Ohiopyle State Park: Something for Everyone
The Ohiopyle area is a favorite stop for cyclists riding the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), whether heading to Pittsburgh or D.C. Ohiopyle is also a favorite day trip destination for paddlers, hikers, and bicyclists in the western Pennsylvania area. Surprisingly, overnight biking opportunities are often overlooked. Ohiopyle State Park is a great starting point for a variety of overnight options. Here is brief description of two such tours, one relaxed and the other more challenging. These two rides only scratch the surface of the touring possibilities in the Laurel Highlands.
For the Family
The trip from the community of Ohiopyle to the town of Confluence (named for its location at the junction of the Casselman River, Laurel Hill Creek, and the Youghiogheny River) and back is a wonderful option for families or for anyone on their first tour. The GAP trail's original 10 miles meander along the middle section of the "Yough," a river of many characters, from mild to wild. Its class 1 through 6 rapids and consistent flow make it probably the most paddled river in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The Ohiopyle Low Bridge connects the peninsula with the town of Ohiopyle.
Ohiopyle State Park offers an overnight parking lot near the Ferncliff Peninsula area of the park, where the Yough almost loops back on itself. You need to contact the park office in advance to get the gate combination, but there is no cost for overnight parking. From there, head south on the GAP and within a minute you'll ride over the 621-foot-long Ohiopyle Low Bridge. The views, both up and down the stream, are certainly worth the stop, but you will want to stop again just on the other side of the river at the visitor center, housed in the old Western Maryland Railway Station. In the past you would have purchased your ticket here or picked up your freight. Currently you will find restrooms, water, and a friendly staff to answer your questions.
Ohiopyle visitor center.
As you proceed toward Confluence, you will ride through a 1,600-foot gorge. There are many opportunities to head down to the river for close-up views of the paddlers, or for fishing or picnicking on the rocks. There's lots of history along the trail, including railroad artifacts and old farms and orchards. Arriving in Confluence, you have various options for your overnight stay. There is camping below the Yough Dam and Lake. They offer designated bike sites as well as restrooms and water. Not intending to camp? Confluence also has a variety of B&B options, even for families. Or, if you are looking for something in between luxury and roughing it, you can try out the Wendy World bunkhouse (there's also camping here). I stayed at this one-room shelter on a recent trip. It can sleep eight, and is a clean, practical solution for many overnight bikers.
After deciding where to sleep, you'll need to consider your stomach. While fixing your own dinner is always a possibility, Confluence has plenty of options for meals cooked and served. Confluence sits east of the GAP, and you will cross both the Yough and the Casselman to reach the indoor lodging and dining options.
After spending the night, your return trip is north back on the GAP. Although the route is the same, you will certainly notice things you missed the day before going the other direction -- plus, the route is slightly downhill going north. On returning to where your vehicle is parked, continue riding for another half mile to cross the 663-foot Ohiopyle High Bridge. It rises 100 feet above the river, considerably higher than the previous bridge. It is the sudden drop in the river here that makes the "Lower Yough" a classic Class 3/4 whitewater run. Take time to watch the boaters navigate the rapids below before you head back to your car or into town.
Looking for More Challenge?
Sticking to the rail-trail makes for a great trip, but the Laurel Highlands offer a variety of challenging options for riders as well. For some serious climbing and adventure try the following 25-mile loop, which starts at the same parking lot.
Head south on the GAP, crossing the river. When you reach the visitor center, jump onto Sheridan Street and then take a right onto Grant. Soon you will merge with Sugarloaf Road, pedaling away from the river. The ascent of Sugarloaf is an intense climb gaining 1,000 feet over 2.5 miles (alternatively, you can take the Sugarloaf singletrack trail from town). There's a great overlook on the way up to rest and enjoy the view -- you'll know it when you see it. At the top of the ridge stay south on Silbaugh Road, then go east on Lytle (both of these are dirt roads). You will pop back out onto Sugarloaf Road for a bit before you head north on Fire Tower Road, and then connect with Ramcat Road. Reconnecting with the GAP, follow it on into Confluence for your overnight.
On day two you can return to Ohiopyle on the GAP if you have had enough "adventure," or load up on calories in the morning and prepare for another day of climbing. For the latter option, from Confluence take Draketown Road to State Gamelands 111, traveling north on the maze of grassy double-tracks. Take Maple Summit Road for a short distance and then turn on to Burnsworth Road and, finally, turn onto King Road, which drops you back into Ohiopyle.
Tips for this adventure: Plan you tour for during the week if possible, as the area gets crowded on weekends. Fall is beautiful in the Laurel Highlands. Pick up a copy of The Great Allegheny Passage Companion by Bill Metzger. Sisters' Cafe in Confluence dishes up a great breakfast.
Favorite local bike shop: Confluence Cyclery in Confluence.