Most of the time it’s easy to follow the route on these trails – for example, on the C&O Towpath, keep the Potomac River on your left if you’re headed to Cumberland, on your right if you’re headed to Washington. However, one quirk of this route is that it’s a little tricky to find the ends of the trail in Pittsburgh and Washington and to stay on the trail for the first mile or two (or to stay on the trail all the way to the end). Here are some hints.
The Pittsburgh trailhead is at the fountain at the junction of the three rivers in Point State Park .
To find the end of the Great Allegheny Passage in Pittsburgh. At MP (XXX) there is the first traffic light on the trail since Connellsville. There is a hotel on the left, a metal structure and a bridge on the right. Cross straight across the road and then turn right/north. Climb the switchback ramps to cross the Monongahela River. At the end of the bridge turn left/west and continue towards downtown. At the next light, there will be two ramps coming in from the left, a road to the right, and a road straight ahead. Continue straight across and enter the chute to the right of the two roads. Go one block and take a U-Turn to the left down the switchback ramp to the wharf. continue west on the wharf. Near the end of the wharf, the trail will jog right onto a parking lot roadway. Go up the steep narrow ramp at the end of the parking lot. and continue into Point State Park. Keeping the river on the left continues to the point and the brass medallion that marks the end/beginning of the Great Allegheny Passage.
To follow the Great Allegheny Passage out of Pittsburgh, stand at the marker looking east, away from the point. Turn right and head east on the esplanade alongside the Monongahela River. Pass under one interstate and follow a sidewalk between the interstate and the river, head down the steep sidewalk to the Monongahela wharf. The trail is in the parking lot road for about 200 feet, then transitions to the river’s edge. Continue all the way down the wharf and follow the switch back ramp up to Smithfield Street. At the street, do not turn left to cross the bridge, but take a U-Turn to the right. Continue upriver/east on the sidewalk, towards the PNC building. (one that is brick on the first floor and glass above that). Cross the two highway ramps and continue straight alongside the PNC builfing. from here the trail is obvious.
To drive there, go to Pittsburgh downtown and head west, toward Point State Park. Find a place to park. Enter Point Park and head west, crossing under the interstate on the pedestrian bridge. Turn left or right and head toward the river. Follow the river west to the point. There is a brass marker in the sidewalk marking the beginning of the trail.
The Washington trailhead is on the south (downstream) side of Thompson’s Boat House at the mouth of Rock Creek.
To find Thompson Boat Center from the Towpath, follow the towpath along the canal until the brick towpath climbs to a sidewalk. Turn right, follow the sidewalk across two roads to the parking lot for Thompson Boat Center. Follow the driveway across a small bridge to the river front and go left around the boathouse to the mouth of Rock Creek.
To get onto the C&O Canal Towpath from milepost zero behind Thompson Boat Center, go around the boathouse and follow the driveway past the parking lot. Turn left on the sidewalk next to the road. Follow the sidewalk across two roads and a bridge across Rock Creek. Immediately after crossing the creek, turn left down a short hill on the brick towpath.
To drive there, find your way to Thompson Boat Center (directions at http://boatingindc.com/boathouses/thompson-boat-center/). From the parking lot, follow the road to the boathouse, then go around the boathouse to the mouth of Rock Creek.