One popular adventure along The Great Allegheny Passage segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is a ride through the Big Savage Tunnel onto the Eastern Continental Divide. The Big Savage Tunnel is closed from November through April, but in warm weather it’s an easy, pleasing bicycle ride for people of all biking abilities. Begin your trip in Cumberland where the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail meets the C & O Canal Towpath.
Coal, minerals and timber extracted from these mountains made their way into Cumberland on narrow-gauge railroads. The region’s abundant natural resources and its location on the river made Cumberland one of America’s early industrial centers. The wares made there were shipped east along the railroad and the C&O Canal.
From Cumberland, trail follows the old Western Maryland Railroad on a spectacular passage above Jennings Run, trending northwest up to Big Savage Mountain, where the views rival any in the East.
Trailhead parking is at the railroad depot in Frostburg, Md. You can find breakfast and snacks near the depot at The Trailside Inn or climb the hill to trail friendly Frostburg with many eateries, small locally owned shops and historic buildings. As frequent trail users say, “It’s worth the climb!” A comprehensive map and business directories, as well as itineraries for many one day and multiple day trips can be found in the Allegheny Trail Alliance’s
TrailBook, the travel guide to the Great Allegheny Passage (www.gaptrail.org) Once you’re on the trail, you won’t need a map or compass to find your way but there is so much to do and see, you may want to plan ahead.
It is 6.8 miles to Big Savage Tunnel, named for surveyor Thomas Savage who, along with the rest of his party, was stranded here in the winter of 1736. According to the legend, he offered himself up as food to save the rest of the party from starving. A rescue team showed up, saving Savage’s life. His companions were so grateful that they named the Savage River for him. Fortunately for the traveler of today, food is easier to get now!
In summer, you can take a 2.5-mile hike up and over the tunnel.
If you’re on bike and want to continue on, it’s only another 1.2 miles to the Eastern Continental Divide, elevation, 2,375 feet. The Keystone Viaduct, a magnificent, curving 910-foot structure, is about 5 miles from the tunnel. From there it’s another mile to Meyersdale, Pa., where there are eateries and a B&B only blocks from the trailhead railroad depot.
For information on the Great Allegheny Passage, see www.gaptrail.org.