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Great Allegheny Passage


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Trail Description

The Bordon Tunnel

The Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland (AHTM) is a 20.47-mile (33 km) long rail trail from Cumberland to the Mason-Dixon line, where it meets the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Pennsylvania.

The trail parallels the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad which operates tourist trains powered by a steam locomotive.

The trail follows the route of the Connellsville extension of the historic Western Maryland Railroad. The first section from Frostburg to the Mason-Dixon line was completed in September 2004. The second section of the trail, from Woodmont Hollow to Frostburg opened on August 24, 2005. The final section from Woodmont Hollow to Cumberland was opened on December 14, 2006.

This trail is one section of the Great Allegheny Passage From Pittsburgh to Washington, DC

A planned and funded extension to the trail would take it through Indigo Tunnel located ten miles southwest of Hancock, MD, within the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. This abandoned railroad tunnel is one of the largest, still healthy hibernaculum to five species of bats including the Eastern Small-footed Bat listed by the State of Maryland as endangered and the Indiana bat on the federal endangered species list. An environmental impact study is in the works. White nose syndrome has been killing bats in droves in the Northeast but none has been reported in Indigo Tunnel. The University of Maryland Appalachian Lab in Frostburg traps and tracks bats at Indigo Tunnel as part of the environmental study and White Nose Syndrome surveillance. (Sources: Nov. 15, 2008 Baltimore Sun and batworld.org)

Great Allegheny Passage

The Great Allegheny Passage is a rail trail in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is the central part of a several-hundred-mile long network of long-distance hiker-biker trails through the Allegheny region of the Appalachian Mountains, connecting Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and beyond.

The multi-use trail, suitable for biking and walking, occupies abandoned corridors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Western Maryland Railroad. When completed, the Great Allegheny Passage will extend 150 miles (240 km) from Cumberland, Maryland to Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a 52-mile (84 km) branch to the Pittsburgh International Airport.

This trail also connects with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath trail, which runs for an additional 185 miles (298 km) between Cumberland, Maryland and Washington, DC - creating a continuous non-motorized corridor, 318 miles (512 km) long, from McKeesport, near Pittsburgh, to Washington, DC. The Great Allegheny Passage is a segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, one of eight nationally designated scenic trails.

The first section of the Great Allegheny Passage was a 9-mile (14 km) section near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania which opened in 1986.

Landmarks Along the Trail

Allegheny Mountains

As the trail nears completion, the route has become increasingly popular for "through-travelers" including hikers, backpackers and cyclists traversing portions of the route from destination to destination, or the entire trail from end to end. Ample facilities have been provided for such users, including campsites, touring companies, and park facilities. In Maryland this is due to the pre-existing facilities of the National Park Service for the C&O Canal towpath into Washington, D.C.; along the trail itself, facilities are maintained by a variety of local organizations under the Allegheny Trail Alliance (see below), along with the pre-existing facilities in Ohiopyle State Park, already a popular destination for whitewater river-rafting and sightseeing.

The Great Allegheny Passage is the key connecting segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, creating an off-road sight-seeing and backpacking corridor hundreds of miles long. Notable landmarks along the trail include:

  • Fallingwater, a national architectural landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • Carrie Furnace, part of the Steel Valley Heritage Trail, along the Monongahela River.
  • Ohiopyle State Park, bisected by the Youghiogheny, the most popular whitewater destination on the east coast.
  • Salisbury Viaduct, 1,908 ft (0.3 mi/0.6 km) across the Casselman River valley.
  • Meyersdale, Pennsylvania Museum.
  • Bollman Truss Bridge in Meyersdale, one of the two surviving cast-iron truss bridges in North America.
  • Big Savage Tunnel, 3,295 ft (0.6 mi/1 km), lighted, carries the trail through Big Savage Mountain at the Eastern Continental Divide.
  • Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, a working steam railroad operating next to the trail in the college town of Frostburg, Maryland.
  • Canal Place, the head of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Cumberland, Maryland and terminus point where it meets the Western Maryland Railroad and rail-trail. The railroad formerly carried goods the remaining distance from the canal to the Ohio river using what is now the trail.

C&O Canal extension into D.C.

Additional landmarks along the C&O Canal portion, which continues past the GAP Trail into D.C. include:

  • Paw Paw Tunnel, a 3,118 feet (0.6 mi/950 m) long canal tunnel, unlighted.
  • Antietam National Battlefield, located 2 miles from Dam 4.
  • Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a National Historical Park and headquarters of the Appalachian Trail, which crosses over the Potomac gorge on a railroad bridge.
  • Monocacy Aqueduct, an example of early American engineering.
  • Great Falls of the Potomac River, the largest falls of any river on the eastern seaboard, and a destination for professional kayaking and rock-climbing.
  • Mather Gorge and the Potomac palisades, a unique natural habitat of granite cliffs and boulders.
  • Georgetown, Washington, D.C., a historic town and neighborhood at the canal trailhead.
  • The Potomac Heritage Trail continues south on a parallel bike trail past the Lincoln Memorial to Mount Vernon.
Great Allegheny Trail Map

Trail Development

The Allegheny Trail Alliance is a group of seven trail organizations who have joined together to bring this trail to completion. The affiliated trails and the lengths of their trails are:

Trail
Completed Mileage (km)
Mileage Underway (km)
Total Mileage (km)
Three Rivers Heritage Trail 25 (40.2) 12 (19.3) 37 (59.6)
Steel Valley Trail 6 (8.4) 10 (16) 12 (20.4)
Montour Trail 47 (75.6) 6 (9.7) 46 (74.0)
Youghiogheny River Trail, North 43 (68.8) 0 43 (68.8)
Youghiogheny River Trail, South 28 (44.8) 0 28 (44.8)
Allegheny Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania 41 (66.0) 0 41 (66.0)
Allegheny Highlands Trail in Maryland 21 (33.7) 0 21 (33.8)
Great Allegheny Trail total     200.5 (320.8)
At Cumberland the ATA system connects with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath
C&O Canal Towpath 184.5 (295.4) 0 184.5 (295.4)
Total including C & O Canal     385.0 (616.0)

Construction Plans

The 9-mile (14 km) section between Woodcock Hollow and Cumberland opened on December 13, 2006. 130 miles (210 km) of continuous trail are now open from McKeesport, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. Trail work remains near Pittsburgh and McKeesport.

Ground breaking for the conversion of the Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh for pedestrian/bike use occurred on September 15, 2006. As part of the project, a new concrete deck and lighting were installed. A switchback ramp was built on the south side of the bridge to connect to the trails there and a new span was erected over Second Avenue to link the bridge to the Eliza Furnace Trail. The project officially opened on November 28, 2007.

Work also is continuing on sections of the Montour Trail, a 47-mile (75.6 km) trail that when completed will link Coraopolis and Clairton. More than 40 miles (64 km) of the trail are finished. The almost-continuous trail now stretches from Moon near Coraopolis through Imperial, McDonald, Cecil and Peters. A ground-breaking ceremony on that section was held Oct. 22, 2006.

The trail passes through the Big Savage Tunnel in Somerset County, Pennsylvania near the Maryland border. The reopening of the crucial 3/4 mile (1 km) tunnel near the Eastern Continental Divide (highest point on the trail) required several years of planning and restoration. The tunnel is closed from December 1 to April 1 each year with wooden doors to protect the tunnel lining from heavy winter snow and ice.

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