We designed this planning guide for people who want to bike the entire distance between Pittsburgh and Washington. Naturally, you don’t have to ride it all at once – you can pick a shorter trip of any length you like. We offer some suggestions on shorter trips.
Begin by making the Four Big Decisions that set the overall character of the trip.
At the low end of the luxury spectrum, this is one of the finest bicycle camping trips in the east, and you can camp almost every night. At the high end of the spectrum, you can spend almost every night in a classy hotel or B&B. In between, you can use modestly priced hostels, motels or B&Bs.
You can make this trip completely self-contained, carrying your clothes and, if you’re camping, your cooking and sleeping gear. Alternatively, you can make it lightly supported, with a single vehicle to carry baggage from one night’s lodging to the next. In these cases, you’ll choose lodging within easy biking distance of the trail. Finally you can arrange, possibly through an outfitter, for a fully-supported trip with someone else responsible for making all the arrangements, driving your whole group back and forth between the trail and your lodging, and perhaps even sending a guide with you on the trail.
As a practical matter, there are some stretches of 30 miles that don’t have indoor lodging near the trail, so you’ll have at least a few 30-mile days if you want to sleep under a roof without the complication of a fully-supported trip. Average distances of 40-45 miles per day give a nice trip of one week plus a weekend. Some people find 60 miles per day a congenial distance. There’s a lot to see, and you won’t ride as fast on these trails as on pavement; don’t plan to ride too far each day. The distance table will help you plan.
Either way works fine. The trails on the west side of Savage Mountain have smooth packed limestone surfaces and a steady gradient, downhill as you ride westbound. The towpath east of Cumberland is somewhat rougher, and it’s level except for 8’ rises (headed westbound) at the locks. Some folks (we’re among them) prefer the terrain going westward from DC to Pittsburgh; other folks prefer to ride eastward. Another factor that may influence your decision is the problem of getting people and equipment to and from your starting and ending trailheads.
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