Staycation destination: Pittsburgh to West Newton on the Great Allegheny Passage
A trip on the Great Allegheny Passage is a tour through Pennsylvania history.
From its terminus in downtown Pittsburgh, the biking and walking trail follows rivers and railways through industrial hubs, tiny coal towns and peaceful forests.
The GAP connects Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Md., spanning 148 miles. It was completed in 2013 after more than 35 years of work and attracts about 1 million bikers and hikers every year.
Many of the towns along the trail have welcomed the surge in tourism, with restaurants, lodging and bike shops popping up to support riders.
“We have travelers from 50 states and 30 countries every year,” said Bryan Perry, executive director of the Allegheny Trail Alliance. “We think we have a beautiful, beautiful path, and our goal is to get people on it and get people out into the towns.”
This is part one of the Trib’s two-part guide to the GAP, covering the 34 miles between Pittsburgh and West Newton.
Pittsburgh and Homestead
The trail begins at the famous fountain in Pittsburgh’s Point State Park.
Most of the GAP is off-road, but those starting in Pittsburgh will need to ride on city streets for a few blocks before reaching the trail proper. To avoid dodging traffic, pick up the trail near the Hot Metal Bridge on the South Side.
The trail passes the former Homestead Steel Works Pump House, site of the 1892 Battle of Homestead. Unionized steelworkers clashed with strikebreaking Pinkertons guards. Nine strikers and seven Pinkertons were killed.
Duquesne and McKeesport
The GAP winds around and above busy railroad tracks as it runs through Duquesne. It also passes by Kennywood, giving riders a glimpse of the park’s towering roller coasters.
The 1,000-foot Riverton Bridge once carried trains over the Monongahela River between Duquesne and McKeesport. Now it carries bikers and walkers. Union Railroad decommissioned the bridge in 2008, and the structure was rehabilitated to become part of the GAP.
The McKeesport Loop
The trail splits for about 6 miles between McKeesport and Boston, forming the McKeesport Loop. The official GAP route is a gravel path that follows the west bank of the Youghiogheny River.
Those looking for a bite may prefer the east bank route, which passes numerous eateries, including Puzzlers Restaurant and Lounge, Tillie’s Restaurant and Woody’s Italian Restaurant. If you need a tune-up, you can stop at Zak’s Bicycle Shop and 3014 Walnut St. in McKeesport.
The two paths reunite in Boston.
Rail enthusiasts will want to take a look at the boxcar parked along the trail in Boston Ballfield Park. The 90-year-old relic is believed to be the last surviving car from the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad.
The 46-ton car had been abandoned since the 1970s, left to rust in Perryopolis, until members of the Mon Yough Trail Council brought it to Boston and gave it a fresh coat of paint.
Tired riders can find a room for the night at Trailside Treasures, which also offers ice cream and bike rentals. It’s located near the park.
Onward to West Newton
Southbound riders have 14 miles to travel between Boston and West Newton, a scenic stop on the Youghigheny River that has embraced its role a a trail town destination for bikers, hikers and kayakers.
Part two of this guide, coming Sept. 29, will talk more about West Newton and the route to Ohiopyle State Park.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .