Sampling the Great Allegheny Passage

GAP - C&O Route
Route of the Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Towpath multi-purpose trails – click on the map image to open interactive Google map in a new window

Streaking west through Pennsylvania on an I-70 road trip crosses the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile length of rail-trail.  Often called by its acronym, the GAP, starts in Pittsburgh and is built on a smattering of connected, defunct railbeds – many that follow the Youghiogheny River as it winds its way toward Maryland.  The GAP ends at Cumberland Maryland where it meets the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath, 184.5 miles of dirt path following the Potomac River to downtown Washington, DC.

I’ve had my eye on the Great Allegheny Passage for some time as a route for a multi-day bicycle adventure.  Together, the GAP and the C&O Towpath give 335 miles of biking or hiking through mostly rural landscapes with twenty or so small breweries along the way.  Riverscapes, historical sites,  tunnels, and trestles are scattered along the way.  For me, this was a chance to sample and scout a bit of the GAP with an eye toward spending more time in the region in the future.

West Newton
West Newton

My scouting visit to the Great Allegheny Passage was based at the small town of West Newton Pennsylvania where I stayed at a bed and breakfast place located right along the trail.  There is a former train station there that houses a visitor center and a node of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA), the organization that coordinates and promotes the GAP.  Their website is an excellent resource for information about the GAP’s history, route, accommodations, and shuttle services.

West Newton struck me as a sleepy place that had seen better days, but does have some visual interest to the photographer’s eye and there is a small, family-owned brewery to visit.   Bloom Brew is located in an old industrial building on the banks of the Youghiogheny River.  They operate a 2 BBL brewery that yields a surprisingly large number of beers on tap.  When I was there, they were doing a brisk business in growler fills as well as selling a few pints.   Check ahead on opening times and food availability (they collaborate with food trucks at popular times.

Bloom Brew – image by Jeff Bloom

I had time for an afternoon excursion northbound and a morning excursion southbound.  Some of the pathway was paved, some graveled, and some dirt.  A lot passed through parklike, tree-lined stretches with glimpses of the river through the trees while other stretches passed through small, residential patches.  I crossed the river once – at Smithton.  Along the trail there was a marker pointing toward Smithton that said “Jones Brewery”.  That sounded like my kind of place, so I took the detour.  Jones Brewery ended up being the husk of a historic brewery that was once operated by the Grandparents of the actress Shirley Jones who grew up here.  There is a related current day brewery called Stoney’s Brewing Company in nearby Charleroi.  For history buffs, they have a nice rundown on the story of Stoney Jones and the Jones Brewery on their website.

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5 thoughts on “Sampling the Great Allegheny Passage”

  1. Kevin,
    This is your old hiking friend in Santa Fe. I lived in the Pittsburgh area for around 15 years and went back and rode the Pittsburgh to D.C ride in 2008. We took five days staying in B and Bs along the way.

  2. This looks like quite a nice ride. Did you do it this year? With all the other posts, it looks like you managed to put together what amounts to a transcontinental road/cycling/hiking trip.

    1. I missed seeing this comment until now, Franz. With the COVID situation, I’ve been working through a backlog of stories I wanted to write from previous travels but had not yet gotten to. The backlog is still substantial. The New Mexico beer hikes are all pretty much current when written. The GAP story was a stop on a many-weeks roadtrip prior to COVID that took me out to Vermont via a northern route and back home via a central route.

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