Running in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania: The Great Allegheny Passage and more

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Here’s a view from the low bridge on the Great Allegheny Passage, very close to the Ohiopyle trailhead. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

During the last week of September, I traveled to the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania for work. But I wasn’t going to travel somewhere I’d never been before without getting a run in.

I stayed an extra night on my own, and was able to get in three runs during my trip, along with plenty of exploring.

The conference I attended was my third Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance Media Marketplace. I go to promote Wicomico County Tourism, but I also get to explore the area where the Marketplace is held while networking with other destination marketing organization representatives and travel writers.

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I took this photo using a self timer and one of the mile markers. It took me several tries! I wanted to rep the Eastern Shore Running Club while out of town, so I was sure to wear my club shirt on my run. 

Last year, Marketplace was held in Winchester, Virginia, and I wrote about my run there in this post.

 

I drove to the Laurel Highlands on Tuesday, Sept. 25. The trip took about five hours, not including a lunch stop, and I made my way to the other end of Maryland from where I live in Salisbury, then crossed into Pennsylvania. The area is between Western Maryland and Pittsburgh, and also borders West Virginia. (Learn more here.)

One place I knew I wanted to run before I arrived in the Laurel Highlands was the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile trail that runs from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In Cumberland, the trail actually connects to the C&O Canal Towpath, which goes all the way to Washington, D.C.

I’m sure it goes without saying, but I knew I’d just be running a small portion of this trail — particularly because without a ride on the other side, I had to run out and back. I was also tapering for Freedom’s Run, which was this past weekend (blog post to come).

Great Allegheny Passage

On the Wednesday of MATPRA Media Marketplace, I went on a group cycling tour on the Great Allegheny Passage from Ohiopyle to Confluence, Pennsylvania. We rode about 11 miles, and I had a lot of fun exploring the trail and seeing various waterfalls along the way.

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Here’s a waterfall as seen from the Great Allegheny Passage on my run, but we also saw waterfalls while cycling. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I talked to one of our guides, Doug, who was great and clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the GAP Trail, as it’s known. It turned out he had ridden the Sea Gull Century here in Salisbury! He also gave me some suggestions of places to go during my trip to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for Freedom’s Run the following weekend.

 

The Great Allegheny Passage runs alongside the Youghiogheny River. Before we headed to Confluence, Doug had us check out what I think were called the high bridge and the low bridge. They were very close together, but the distance from the water changed tremendously in such a short time. Then, we turned around and were on our way to Confluence.

As he rode, he was able to kick larger branches out of the way so that they wouldn’t impede cyclists and runners. In general, these trails seemed mostly free of obstacles. It was a different sort of terrain than the C&O Canal Towpath, which I ran this weekend, as there were more rocks and leaves there — at least in the area where I ran — and I actually ended up taking a fall (I’m fine, but more on that in a later blog post).

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Here’s a photo from the high bridge, very close to the low bridge pictured earlier in this post. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

With a decent amount of rain preceding our bike ride, there were waterfalls Doug hadn’t seen before. There were tree tunnels and an area when we went through a type of rock formation. I wasn’t taking notes since I was on my bike, and I was enjoying the ride. It was a pretty leisurely pace, and I was able to chat along the way. It’s awesome how the trail connects different towns. We crossed a bridge over the river and had an early dinner in Confluence.

 

I returned to the Ohiopyle section of the trail after Marketplace ended. I’d stayed in the luxurious Nemacolin Woodlands Resort for my first two nights in the Laurel Highlands, but for my last night, I booked a yurt. If you’re unfamiliar with a yurt, it’s kind of like a fancy tent. Not that it was overly fancy — just fancier than a tent.

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Here’s my rental bike with the Great Allegheny Passage ahead. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

It was nice and was very close to several trails. I found it on Airbnb and enjoyed staying there — the only downside was having to use a nearby public change house for the bathroom and shower (I did know ahead of time there would not be a bathroom in the yurt).

However, all of the times I used the bathroom and shower, I was the only one in there, so that made it more comfortable. (Side note: If you’d like to help me fund my travel and also save $40 on your first trip of $75 or more on Airbnb, use my referral link.)

 

I wanted to run the opposite way on the Great Allegheny Passage than I’d biked so that I could explore more of the trail. I ran about a quarter-mile to the trail from the yurt, then ran four miles out and four back. Since I didn’t have to cycle both ways — our group got picked up — this means I traveled about 15 total miles of the Great Allegheny Passage, or 10 percent.

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This is the yurt I stayed in for a night in Ohiopyle. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

From Ohiopyle, the next town heading in the opposite direction was Connellsville, which was 17 miles away. So, I didn’t make it to any other stops on my run. I only saw a few other bikers and maybe one runner and one walker, along with a golf-cart like vehicle and a regular vehicle (there was some sort of park logo on that vehicle — they were supposed to be there).

I went just past Mile Marker 75, which would mark the halfway point of the 150-mile trail. I took a bunch of pictures of the waterfalls I saw along the way and the scenery.

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The Great Allegheny Passage is marked with mile markers like this — at least in the areas I traveled. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

The trail was wide and easy to run on, although my pace was slowed by my picture-taking. There was a bathroom at the Ohiopyle stop, but I didn’t see any others in my four miles out. I did end up having to go to the bathroom, but that was the only negative to my run, and luckily I was able to make it back to Ohiopyle to go. I’d love to explore more of the Great Allegheny Passage.

 

The surface was what I think of when I think of a rail trail — I could be wrong, but I think it was extremely crushed stone, with leaves and mud/dirt mixed in. At least, that’s what it seemed like. When we were riding our bikes, it rained a little bit — although it wasn’t a problem, as the trees provided cover. We ended up with mud on our backs from riding through it.

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Here’s a view from the Great Allegheny Passage looking toward the Youghiogheny River. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Ferncliff Peninsula

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Here I am alongside the Youghiogheny River, from the Ferncliff Trail. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I knew I was going to run the Great Allegheny Passage on Friday, so I wanted to find somewhere different to run on Thursday. I’d seen a good review of the Meadow Run Trail, but I couldn’t find the trailhead. I did go down to Cucumber Falls and saw the sign for the end of the Meadow Run Trail, so I guess I could have just kept going the other way, but I didn’t want to get lost.

 

I also drove over to the natural water slides, which I think are also close to the trail. The trails around these areas were rocky and involved steps. The parts I was on seem like they would have been hard to run on.

 

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A view of the Ferncliff Peninsula on a rainy day. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I also knew the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail was close, and I saw the parking area, but didn’t see the trailhead. I ended up running on the Ferncliff Peninsula, which was easily accessible from the Great Allegheny Passage. It was raining during this run, and the trails were mushy, muddy and puddly. However, I was here to explore. I didn’t mind getting dirty.

 

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The Ferncliff Peninsula’s different trails were marked with signs. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

There were different trails on the peninsula, and I also got a little lost within these trails — they were not you-can-only-go-one-way trails like the Great Allegheny Passage — but I had fun exploring. (Learn more about the trails here.)

 

These trails were more technical and also included some rocks along the Youghiogheny River. Rather than seeing the river from the bridge above, I could see the rushing river right next to me. The Youghiogheny River surrounds this peninsula on three sides.

My pace was slow as I made my way through the terrain, and I finished out the run in the small town of Ohiopyle, where I was able to speed up some.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, there are 79 miles of trails in Ohiopyle State Park (same link as above). Not that I would have run 79 miles, but too bad I was tapering!

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

When I checked into Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, I was given a calendar of events that were happening for the week of my stay. Of course, I noticed that there was a trail run on the activity list. Although the trail run on the calendar conflicted with my work activities, I figured I would try to run the trail on my own.

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I got up early to run at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort on Wednesday, Sept. 26. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I was able to get a trail map from an employee, but again, I couldn’t find the trailhead. (This was the first run I did in the Laurel Highlands — before the previously-mentioned runs.) I only had a limited amount of time to run because the day’s activities started at 8 a.m. and I also wanted to run while it was light out. I left around 7 a.m. and got in three miles. Although I didn’t find the trail I’d originally planned on — at least, I don’t think I did — I ran on a paved trail and saw some interesting sculptures and a mini-golf course, along with a scenic overlook type of spot.

 

I then followed signs to Walden Pond. I was thinking it would be a pond, but it looked like it was actually a neighborhood-type area within the resort. The resort was huge — it would have taken a long time to run the entire thing, and I only got to see a small part on foot. I had gone down a hill to get there, so I turned around and headed back up the hill, which I figured was good training ahead of Freedom’s Run.

On the way back, I ran on a non-paved trail. I was somewhat proud of myself for getting up early to explore, as I’m not usually a morning person.

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Here’s a view from what I considered to be somewhat of an overlook area. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Next year’s MATPRA Media Marketplace is in the Richmond, Virginia, region, so of course, I did a quick check to see if there were any good trails in the area. I did run the Richmond Marathon last year, so I have explored a good amount of the city on foot, but I didn’t do any other running while there for that trip. I found the Virginia Capital Trail — any other suggestions?

Have you run in the Laurel Highlands? 

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4 thoughts on “Running in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania: The Great Allegheny Passage and more

  1. Wow you had three such gorgeous runs!! It’s great you get the opportunity to run and explore when you’re away! It’s been my favourite thing to do on my holidays as I feel like you see more of the area.

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