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The C&O Canal Towpath Trail and Great Allegheny Passage

Paw Paw Tunnel

Barry from Hershey on 10/7/2021 7:02:37 PM:
I know there has been much discussion regarding the Paw Paw tunnel, so please bear with me. We are riding a part of the C&O canal next week and will be approaching the tunnel from the DC side. One of our stops is the Canal Cabins on Wednesday. We're assuming that we have to take the detour and the tunnel is still closed. I thought I heard about an alternative to the "up and over" detour with the 375 ft elevation change. Possibly the Tunnel Hill Road and route 51? Has anyone gone to the tunnel (from the DC side) in the last week or so? Any current, accurate information would be appreciated. Thanks!

Edward from North Carolina on 10/7/2021 8:23:42 PM:
Rick from Florida on 09/21/2021 07:15 AM I just rode the Paw Paw Bypass option (Sulphur Springs Rd, to Oldtown to Malcolm Rd to Tunnel Hill Rd) on Sunday the 19th. This connects with the Tunnel Hill Bypass Trail at the top of Tunnel Hill. You then have to take the Tunnel Hill Bypass Trail down to the C&O path. The option of going on these roads works well going from Cumberland to Little Orleans, however if you are going from Little Orleans to Cumberland you have no option to pushing your bike up the Tunnel Hill Bypass Trail. If you are going this direction you are probably better off staying on the Bypass trail to get back to the C&O. Just an FYI there are a couple if steeper sections on Sulpher Springs Rd and Tunnel Hill Road. They are ridable though. These are also public roads with no shoulder, so beware of traffic, especially on Oldtown Rd. (51).

Art on 10/7/2021 8:27:39 PM:
I will probably come across as a bit of a jerk (story of my life) but if you have the luxury of navigating this trail on a bike I kind of chuckle at the lamentations over taking the detour. My wife and I just walked the 185 miles and every 1/10 of a mile mattered. There were times I would have carried a bike (instead of my 40 lbs pack back) a mile up hill for the convenience of sitting on it for the next 30 miles. Lol…for what it’s worth, we snuck around the tunnel barriers and were damned relieved to be able to do so. Enjoy!

Barry from Hershey on 10/8/2021 9:37:11 AM:
I really enjoy riding the C&O and Gap trail. We normally do a 3-4 day trip in the Spring and then in the Fall. I am 72 years old and have a very rare type of Muscular Dystrophy that is somewhat limiting, but not nearly as disabling as many other folks deal with. So, I use an electric bike and normally ride on pedal assist which allows me to enjoy the outdoors and still ride decent daily miles. My reason for trying to get the latest information on the tunnel, is the conflicting stories-sometimes it's open and sometimes it isn't and all sorts of other scenarios. If we have to take the detour, I'll (we'll) deal with that. I appreciate all the input and should have explained my situation in my earlier post. Enjoy the ride!

Art on 10/8/2021 12:32:44 PM:
Understood! I can tell you that the tunnel is definitely closed and blocked off, so the only alternative are the detours. Good luck and enjoy your trip!

Barry from Hershey on 10/8/2021 4:40:03 PM:
Thanks Art!

Biker Bob on 10/10/2021 8:17:52 PM:
We are planning to hit the trail in the coming week and it looks like there's a good detour bypassing the trail at Little Orleans (from the DC side) and heading up Oldtown Orleans Rd to Malcom Rd then hitting 51 back to the trail. It looks like some nice gravel riding. Anyone done this? Don't feel like being chased by dogs...

Barry from Hershey on 10/16/2021 7:18:23 PM:
Well, we did the Paw Paw Tunnel detour (DC side) on Wednesday and somehow managed to avoid heart failure. It was anything but easy (for me), but I made it. I want to highly recommend the "Canal Cabins in Paw Paw." Really great, clean accommodations. Also had a unique cultural experience at "Big & Tiny's" wings in Paw Paw. Food was terrific. Loved the folks that were there and hope to go back next ride. Paw Paw has a paved bike path to the edge of town and it looks like they are hoping for more business from the C&O riders.

Rivnuts from Homestead, PA on 10/25/2021 8:06:18 PM:
I traversed the Paw Paw Tunnel bypass trail on 10/20. As I recalled from doing so a few years ago when the tunnel itself was closed, it is steep with poor footing even in dry weather particularly the uphill climb going downriver. That said it did not take me as long as I had reported from memory a few years ago. It took me about 20 minutes to push my loaded bike up the hill stopping frequently to take a breather and 10 minutes to ride all but the first, say, 50 steep downhill yards which I also pushed. Given that you would normally walk through the long tunnel itself when the towpath is passable, the net additional time that the detour adds to the trip is rather modest. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That said, less physically able or experienced riders would do well to find a shuttle around the Tunnel or to the top of the fire road at the top of the tunnel bypass. It was reported that a shuttle service to do so was available for $50 which might be well spent money for some casual tourers.

EdAA from Ann Arbor on 10/29/2021 5:32:45 PM:
In case others are looking at this thread to decide how to navigate around this, I'll throw in another data point. As always, your mileage may vary. My wife and I dealt with the bypass on October 17th, on the 5th of our 8 day journey from Pittsburgh to DC. The 17th was sunny, but the trail had a few wet spots from the rain the day before. For calibration, my wife and I are in our 60s, and are in pretty good shape. (My wife had a knee replacement a little over a year ago.) We like to hike as well as bike, so climbing a hill is well within our comfort zone, at least without having to push a bike. Our biking is only on paved and dirt roads - we are not even remotely mountain bikers. It took us about an hour to complete the bypass. We walked the entire way, and weren't in a rush so we'd stop to read historical signs, enjoy views, etc. We changed into walking shoes (sneakers) before starting. I also put the shoulder straps on my panniers and carried them (about 35 pounds) on my back rather than on the bike, since pushing the (top)heavy bike uphill with my arms stretched out enough that my legs didn't bang into the panniers was awkward and tiring. I put my wife's smaller and lighter (10-15 pounds) panniers on my bike, so she only had to push the weight of her bike. With a couple of breaks to enjoy the view we got to the top in about 25 minutes. At the top, I put my panniers back on my bike, and carried my wife's instead, since the panniers don't get in the way much when walking the bike downhill. As mentioned by others, the path downhill (heading towards DC) is a rarely-used dirt road, so if you've got the right bike and practice you probably could ride it (at least after the initial steep part). On my 20-year-old Trek with smooth 35mm tires I didn't think it was worth the risk. All in all, it was much easier than we had feared it might be, given the mixed messages we'd seen online about it. Even the NPS says to allow 1.5 to 2.5 hours to do it, which had us nervous since we feared we'd be more likely to be among the slower people attempting it. One last thing: As we were considering our alternatives, we were put in touch with a man named Dan who runs a B&B in Paw Paw (WV), and who can shuttle riders around the tunnel. The price he quoted us was $30 per person to take you from about 1.5 miles before the tunnel (Sulphur Springs Rd) to the crest of the bypass path at Tunnel Hill Rd, or $60 to take you all the way to Little Orleans. We spoke to him, and he convinced us that we'd be fine on our own ... super nice and helpful guy!