The 335 miles Great Allegheny Passage is ideally suited to bicycle touring (or hiking) with campgrounds spaced along the route between Pittsburgh and Washington. Although there are cabins plus bed & breakfasts along the route the inexpensive option is to camp.
Different camping situations:
- Taking an organized bike tour, typically for a week, where your luggage to hauled to the next destination. There normally are restrictions on the amount and weight of your luggage. There are several of these type of trips offered each year on the Great Allegheny Passage
- A self-supported bicycle touring trip carrying your own camping on your bicycle or in your cycle panniers which is very common along this route
- Staying at a base camp with daily cycling trips. A bivy tent is not as essential in this situation
Whatever style of trip you may require a bivy (short for bivouac), which is a solo shelter, a piece of ultra light camping gear that also packs very compact and is very essential for bicycle touring.
While it is recommended you use hybrid bikes we did just fine on road bikes and I noticed others on loaded touring bikes. There seemed to be bike stores (with rentals and repairs) in every town we rode through. Also there were plenty of stores and restaurants along the way so meal planning was quite easy.
Great Allegheny Passage Campgrounds
The trail organization provides a list of camping locations for your journey which I found useful in planning our trip. You will notice that some are free and others are commercial with varied facilities.
For example we stayed in Ohiopyle State Park which has a well signed gravel path from the bike route right to the walk-in campsites in the campground. The park staff recommend and I can confirm you will need to walk up this path as it is a little rough. Beyond the walk-in sites were the regular sites, cabins and washrooms with hot showers. Campsites were spacious under the tree canopy this made a great spot to stop.
If you do not have reservations you will need to ride further up the hill to the campground office for a permit. Nearby you can also purchase firewood. Each site comes with a firepit with a grill that you can rise or lower so we cooked our meals over the fire instead of using a stove. During our weekday visit there were plenty of available sites but the cabins were sold out.
It seemed that every almost every campsite had either bicycle or kayaks in this park. We only cycled on weekdays but we observed plenty of people with loaded panniers cycle touring, while most seemed to be riding sections for the day.
Types of Bivy Shelters
Even though there is a low grade of ascent on this railtrail you still want to pack light so consider.
The Bivy sack was originally designed as an emergency shelter for climbers but now is used by cyclists and back country hikers. The top is a waterproof and breathable lightweight fabric such as Gore-Tex with the waterproof bottom layer similar to most tents. The bivy sack usually weights about two pounds or less. This option requires a certain type of people who is happy with the very basics.
A camping hammock could also work very well on this highly forested route.
The bivy tent is a low rise shelter which may weight four pounds (or sometimes more) and provide room to sit up, change your clothes and basically have some breathing space. Depending on the model you will be able to bring some of your gear into the tent with you. There are models designed especially for cyclists who are bicycle touring as length of tent poles is an issue not faced by back packers to the same extent.
A bivy tent also provides more protection when it rains and it will during any bicycle tour of one week. We were lucky as we only encountered one late afternoon rainfall during out trip. . This option is the most popular when bicycle touring.
What I loved about this route was the quaint rail stations which are now tourist offices with restrooms, tunnels, long viaducts, expansive vistas, scenic rivers and easy to ride trail surface.
With all the available facilities the Great Allegheny Passage makes a bicycle touring camping trip easy to plan.