C&O Canal Tour, Eastbound, 4 days, Deal, PA to Washington, DC, $800
WHAT: EXTENDED WEEKEND MOUNTAIN/HYBRID BIKE TOUR 185 - 217 miles.
WHERE: Cumberland, MD (optionally Deal, PA) to GEORGETOWN (Washington, DC)
WHEN: Not scheduled for 2016. Custom group tour only.
Pickup at 5:15 p.m. at BWI airport, and if demand suggests, somewhere near the trip endpoint near Georgetown for transport to Cumberland, MD over-night. This accommodates travelers from the west, who arrive on Friday. Optional GAP trail ride from Deal, PA to Cumberland early on day 2, then the C&O Canal over the 3-day holiday weekend.. Daily distances of 60-65 miles, with shuttle options to shorten days.
WHO: OPEN TRIP.
TERRAIN: Level (see profile elevation map on tour highlights page). Packed dirt and crushed stone surface. 6-8 feet wide. Mountain, hybrid or cyclocross bicycles required.
RATING: Easy. The terrain is easy, but the distance on rough surface requires a moderate fitness level. You will be traveling slightly downhill, as you quickly descend over 1,700' in the optional first 23 miles, then another 8' at each lock, for about 600' elevation drop over the last 184 miles, shown in the profile map above.
LIMIT: Minimum 8. Limit of 25 cyclists.
This tour combines (optional) highlights of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Rail Trail, with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, to provide a scenic, exhiliarating, adventure-packed three days on the trail. The first day includes chartered transportation from BWI airport or Washington, DC, where the riding will end, to Cumberland, MD, where you can experience Cumberland at night, relax in the jaccuzzi, and prepare for the ride. The second day begins wiht optional riding on highlights of the GAP on a 23 mile downhill return to Cumberland, breakfast, and a gradually descending trip to Washington over three days.
The Great Allegheny Passage combines several Pennsylvania and Maryland rail trails into a spectacularly scenic route free of traffic through the Western Maryland and Pennsylvania mountains between Pittsburgh and Cumberland. With the connection between Frostburg and Cumberland, MD completed in 2006, the GAP extends from the C&O Canal to create a 334 mile trail between Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA, and provides eastbound C&O Canal Tour participants with access to some of the most beautiful scenery of the GAP. The trail features three tunnels, including the 3,294' Big Savage (the second longest in western Maryland), a crossing of the Mason-Dixon Line (MD-PA border), the Eastern Continental Divide, stunning views of the Cumberland Valley from the trail, and the endpoint of the Western Maryland Scenic Railway, within the first 23 miles. Experience these features on the second day, as you enjoy an optional early morning ride down the mountain, through the tunnels, and back to the hotel. Ride along the route of the Western Maryland Scenic Railway to start the day, get breakfast, and set off on the C&O Canal towpath.
Construction began on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal in 1828, the same year as the B&O Railroad was begun. The railroad won the race to the west, beating the canal to the Ohio Valley by 8 years, and today, the towpath gives us a glimpse of life in the slow lane-- the water powered canal. The 184-mile canal cost $22 million, and includes 74 lift locks, and 11 stone aqueducts over Potomac tributaries. The first canal boat to travel end-to-end along the canal did so in 1850, more than 150 years before us. The canal was used commercially until 1924 when floods destroyed it for the second time. The towpath, although no longer used to transport tobacco, furs, iron ore, and other goods, is currently maintained as a National Park with trip highlights including historic Harpers Ferry, Kilian’s Cave (and others), and the Paw Paw tunnel. The ride into Cumberland is spectacular, as the trees open to a wide mountain valley.
Spring rides offer nice views through budding hardwood forests to the Potomac River. Summer offers a shade canopy from typically hot temperatures, and fall trips offer cooler temperatures with stunning views of hardwood forests normally reaching peak color in the second week of October. All year long, there are breathtaking vistas of the Cumberland Valley from the GAP trail, and the raging Great Falls of the Potomac River along the C&O Canal, as well as serene, peaceful moments along quiet stretches of the river.
DAY 1 Chartered Transport from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD
The first day of the tour transports you from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD, where you will arrive in the evening, as this particular running of the tour is optimized for travelers from the western U.S. to arrive to BWI airport and be shuttled to the starting location. On arrival, you can relax in the hotel pool and jacuzzi, while your bikes are prepared for your GAP highlights ride, a 23 mile downhill ride from the Eastern Continental Divide, to Cumberland, MD.
DAY 2 Cumberland, MD to Hancock, MD, 60 miles (up to 83 miles)
Day two will begin with a hot breakfast, and optionally, an early morning ride from Deal, PA over the Eastern Continental Divide, downhill through the Big Savage Tunnel, out into rising sun's first rays over the mountaintop, and across the Mason-Dixon Line, where you will relish the views to the Cumberland Narrows. At the end of the downhill, you will set out for a scenic ride out of Cumberland along the water-filled canal, as you watch for otters, great blue heron, beavers, deer, and other wildlife during the morning hours. You will also want to stop and check out some of the culverts that carry crossing streams underneath the Canal. At Old Town, where Michael Cresap's house lies just off the trail, you'll have a snack "go." By now, you will be settling into the water-powered mode of travel that pre-dated your bicycle, and you'll sense the difference between the railroad over the mountains and the waterway along the river. Soon, you will be at the Paw Paw tunnel, arguably the highlight of the C&O Canal Tour, and day two's lunch. After lunch, continue through the tunnel with your flashlight, and take notice of the rope burns in the original wood railings, from canal boat tow ropes. After the tunnel, the tight mountain will open up to colorful trees in the most remote section of the C&O Canal trail through the Green Ridge State Forest, to another snack "go" at Little Orleans (Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct). Soon after this stop, you will have a choice of continuing the canal towpath surface, and seeing the Round Top Cement Mill ruins from eye level, or switching to the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail for the final 12 miles into Hancock (in that case, only the chimney of the cement mill is easily seen). In Hancock, hot showers, buffet-style dinner, and comfortable hotel beds will be waiting.
DAY 3 Hancock, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV, 64 miles
On Day three, you will again have an opportunity to ride the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail, completing the ten miles to the east end, or staying on the canal surface and seeing the remains of a stone lockhouse and crossing another aqueduct. You can take a left turn off the trail to visit Fort Frederick State Park and tour the historic fort for a few dollars. Big Pool, an area where canal boats wintered, turned around, or waited while other traffic cleared, follows. At Four Locks, you will see the remains of a small town and four closely spaced locks, as you stop for your first rest "go" of the day. Leaving there, you will curve back and forth along the Potomac River, and will pass the remains of Charles Mill, the flatwater area above Dam #5 and more aqueducts, into Williamsport, MD, where Cushwa Basin and one of the C&O Canal visitor centers are found, as well as a rest "go." Here, you'll also find unique bridges, including a rare Bollman bridge, and a railroad lift bridge, as well as restored canal features. In the midst of the Big Slackwater section, you'll ride along spectacular cliffs to Charles McMahon's Mill, and along the new, cliff-hugging section of riverside trail to Dam #4.
Several more historic locks, buildings, aqueducts, and culverts are seen after lunch. Other attractions include a series of caves in the bluffs along the canal. The most interesting cave is Killiansburg Cave, reached on the second afternoon, which was used as shelter during the Civil War. It and another small cave just after it can be explored. If planning to explore the smaller cave, bring clothes you don’t mind getting mud stained, a good, bright working flashlight with new batteries, and be prepared to slither on your stomach for sections. This small cave has some narrow crawlways that open into rooms large enough for a couple people to stand together. The longest cave appears just after lunch, at mile 83.5. You can walk/crawl into this cave for a few hundred feet, if it isn’t too wet.
Antietam National Battlefield is a short ride from the towpath, and is an historically significant Civil War site, highlights of which you can see in an hour and a half side trip. Harpers Ferry serves as the night's oasis, after a full set of experiences on the trail. Harpers Ferry includes the Harpers Ferry National Park, where people dress in period clothing on weekends, and where numerous historical events took place, including John Brown's raid on the Union Armory, which touched off the U.S. Civil War.
DAY 4 Harpers Ferry, WV to Georgetown, Washington, DC, 60.5 miles
On your fourth day, you'll cross the foot bridge across the Potomac River from West Virginia to Maryland, and continue east. Day four's trail passes by 30 locks and lock houses, several aqueducts, including the longest on the trail, Monocacy Aqueduct, with its seven arches, just before lunch at Whites Ferry, where you can take the ferry across the Potomac River and back. After lunch, you will reach Seneca Creek, and the last aqueduct of the trail, then enter a 20 mile re-watered section of the trailinto Great Falls National Park. Enjoy the reflections at Widewater, explore the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center and C&O Canal Museum, and enjoy views of the Falls from the National Park, Washington’s most impressive natural area. After a scenery filled day, the crowds and fitness enthusiast's presence will increase, as you complete your ride into the nation's capital.
COST: $800 per person includes: Map; extensive cue and Canal historical fact booklet; custom luggage tags; tour guides; 3 breakfasts, 4 large picnic style lunches, 2 full (or buffet) dinners; snacks; various drinks; three nights lodging (double occupancy) in hotels in Cumberland, MD, Hancock, MD, and Harpers Ferry, WV; baggage shuttle between hotels; periodic vehicular support along trail; and chartered transportation from Georgetown area to Deal, PA, where the bike riding begins.
NOT INCLUDED: Bike rental (quality hybrid rental bikes are available for $75 per trip); dinner enroute to Cumberland on day one is on your own.
See Frequently Asked Questions at the "FAQs" link, for answers to common questions.
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