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GAP & C&O Towpath

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DS Douin from Midwest Trails on 1/21/2024 1:36:51 PM:
From reading this forum briefly, it sounds like Rivnuts is the source for trail knowledge. I may have an opportunity to move close to the trails. I have a few general questions from a would be newbie.
1) What is the general trail season duration, Apr to Oct generally? Are services stopped during off season, like trail closed, trailhead access toilets, water and electricity? Also most lodging, stores, and services are closed during this time?
2) What governmental agency is responsible for both GAP & C&O? I realize they travel through several states. So if bad weather blows through and bridges are out or downed trees, trail is washed out how long does it take for the repairs?
3) Are there annual public funded organized group rides on the trail besides the private for profit companies?
4) Has there been a published report recently with data from public surveys that identifies the economic benefit of both trails?
I would appreciate any comments, Thanks

Rivnuts from Homestead, PA on 1/21/2024 7:59:38 PM:
DS Douin:

I’m not “the” source but simply “a” source of information pertaining to the GAP and C&O trails obtained primarily from riding the trails since retiring. There are many others with greater knowledge of the
history and administration of these trails to whom I defer. That said, I will attempt to provide answers your questions as best I can, some of which are merely my personal opinions. Living along the trail outside Pittsburgh, I’m more familiar with the details of the GAP versus the C&O although I’ve done the entire ride several times.

1. The trail season is, as you suggest, generally April through October particularly for day or short overnight trips. In planning for several-day trips, however, late-April through late-October is probably a better season in order to avoid the likelihood of bad weather and trail conditions especially on the GAP where the more northern and higher elevation portions can see freezing temperatures and occasional snow. Also note that the GAP’s Big Savage Tunnel is typically closed from early December to late March and there is no detour.

The unpaved sections of the GAP and C&O trails can become quite soft or muddy with rain at any time. However, the initial 19 miles of the GAP leaving Pittsburgh is paved allowing year round riding except when the trail is snow covered.

Nearly all trailheads and free hiker/bike campgrounds are open year round. Many, if not most, of the water fountains/taps are shut off to avoid freeze damage during the winter and electricity does not exist even during the touring months at these locations. Some of the porta potties are removed during the winter but sufficient toilet facilities generally remain within reasonable distances.

Obviously, the hotels that are on or near the trails are open year round. Pay-to-stay campground and Air BnB availability along the trail can be spotty. The stores and commercial businesses in the cities along the trail are generally open year round although some have reduced hours of operation.

2. The GAP Trail is owned, administered and maintained by a network of trail associations although sections pass through some local and state parks along the route. The C&O Towpath Trail is a national
park administered by the National Park Service. Responses to fallen trees, landslides, washouts and other nominal trail damage are typically cleared/repaired within a day with faster responses closer to towns and trailheads. There are always scheduled maintenance projects that occur but are well publicized with noted delays or detours. While not common, more severe trail damage, closures and extended delays and detours may occur if/when the Potomac River floods along the C&O or if tornadoes pass through the trails.

3. Nearly all the various trail associations along the GAP have annual fundraiser rides, runs and festivals as well as ongoing donation requests. Since the C&O is a national park, there a no such fundraisers per se’. In fact, private businesses along but not on the trail itself are not permitted to advertise on the trail property.

4. While I’m sure there are a number of studies regarding the economic impact of these trails, the one that I’m aware of was one published for the GAP Trail at:

Tourism on GAP Drives $121 Million in Annual Economic Impact, Estimates Fourth Economy - Great
Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org)

If this link does not work simply Google for “GAP Trail economic impact” and that report will be the first site returned.

This has been a long-winded response. There are always some specific exceptions to these general responses I’ve made. If you have other specific questions, feel free to post them or send me an email at

Best wishes and back to the football game.