The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is a 150-mile trail between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Maryland, where it joins the 184-mile C&O Canal Towpath, extending the off-road experience all the way to Washington, DC.
For years, a nine mile segment between McKeesport and Pittsburgh remained unfinished. Since abandoned rail lines were not available, the “gap in the GAP” could not rely on that type of ready-made corridor, which is used in other sections of the trail. A Keystone Fund grant of $1 million was instrumental in completing the final stretch, which required negotiating with individual landowners.
Most of the trail is built on the abandoned P&LE Railroad and Western Maryland Railways. Not long ago, they were considered useless remnants of a dying past; now, transformed into recreational trails, they are part of an exciting future, carrying more people than they ever did as railroads. The trail passes through spectacular water gaps, historic tunnels, and over breathtaking viaducts, taking full advantage of the railroad engineering to find the easiest grade. The trail is on a right-of-way that is safe, clean, and free from motor traffic.
The character of the trail is as varied as the wide range of settings through which it passes. From the hearts of two great cities to near-wilderness, the GAP offers a unique experience to everyone who uses it. No special equipment or skills are required–all someone needs is a desire to enjoy the outdoors.
From Pittsburgh, the trail climbs steadily through the beautiful river valleys of western Pennsylvania to the tiny Somerset County settlement of Deal. From Deal, it slopes down the mountain to Cumberland and continues through the Potomac River Valley to Washington, DC. The trail has had significant impact on the region, bringing new hope, pride, and opportunity to towns that have struggled since the mines and mills closed decades ago. New businesses are springing up in these trail towns, catering to visitors and residents alike.
The GAP is a segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, one of eight National Scenic Trails in the nation. It is very popular with local users as well as national and international visitors. The GAP attracts over 500,000 users per year who pour millions of dollars into the local economies.
While most of the trail is surfaced with crushed limestone, the final section was paved with asphalt because of the urban setting. It is 15 feet wide to accommodate a variety of users, and also follows sidewalks and roadways to serve as an important non-motorized commuting route.