Whatever you decide about support during the trip, people must get from home to the start of the trip, and they have to get back home afterward. The main options are: (a) Get friends to take you to the start and pick you up at the end. (b) Drive to the start and retrieve your cars later, either by driving back or by hiring someone to retrieve them. (c) Rent a car/van and drop it at the destination trailhead. (d) Hire someone to drive you to and from the trailheads. (e) Put bikes in boxes and take the train or plane.
Outfitter: The simplest, but perhaps the most expensive, alternative is to hire an outfitter to take you from the destination trailhead back to the beginning trailhead, or even all the way home. If you choose a fully-supported trip set up by an outfitter, you can probably arrange this as part of the trip. In other cases, you can still arrange just the shuttle with an outfitter or transportation service. This shuttle could take you from a nearby town, airport, or train station to and from the trail, or it could take you from the end back to the beginning.
Cars: You can drive to the start of the trip. If riders use their own cars to get to the beginning trailhead, what will happen to those cars? Sometimes you can find a friend to drive riders to and from the trailheads and take the cars back home. If not, you need to find a safe place to park until you retrieve the cars after the trip.
You’ll also have to get home from the destination trailhead. Sometimes friends will pick you up, too. If you parked cars at the beginning, you'll need either a ride back from the end to retrieve the cars or else someone to drive the cars to the end. Outfitters or transportation services may be able to transport you back or move your cars. Carpools can reduce the number of cars required. Another alternative is a one-way car rental.
If you're planning a fully-supported trip using your own support vehicles, you will probably have enough space to take everyone to the start and home from the end.
Long-term parking: You may need to leave a car parked for a few days during your trip. If you stay at a motel or B&B with ample parking the night before you start, the owner might let you leave your vehicle in their lot. In small towns, you can ask at the town hall or police station; they often allow you to park in the town lot. Washington DC, Pittsburgh PA, and other major trailhead towns have commercial parking near the trailheads, but the costs may be high. The National Park Service allows you to leave vehicles at the Great Falls, Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland visitor centers; register the car at the visitor center. You may also park for several days at any NPS parking lot north of Carderock (C&O 10.4) except Swains Lock; call the C&O dispatcher at 301-714-2235 so they know your plans. At McKeesport PA, the 6th St parking garage (fee) is regularly patrolled.
Train: Options for getting to and from the trail by train are limited because Amtrak only allows you take bikes as checked baggage, only on trains with baggage cars, and only to stations with baggage service. On this route, Pittsburgh PA and Washington DC are the only stations with baggage service. You must use their box and slightly dismantle the bike; be sure the train you plan to take has a baggage car. The Pittsburgh Amtrak station is a few blocks from the downtown trailhead, but bus 56C to McKeesport has a stop a few blocks from the Amtrack station. The Washington Amtrak station has good bike access to the trails.
To get from the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh PA to McKeesport, turn left from the Amtrak station onto Liberty Ave. In one block, turn left on Grant St. Go five blocks on Grant St to 5th Ave. From here bus 56C will take you to McKeesport PA. This bus runs about once an hour, and it has racks for two standard upright bikes.
To get from the Washington DC Amtrak station to MP 0 of the C&O Canal Towpath, start at the front of the Amtrak station and go southeast on Louisiana Ave half a mile to the National Mall, which runs west between Constitution and Independence Avenues. Follow the Mall west past the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial to the Potomac River. Do not cross the Potomac, but turn right on the wide sidewalk/bike trail. When you get to Thompson's Boat Center, turn left into the driveway. When you get to the river, turn left again between the boathouse and the river. Continue past the boathouse to Tidelock and MP 0.
If you want to bike between train stations other than Pittsburgh PA and Washington DC, one possibility is to drive to your starting point near one train station and store your bikes and baggage with someone in town, drive to your destination near another train station and park your car, then take the train back to your starting point.
Airplane: Commercial airlines serve only Pittsburgh and Washington.
You can now ride a bike directly to or from Pittsburgh airport; the formal openihg will be in early 2012, but the airport has given permission to use the trail now. See the Montour Trail Airport Connector. Follow the signs to extended parking. This will take you along a long corridor with a moving walkway. Once you exit out the far end, you will see a bike rack, pavement markings and signs. This trail runs through secure areas -- Do NOT leave the trail or stop to take pictures.
If you fly to Washington Reagan National airport, you can pick up the Mt Vernon Trail as it passes through the airport. Follow this trail north a little over 3 miles to Arlington Memorial Bridge. Cross the Potomac River on this bridge and on the other side turn left along the river. Follow the wide sidewalk/trail to Thompson Boat Center and turn left into the driveway. When you get to the river, turn left again between the boathouse and the river. Continue past the boathouse to Tidelock and MP 0.
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