bike shops are. We did Amtrak instead of bikeflights.
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Old 04-03-18, 11:21 AM
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Surface conditions and tires

I've ridden the entire GAP/C&O six times, camping, solo, self supported, on a 1970s sports touring steel frame with tires ranging from 32 to 38, file tread, and never knobbies. Two trips included massive mud and puddles on the C&O following heavy rainfalls and I was just fine. No heavy artillery bike or tires needed. I vote for the C&O as more interesting and fun than the GAP. Plus the C&O has all the trailside camping sites and well water pumps. Loads of fun.
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Old 04-03-18, 11:22 AM
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There is an REI at the waterfront southside. There are hotels pretty much in the same block. But as I recall that REI required that you ship from another REI to them and they need to packup the bike so you might want to check it out. There is a bikeshop nearby. Don't recall the name. If you are interested, I can look it up.
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Old 04-03-18, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by motorapido View Post
I've ridden the entire GAP/C&O six times, camping, solo, self supported, on a 1970s sports touring steel frame with tires ranging from 32 to 38, file tread, and never knobbies. Two trips included massive mud and puddles on the C&O following heavy rainfalls and I was just fine. No heavy artillery bike or tires needed. I vote for the C&O as more interesting and fun than the GAP. Plus the C&O has all the trailside camping sites and well water pumps. Loads of fun.

I did like the aerial view of the C&O when I was carried off by the mosquitoes.
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Old 04-04-18, 04:56 AM
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I've done the GAP and C&O on different tours (we live between Baltimore and DC). The GAP surface is much better, much higher speed. Pittsburgh to Confluence is a long day (almost 90 miles) but an easy one - snack and lunch stops close to the trail. You can break that up into 2 shorter days but it is very doable. Check conditions - the Connelsville area floods a lot.

We've stayed at the Parker House in Confluence, highly recommend it. Confluence to Cumberland is an easy 62 miles, with the last 25 or so all downhill. The bike shop in Cumberland right at the end of the trail is very helpful and friendly - Cumberland Trail Connection

Cumberland to Hancock, Hancock to Harpers Ferry, HF to DC is how we did the C&O, staying in B&Bs and motels. Mud can be bad, not really any way around that. The bikes/tires you are talking about will be fine.

The WMRR trail is a good way to parallel the C&O towpath for about 20 miles on a fine paved and very scenic surface - you will see it appear on your left when you near Pearre. There is construction on the Western end but I don't think any new mileage will appear before your trip. Takes you right into Hancock.

To get into Harper's Ferry you have to schlep your bikes up a steel spiral staircase. You could keep going a few miles and stay in Hancock - there are a few dingy motels, good eating choices there.

When you near Fletchers Boathouse, a few miles before the end of the C&O, you will see the paved Capital Crescent trail on your right after you go under the railroad bridge. You can stay on the C&O to reach the official end, or take the Capital Crescent to the unofficial end, where there is a Bicycle Pro bike shop - I've never stopped in but ride by them all the time.

As you get closer, feel free to Direct Message me - we will be doing section rides on the GAP in early August.
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Old 04-04-18, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel View Post
Iím doing the GAP C&O or The Katy this June I havenít decide which one.
I'm doing the Missouri Katy Trail ride in June. It will be my 8th year.

https://mostateparks.com/2018ktride
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Old 04-04-18, 05:15 PM
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Originally Posted by JerrySTL View Post
I'm doing the Missouri Katy Trail ride in June. It will be my 8th year.

https://mostateparks.com/2018ktride
Cool. I still havenít made a decision last June I started in Clinton ended in St Charles. Katy is closer to me than the GAP so that might be a factor. I was thinking of starting in St Charles traveling west this time. What is youíre favorite direction on the Katy?
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Old 04-04-18, 09:01 PM
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Katy is also on my list after we do the GAP/C&O this fall. Thanks for all the great advice everyone (especially jpescatore).....very helpful.

- Mark
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Old 04-05-18, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel View Post
Cool. I still havenít made a decision last June I started in Clinton ended in St Charles. Katy is closer to me than the GAP so that might be a factor. I was thinking of starting in St Charles traveling west this time. What is youíre favorite direction on the Katy?
That's the direction we'll be riding this year.

West to east is easier as it's slightly more downhill (especially the drop into Booneville) plus a better chance for a tail wind.

East to west has one advantage with the sun being to your back if you start early in the morning.

Since you've already rode in one direction, riding the other way may allow you to see different things.
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Old 04-05-18, 08:57 PM
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I did mostly the whole trip the other way last May solo. Like others stated.. The C&O is not as smooth and consistent as the GAP but it was a total non issue. I stayed on the C&O proper the whole time and did not take the various parallel paved MUPs that are in some areas because that is the experience I wanted. Parts of my routine exercise routes I ride regularly are gravel, dirt and trail so maybe I have a different perspective of good and bad surfaces. I have 40 file treads. I assume if you have a CX bike with 35 and some tread, you to will right at home and it will be a non issue. I actually had a slower pace on the GAP side even though in theory it is smoother and "downhill" from the divide going north. Combination of fatigue and head wind but I did notice I was leaving a clear defined sink path behind me on the sheltered moist parts of the GAP so there were relatively slower soft sections. For better or worse, I thought the GAP was a bit monotonous compared to the C&O. I can't comment on the bike transport, I have relatives on both sides and integrate my trip with their visits.

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Old 04-06-18, 12:00 AM
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I did the GAP/C&O last summer - late July, early August. It was pretty wet, which apparently was unusual for that time of year. If you have hybrid/CX bike with tires as wide as you mentioned you'll be fine. I strongly recommend fenders. With them (if it's really wet) you'll only get covered with mud from the knees down. Without you'll only be covered with mud from the shoulders down. Maybe it'll be drier when you ride. It was pointed out to me, and I concur - on almost all of the C&O the base is hard packed and solid. The mud is frequently only an inch of two thick. I had a loaded touring bike and it was recommended to me to just ride through the puddles, not try to go around them. That is what I did and most the time that was the best option. There were exceptions, though. You'll figure it out as you ride it. I didn't get muddy, but I was riding slowly and only 25 - 30 miles per day (doing a lot of sightseeing). You can, and many do, ride much farther and faster than I - on your bikes you'll be able to. On most of the trail the mud and surface won't be too bad unless it's rained recently. Just plan on riding through the mud and puddles and get really dirty and have fun. If the PawPaw tunnel is still closed, the trail over the top isn't too bad. I think it's about 1 1/2 miles long. Took me 1 1/2 hours to walk it pushing my loaded tourer. The west (uphill) side is really rocky and steep, but with your bikes you may be able to ride portions or most of the top and down the east side.
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Old 04-06-18, 12:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel View Post
Cool. I still havenít made a decision last June I started in Clinton ended in St Charles. Katy is closer to me than the GAP so that might be a factor. I was thinking of starting in St Charles traveling west this time. What is youíre favorite direction on the Katy?
First two times I rode the Katy end to end was westbound. Last summer I did it eastbound for the first time. I don't know if I have a favorite direction. The first time I rode it I don't remember what the wind did. Last summer I did have more tail wind than head wind. The second time I rode it westbound I had two days with headwinds and two with tailwinds. Keep in mind that while the basic direction of the Katy is east-west, it actually wanders around quite a bit. From Rocheport to Jefferson City it's more north-south. I had a great tailwind on that stretch once westbound, and last summer some bad headwind eastbound. Also much of the Katy is in trees, which helps.

Westbound you have all those miles and days along the river, then the hills between Boonville and Sedalia (that first uphill out of Boonville goes on for miles). And just because it's a former railroad line, don't let that fool you. Beyond Sedalia it gets a bit flatter and more open, but still enjoyable.

Eastbound is the opposite - somewhat open plains, then the hills (not quite as bad eastbound as westbound), then all the flat along the river.

Be aware that some of the restaurants along the middle of the trail are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
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Old 04-06-18, 12:36 AM
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Originally Posted by markjenn View Post
Katy is also on my list after we do the GAP/C&O this fall. Thanks for all the great advice everyone (especially jpescatore).....very helpful.

- Mark
Last summer I did all three of these trails: Katy, GAP and C&O. I found each one distinctly different from each other; each one was noticeably better than the other two in one area and noticeably poorer than the other two in another area. (These are my opinions - no guarantee anyone else will agree with me.) The Katy had the best trail surface. I live near it and ride portions of it frequently, but I was tremendously impressed with the quality of the whole surface from end to end. Even on the day with constant thunderstorms and pouring rain it was still hard packed and solid. The Gap's surface seemed to me to be for the most part about 80-95% as good as the Katy. And then there was the C&O . . . If you've read through this whole post this far you know about it.

In terms of scenery, the GAP is the winner, with C&O second and Katy third, but all three are nice and each is different from the other. Each one is (mostly) along a river - but the Katy is along a large, relatively flat (compared to the Potomac and Yough????ghenny) mid-western river in a two mile wide valley. (The Katy also has lengthy section up away from the river on the west end.) The GAP is in the mountains, the Potomac valley is somewhere between the two.

In terms of history the C&O is the winner - what with the canal itself, along with the Revolutionary and Civil War histories. The Katy has signs and maps along the way marking out locations and events from the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Gap has some history, particularly in terms of the steel and coal mining industries.

Lastly, the GAP and C&O have the advantage of starting and ending right in major cities. The Katy (east end) starts near St. Charles - a ways out from St. Louis, and the west end (if you take the new Rock Island spur) ends a ways outside of Kansas City. If you know the routes you can get into St. Louis from the Katy (best bet is to ask here on Bike Forums for someone from St. Louis to spell out the routes for you) and Kansas City is working on connecting the Rock Island/Katy into KC, but that's going to take a few more years. For now you can pick out routes on Google Earth or a mapping program.
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Old 04-06-18, 08:05 AM
  #25  
alan s 
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One of the most appealing aspects of the C&O over most other bike trails, is the unpredictability of the riding surface. While it is mostly flat, there are the locks, up or down, depending which way you are riding, and it follows a winding river, rather than a straight, even grade rail line, so you never know what you will face. Much more in tune with nature, which is what I seek on a bike trip. Mud, roots, overgrown grass, tree canopy and all sorts of wildlife will be encountered along the way, making each trip, and each day, different. No long, straight stretches, which can be a bit tedious. You can head off the towpath into civilization when needed, but the hours on the towpath in the "wild" is what makes it enjoyable.
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