Laurel Highlands & Great Allegheny Passage

Last weekend, we explored the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. I had been to Altoona several times. I race the Tour de ‘Toona bicycle state race twice in the mid-1990’s. It was a fantastic event with awesome community support. I had also been to Penn State several times for collegiate bicycle races. However, I had never been south and west of Altoona, with the exception of passing through the Pittsburgh airport on various occasions.

Last Saturday, Debbie ran the Laurel Highlands Ultra, so we got to see a lot of back roads. We explored some cool towns on the drive to Ohiopyle. We got through New York City before the big thunderstorms. We dealt with the ugliness of the New Jersey Turnpike. We made it to Pennsylvania and spent a night in Harrisburg where we got nailed by the crazy thunderstorms that have been wreaking havoc through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. We got up early last Friday and continued on Interstate 76 West. We stopped for lunch in the quaint town of Bedford before continuing on to Mill Run, where we visited Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece.

We ended up in Ohiopyle, where the Laurel Highlands Trail begins its 70.5 mile journey north to Seward. We spent our second night at Ohiopyle State Park. The storms had washed out the road to the park, so we had to take a detour, which took us by Kentuck Knob, another famous Wright design.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit. The grounds looked beautiful. The house was set high on a hill. The park had a steep and rugged access road down to the Youghioheny River. Next to the river is one of the most amazing rail trails around. The Great Allegheny Passage goes from Duquesne, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. From there, you can connect to the C&O Canal Towpath and get all the way to Washington D.C. Both trails are a total of 320 glorious miles. The final connection from Duquesne to Pittsburg is nearly finished.

Debbie had to run the 3/4 of a mile to the start on Saturday, so on Friday evening, she scouted the trail to the rail trail and then the rail trail into the center of Ohiopyle where the Laurel Highlands Trailhead was. I brought my mountain bike, so I got a Friday evening ride on the rail trail headed east. I was surprised to come across a sign asking for me to call out a zip code. There was a volunteer standing there with a clipboard. I stopped to chat and learned that he was doing a research project for one of the conservation oriented non-profits involved with the rail trail. He was impressed that we drove all the way from Connecticut.

We had rain overnight, but it was clear in the morning. Debbie arose at 4:30 A.M. and I saw her off for the 5:30 A.M. start. When our kids got up, I dressed them, fed them, and loaded them back into the van for the short trip to Ohiopyle. The steep and rocky connector trail to the rail trail was unsuitable for our Chariot CX-2 trailer. We had breakfast in the parking lot next to the river and watched the lovely rapids. We loaded up the trailer and this time I rode west for several miles, once again crossing the river on the impressive bridges. Ohiopyle is an adventure town, with rafting, kayaking, hiking, biking, running, fly fishing, and many other outdoor activities going on at once.

After exploring the town a bit on our return leg, we packed up and met up with Debbie as she reached the 28 mile mark of her 77 mile run. We followed her all day and saw her at several aid stations and checkpoints, while driving beautiful state forest roads across the mountains. Several times, we went up and over the 2,700+ foot ridge. We had a blast. I can’t wait for our next chance to visit the Laurel Highlands for some cycling, hiking, and running. Some day, I would love to ride the Great Allegheny Passage the whole way.

2 Responses to “Laurel Highlands & Great Allegheny Passage”

  1. 1 Michael Wildschut 19 June 2011 at 3:48 pm

    How did it work out with your Chariot on the trail? I’m thinking of using my Cougar 1 as a trailer and putting all my camping items in it when I ride from PGH to WAS next year.
    Thanks, Michael

    • 2 SL 21 June 2011 at 9:33 am

      Michael, thanks for the note. The Chariot was fine on the crushed gravel/dirt of the rail trail. There were a few muddy spots. I think you have a good idea with the gear trailer, though my preference would be to load all the gear on my bike (Ride Divide style) so that I could be more flexible, take side trips, and go on some other trails. A Cougar 1 or CX-1 would be much quicker and less bulky/more aero than the CX-2. We have a CX-1 as well, and I miss the days when we could push/pull just one kid. We met a cyclist who was complaining profusely about the rugged singletrack trail from the rail trail up to the Ohiopyle State Park. He was loaded with some gear and it was unrideable. You will be pushing too. I pulled with my MTB, but if I return someday, I would ride a cross bike/commuter/touring bike with 35cm tires, though I only sampled the trail. I would read up on the other 300+ miles. Cheers!

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