The Best of Harpers Ferry Hiking: 9 Trails To Enjoy
Harpers Ferry is a traveler’s dream. Whether your interests are rooted in history, you have a deep sense of adventure, or you appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors, you’re certain to find something special when you stay a few nights in the Shenandoah Valley town known for its magnificent views. Situated in West Virginia, it meets at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Just over the banks are Maryland and Virginia, putting you within easy reach of three states at any given time. You’re also never too far from Washington DC and Baltimore, making it a wonderful spot to visit if you want to soak up serious history and natural beauty in one trip.
The beauty of Harpers Ferry is obvious at a single glance—and it’s fitting that the namesake of the historic town is Robert Harper, who helmed an 18th-century ferry that transported both people and goods across the river.
The pride and joy here are, after all, those marvelous bodies of water. There’s a lot to appreciate even if you spend a single day traveling the area on foot, from the preserved buildings to the iconic landmarks to the fascinating district that evokes the feeling of a bygone era.
The historic town is charming, with plenty to see and do even if you aren’t an adventurer or a thrillseeker. Glimpse the iconic John Brown’s Fort dating from 1848—this is where Brown and the abolitionists held dozens hostage and where Robert E. Lee came to the rescue.
Other interesting sites include the Harpers Ferry Station, the True Treats Historic Candy shop dating from the early 20th century, and the humbling 19th-century Lockwood House. Go on a foodie expedition and discover the many enticing restaurants in the area.
If traveling by foot is what you enjoy, you’ll find more than a few hiking trails to explore, too. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park alone offers a huge majority of them, all of which provide flawless views—some of Mother Nature’s awe-inspiring gifts and others of Civil War sites that are deeply ensconced in history and well worth a stop.
As among the most impressive additions to the National Park Service, this site brims with a combination of beauty and adventure. Here’s where to enjoy some of the most impressive Harpers Ferry hiking experiences of all.
Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail
Travel anywhere from 1 to 3 miles along the Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail. You’ll experience a little bit of everything during your trek, from lush fields to ravines. There are spectacular mountain views at every turn and plenty of glimpses of the roaring river waters below.
Don’t miss the historic buildings and sites during your hike, too, including various Civil War earthworks and cannons. For true history buffs, there’s the early 19th-century location of the John Brown Fort situated near the Shenandoah River overlook. Drinking water is available at the visitor’s center.
Bolivar Heights Trail
Photo Credit: landscapesbydebra via Instagram
If it’s the epic views you crave, you won’t have to look far on the Bolivar Heights Trail. Ranging from 0.3 miles to just shy of 2.5 miles, this trail provides unfettered views of the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the water gap at the Potomac River.
Stop at the parking lot where the trail begins to observe the terrain—this is where many Civil War strategies were devised. You’ll find cannons and earthworks here, too. Wooded trails abound as you venture forward, providing a straightforward and lightly challenging walk. Note that there’s no drinking water available here.
Virginius Island and Hall’s Island Trails
Photo Credit: jeffersoncountywv via Instagram
For a truly easy exploration that will satisfy any newbie hiker’s needs, try the Virginius Island and Hall’s Island Trails. On your nearly 2-mile journey, you’ll find the ruins of everything from turbines and riparian forests to waterworks and mills. What’s nice about this trail is that it’s steady from beginning to end, with no elevation changes and plenty of solid earth and gravel on which to travel.
Avoid walking along the Winchester and Potomac Railroad tracks, as these elevated tracks are actively in use. You’ll find drinking water at a variety of establishments along the way.
Maryland Heights Trail
Photo Credit: KhanIM
Take it all in as you journey the Maryland Heights Trail, which offers both moderate and difficult options. If you’re in the former camp, take the Overlook Trail and enjoy every minute of the 3-mile hike. You’ll take in a significant portion of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in a single go.
There’s plenty to see, from its rich industrial history to its marvelous geologic wonders to its Civil War sites—plus plenty of photograph-worthy scenery, of course. If you’re feeling adventurous, tack on another couple of miles by adding the Stone Fort Loop Trail to your trek. Note that there is no drinking water available on this trail, and that during busy seasons it can be extremely crowded.
Visitor Center to Lower Town Trail
The wonderfully scenic journey from the Visitor Center to the Lower Town Trail will take you about 1.6 miles in one direction. It’s a dog-friendly hike, but keep in mind that traveling back you’ll encounter a fairly tricky and strenuous trip up some stone steps. Along the way, enjoy some lovely waterfall views.
Note that you’ll cross Shoreline Drive near the ravine—because it’s still in use, keep any pets and kids away from the pavement. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, too, as you may spot wood ducks, turtles, beavers, herons, or Canada geese as you pass by the wetlands. You can purchase drinking water in Lower Town and at the Visitor Center.
Schoolhouse Ridge North Trail at Bolivar Heights Battlefield
Don’t be surprised if you keep stopping while you journey the Schoolhouse Ridge North Trail at Bolivar Heights Battlefield. It’s worth it for the history alone: this is where you’ll observe the terrain as the confederates did in 1862.
It’s also where you’ll find a slew of Civil War cannons, plus fantastic views of Maryland Heights and Bolivar Heights. Note that it’s incredibly sunny, so be prepared if you’re hiking during summertime. It’s worth noting that there is no drinking water available during this hike.
Loudoun Heights Trail
Photo Credit: lindskookaby via Instagram
You are unlikely to find a hike as challenging as the Loudoun Heights Trail. For 7.5 miles, experience challenges aplenty while you enjoy exquisite views of Harpers Ferry, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and the marvelous Appalachian Trail which is home to the wonderful Jefferson Rock formation.
Bring along your leashed dog if you want to make it a family affair—and why not? This iconic trail is shrouded in forest and provides absolutely stunning mountain views. Note that there’s a parking fee at the Shenandoah Street Parking Area. One portion—the old Loudoun Heights Trail—is no longer operational.
Maryland Heights Loop
Photo Credit: William Silver
Leashed dogs are permitted on the 6.8-mile hike through the Maryland Heights Loop. You’ll be rewarded with quite a few of the treasures that make Harpers Ferry so worth the visit: wonderful glimpses of its geologic finds, plenty of views of Civil War sites, and breathtaking scenery.
For delightful water views, head for the Overlook Cliff Trail, where you can also venture off an intersection to glimpse the 1862 Naval Battery and the Stone Fort Trail. Travel north and walk a mile to find a range of Civil War artillery batteries. Note this is one of the most difficult hikes Harpers Ferry has to offer—so it’s a fantastic choice for a true adventurer.
Visitor Center to Split Rock to Lower Town Loop
Challenges galore await as you travel the Visitor Center to Split Rock to Lower Town Loop. At about 9.4 miles, it calls for some serious energy. Leashed dogs are permitted. What’s nice about this admittedly tricky trail is that it’s not very heavily traversed, so if you prefer a quieter and more peaceful visit this may be the right option.
At the same time, it’s certainly not for the inexperienced hiker. You’ll find pure, exquisite views of Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah River. Late fall is an optimal time to visit, since there are both hills to exhaust you and dreamy views to entrance you.
You’ll never want for adventure when you visit Harpers Ferry. Just shy of two hours away from both Baltimore and Washington DC, it’s a must for Civil War history buffs, hiking enthusiasts, and nature lovers. These trails for all skill levels impress from every vantage point.
A Tourist’s Guide To Harper’s Ferry
Harper’s Ferry is a town located in Jefferson County, West Virginia. The town is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. It is the site of the Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park and is a popular destination for tourists who wish to explore the area’s history.
To view and download the free Harpers Ferry National Historical Park maps, please visit my website. You can view a full size JPG (900 kbps) or a PDF (10.3 MB) by clicking on the image. Similar sites can be found in Lower Town as evidenced by the accompanying download of a printable map, but they aren’t as impressive as those depicted on the above map. Furthermore, visitors can compare hotel prices and amenities by using the area’s best hotels. The trails on the Virginia side of the Potomoc River can be found in Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, and Camp Hill/Shenandoah. During the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1862, Jackson’s forces formed a defensive line against the Union army.
Harpers Ferry has direct access to downtown and a limited number of parking spaces, but you can still drive there. It’s as simple as parking at the park visitor’s center and walking or taking the shuttle down to the town.
Harpers Ferry is a picturesque and wealthy community in West Virginia located on the banks of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, which are both at the confluence. Harpers Ferry is a hidden gem between Leesburg, Winchester, Frederick, and Martinsburg, located on all four sides of Gathland State Park, and it offers a unique combination of nature and recreation.
Harpers Ferry, a scenic and historic village nestled in the shadow of Harpers Ferry, welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for a variety of activities such as hiking, biking, rafting, learning, and even relaxing. Harpers Ferry is a small island in the middle of a large body of water, with nearly 300 residents, including us!
Is Harpers Ferry In Maryland Or Virginia?
Image by – https://fineartamerica.com
There is some debate over whether or not Harper’s Ferry is in Maryland or Virginia. The town is located on the Potomac River, which separates the two states. However, the majority of the town is located on the Virginia side of the river.
Harpers Ferry was a small town of about 100 people at its peak in the early twentieth century. The site of the John Brown raid on the Underground Railroad was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Harpers Ferry has grown to be a popular tourist destination. This ferry station houses the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which preserves the town and the ferry that carried the British to the Americas. A John Brown raid museum is also included in the park. The town of Harpers Ferry is best known for the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which is located there. It contains both the historic town and the Harper’s Ferry ferry, which were both built during the Civil War. The John Brown raid is told in this museum.
What’s Harpers Ferry Famous For?
From its inception, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has stood as a significant part of American history. This location, which first gained prominence as the site of John Brown’s raid in 1798, is best known for its armory and arsenal. There’s much more to the story of Harpers Ferry than the famous raid by John Brown.
In 1794, George Washington established an armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown raided the town’s arsenal in the nineteenth century. The president ordered a company of 90 Marines to storm the fort. The execution of Brown on December 2, 1999, sparked a national movement. Virginia seceded from the Union, and the arsenal at Harpers Ferry became a target for rebels. The main armory building, with its arsenal of over 15,000 weapons and combustibles, was destroyed. The remaining components of the arsenal were shipped south to Richmond and Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Harpers Ferry was the location of the largest surrender of US soldiers during the Civil War. During the Civil War, Camp Hill was a critical logistical supply base for the Union army, as well as a headquarters site. It was surrounded by steep banks and heavily fortified by both the Union and the Confederacy. During the battle of the garrison, Stonewall Jackson’s attack aided the Union cause. During the Civil War, a British flag was flown at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harpers Ferry in order to avoid destruction. During the war, Confederate guerrilla raiders used a cavern just outside Harper’s Ferry as a hiding spot. During the Shenandoah Campaign, Little Phil stationed himself at Camp Hill.
The Civil War Trust has saved hundreds of acres of land at Harpers Ferry. The majority of the battlefield has been preserved by the National Park Service. The Trust successfully saved 325 acres of endangered land in 2002. The Trust preserved an important portion of battlefield land in Bolivar Heights as well.
The failure of Brown’s raid ultimately serves as a catalyst for a movement for freedom and justice that has since grown. Harpers Ferry is an excellent place to learn about the Battle of Harpers Ferry in American history. Several historic buildings, monuments, and landmarks in the area, including the John Brown Museum and the John Brown House, are open for tours. A charming downtown area, with shops and restaurants, is located just an hour from Washington, D.C., and a short drive from Atlanta.
Please call the attractions and restaurants prior to your visit if you want to find out when they will be open. We hope that you will be able to enjoy your stay here.
John Brown’s Raid On Harpers Ferry Armory
The Harpers Ferry Armory raid, which took place in 1859, is widely regarded as one of the most famous raids in American history. Prior to the American Civil War, Harpers Ferry was a manufacturing and transportation hub. Following the raid, prominent citizens were captured, as well as the federal armory and arsenal. It is also known for its architecture, which has preserved the town’s transportation hub from the 1800s to the 1860s, as well as a strategic location during the Civil War and a thriving industrial center in the late 1800s based on water power. The Harpers Ferry National Historic Park features several museums and tours in addition to its museums and events.
What 3 States Meet At Harpers Ferry?
The three states that meet at Harpers Ferry are Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. It is also the site of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Harper’s Ferry is located on the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. During the Civil War, the town played an important role in water transportation in the area. The town gained a legendary status as a result of its involvement in the abolitionist John Brown’s antislavery raid. It is a 2,100 mile hike from Georgia to Maine that is primarily through mountain forests. Harper’s Ferry is close to where the half-way point is located. Jefferson Rock, a massive pile of boulders, can be seen as hikers pass by. A few feet away from where Thomas Jefferson gazed down and saw the valley as a divine vision.
There is a link to the Appalachian Trail in the path of the C.O Canal. This morning, we crossed the Potomac River and gazed out over Harper’s Ferry. From Virginia to West Virginia, we went all the way back through Maryland.
The Harpers Ferry Raid is regarded as a pivotal event in the American civil war. In an attempt to spark a slave revolt, John Brown and his abolitionist supporters attacked the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The failed raid resulted in the deaths of Brown and many of his followers. Nonetheless, Brown’s efforts resulted in the start of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. You can learn a lot about the events that led to the Civil War on this tour, as well as go on a tour of some of the key historical sites.
The Point: A Great Place To See Three States And Two Rivers
When viewed from The Point, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, you can see Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as the confluence of the two rivers. The river begins in the Appalachian Mountains and travels southward through Maryland before arriving in the Chesapeake Bay. The Shenandoah River begins in the Allegheny Mountains and flows southeast through Virginia before joining the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry. According to the United States Geological Survey, flooding in Harpers Ferry can occur every five to ten years. Flooding is a possibility because the town is located at the confluence of two rivers.
Low Carbon Appalachian Trail Section Hike via Train – Harpers Ferry WV to Harrisburg PA
Take the train to the AT—low carbon, low stress. No car, no complicated shuttles. Just great hiking! This AT section hike has it all—an ideal blend of natural beauty, history, small towns, great local parks, and meeting interesting people. It’s a perfect example of what makes hiking on the AT a unique and special experience—why people come from all over the world to hike the trail.
Route Overview Map: click image for larger view
Top 5 Highlights of this Section of the AT
- The variety of hiking: A mix of everything — high, rocky ridges; deep, cool woods; lush stream valleys, rolling farm fields and wildflowers. And in the summer it’s cool & shaded; 90% of the time no hats /sunglasses needed.
- Lots of History: Harpers Ferry (historic town & national park), the C&O Canal, Mason Dixon Line, Galthand, Washington Monument, Pine Grove Furnace, the Cumberland Valley and the historic towns of Boiling Springs and Duncannon PA on the shore of the Susquehanna River.
- Hike in 4 of the 13 original states
- Some of the nicest shelters on the AT: Well-maintained, many with nice camping options around them. E.g. the new, two-story Raven Rock Shelter, Quarry Gap Shelters, & Tumbling Run Shelters.
- Pennsylvania State Parks: Pennsylvania spent the time and money to do their state parks right. In picturesque settings with lovely shaded picnic areas, good camping, (food in season), lakes to swim in, nice bathrooms, and even some free showers. Pine Grove Furnace and Caledonia State Parks are standouts among a number of great parks.
The hike starts in historic Harpers Ferry, WV and it’s well worth an overnight stay and exploration before hiking. “ Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is considered one of the best walking parks in America. The views are sublime, the history compelling, the restored town a work of historical art.” (from the National Park Service Website)
Note this is installment one of a series of Low Carbon Section Hikes
- Installment 1: This post – Harpers Ferry WV to Harrisburg PA, 124 miles
- Installment 2: Low Carbon AT Section Hike – Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry, 54 miles
- Installment 3: Low Carbon AT Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park, 134 miles
Stay tuned as we add more Low Carbon Section Hikes on the Appalachian Trail…
Reduce the Carbon – Take the Train
$13 Train: This hike is quickly accessible via train (Amtrak) from most major Mid-Atlantic and Northeast cities. For us, it only took $13 and 2 hours on public transportation from our front door to hiking on the AT! And that was on Memorial Day weekend! We missed all the heinous holiday traffic, serenely traveling on the train.
This guide is meant to supplement the many excellent general guides to the Appalachian Trail (AT). As such,
- Our guide gives more detail to this specific section of the AT, and in particular how to access it by train from much of the Northeast US.
- Lighten your load: The gear (link) and food (link) for the light packs we used to efficiently and comfortably hike the AT. We believe this will make the hike more pleasant for others.
- And finally, we discuss the places we most enjoyed on the hike in both text and photos.
Make your trip even more enjoyable…
Our 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List will lighten your load and put a spring in your step. So if you want a light pack but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, look no further. You’ll be safe, warm and comfortable. This list has served Alison and I admirably on most 3-season trips in the lower 48 and on our trips world-wide. It works!
What’s in this Trip Guide
- Logistics:link on how to use trains and other transportation to and from the start and end of the hike
(including a bit of info on lodging in Harpers Ferrry, WV)
- Some of our favorite places:link to Photo Essay & Trip Description
- Gear: a link to list of gear that we took that kept our packs around 12 pounds
- Food: a link to list of the food we took to save food weight but still eat healthy
- Waypoint and Mileage Table:link to Waypoint and Mileage Table
- GPS Track: link to download GPX track and waypoint file suitable for loading into your iPhone or GPS
(if you want more info on this see: How to use your Smartphone as the Best Backpacking GPS)
- Maps:link to our recommendations for maps and guidebooks
- Harpers Ferry:link to ideas about where to stay and what to do in historic Harpers Ferry
After many miles hiking along ridges and through woods you break out into the idyllic farmlands of the Cumberland Valley. Alison is carrying less than 10 pounds on her back. Using this Gear our light packs made hiking a breeze.
Low Carbon Appalachian Trail Section Hike via Train
Mountain laurels along the trail near Raven Rock, the highest point of the AT in Maryland.
Stats – Low Carbon Appalachian Trail Section Hike via Train
The trip takes between 5 to 9 days
- 0 mile – trip start in historic Harpers Ferry, WV
- 98 miles to first logical exit, historic mill town of Boiling Springs, PA
- 124 miles to trip end in Duncannon, PA, near Harrisburg PA
- 1.5 hrs from Washington Union Station to start in historic Harper’s Ferry VA (via train)
- 4-5 hrs from trip end in Duncannon PA back to Washington Union Station (via Uber/Taxi and train)
and shorter if you are just heading to Philadelphia, PA – Amtrak 30th Street Station (PHL)
Waypoint and Mileage Table
The table below is in scrollable window or you can see the table full page here, as a Google Sheet
Maps and Guides
The Appalachian Trail is possibly the most documented trail in the world. There are many excellent guides. Our favorite guide is David Miller’s (AT trail-name, AWOL) “The A.T. Guide Northbound.”
We supplement it with the following Appalachian Trail Pocket Profile Maps
Trip Start: The recently renovated main hall of Union Station in Washington DC. It’s a one hour train ride from here to Harpers Ferry WV. [We just walked on to the train in our hiking clothes and with our backpacks on.]
Options for Trip Start in Harpers Ferry WV
- You can walk right off the train and hike to the Ed Garvey Shelter and camp for the night (6.5 miles, some of it steeply uphill).
- Or, you can stay overnight in a B&B, get a nice dinner and enjoy Harpers Ferry for the evening. Then you can get up bright and early the next morning for breakfast and start your hike. If you have the time, consider spending a day or 1/2 day exploring the historic town and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. For a stunning view we highly recommend the hike to Maryland Heights. (The lead picture for this article was taken from Maryland Heights.)
- If you want to make this a 4 state trip by adding a short side trip to Virginia see Brief Route Description and Trip Highlights for more detail.
- For those wanting a very early start and coffee/breakfast the veteran owned Guide Shack Cafe opens at 5:00 am and has the best coffee in town.
Brief Route Description and Trip Highlights – a Photo Essay
This section hike has it all—high, rocky ridges; deep, cool woods; lush stream valleys, historic towns and parks, and rolling farmlands. Between Harpers Ferry WV and Harrisburg PA, it follows the Appalachian Ridge for over 100 miles going through over dozen parks, vast forests, and other public lands. In all, it travels through four states (if you take a short side trip to Virginia).
The trip starts in Harpers Ferry, WV where it crosses over the Potomac River to Maryland and covers all 41 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in MD. In Pennsylvania it continues another 83 miles on the AT, much of it in the vast Michaux Forest. It ends at the mighty Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, PA.
On a historic note, the hike crosses the Mason Dixon Line, two historic and one actual midpoint markers of the Appalachian Trail, and a number of historic places like Washington Monument PA, Pine Grove Furnace, the old mill town of Boiling Springs, the rolling farmlands of the Cumberland Valley, and the historic river town of Duncannon PA on the banks of the Susquehanna.
John Brown’s For t in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park . “Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (NHP) is considered one of the best walking parks in America. The views are sublime, the history compelling, the restored town a work of historical art.” (from the National Park Service Website)
The trip starts as you pass by John Brown’s Fort (click for precise map) to pickup the Appalachian Trail at the WV side of the footbridge crossing the Potomac River into Maryland. Once in Maryland the AT turns right and heads east along the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (National Historic Park).
Note: You can walk right off the early evening train and hike to the Ed Garvey Shelter and camp for the night (6.5 miles, some of it steeply uphill). Or, and the option many will choose, is to stay overnight and enjoy Harpers Ferry. If you start early the next morning you can make it to Crampton Gap (10 miles) or Rocky Run Shelters (16 miles)
Footpath along the railroad bridge that crosses the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry WV into Maryland and to the towpath on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (National Historic Park)
Make it a 4 state trip!
Note : If you want to make this a four state trip (fun!), you’ll want to make a brief side-trip into Virginia. Hike west on the AT to the 340 bridge and follow the AT across the bridge south onto the Virginia bank of the Shenandoah River. Link to Map showing both trip start across the Potomac River into Maryland to the C&O Canal towpath, and the side trip into Virginia across the Rt. 340 bridge.
Turtles in the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal . The canal goes 184 miles from Washington DC to Cumberland Maryland.
After about 3 miles of fast and level walking on the C&O Canal Towpath, the AT turns left, crosses the train tracks and heads steeply uphill to the Junction with the side trail to the Ed Garvey Shelter.
Ferns along the AT in a lush stream valley.
Crampton Gap Shelter and Gathland State Park
Gathland State Park is a good place to collect some spigot water and use a restroom. The spring at Crampton Gap shelter is intermittent (worst mid-summer).
Crampton Gap and Gathland State Park are worth at least a brief look. Built in the late 1800’s, Gathland was the mountain home of George Alfred Townsend, a Civil War journalist. A few of this unique collection buildings and structures, designed and constructed by Townsend, were partially restored in the 1950’s.
Crampton Gap and Gathland State Park: The War Correspondents Memorial Arch, constructed in 1896, is a National historic monument. Photo by By Antony-22 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
View from the White Rock Cliffs of South Mountain – mile 11 – between Crampton Gap and Rock Run Shelters.
Washington Monument State Park
Washington Monument State Park is a good place to get spigot water, have a snack at a shaded picnic table and use a restroom. The Monument is worth visiting both for its history and for a great view of the Cumberland Valley.
Washington Monument State Park: The original 1827 tower was the first monument dedicated to George Washington. The more famous Washington Monument in the District of Columbia was not completed until 1885, over 50 years later!
View from the top of the Washington Monument, looking west across the Cumberland Valley and the Potomac River.
The impressive and functional, if not aesthetic footbridge across I-70. It gets the job done!
Pine Knob and Ensign Crowell Shelters
The unremarkable Pine Knob shelter is worth a stop for the nice piped spring behind it.
The unremarkable Pine Knob shelter is worth a stop for the nice piped spring behind it. There are some large campsites near the shelter. To regain the AT northbound take the shortcut (rather than retracing your steps).
Good water source between Pine Knob and Ensign Crowell shelters:
There’s a nice piped spring a few 100 yds west of the AT (downhill) from Pogo Memorial Campsite.
If possible, avoid camping at Ensign Crowell Shelter. It’s not the nicest shelter. It’s very near a road, often crowded, and has an iffy water source mid-summer.
“The Rocks of Pennsylvania”
The rocky trails of PA, while not a huge safety issue, will definitely slow your walking pace in sections.
This section of intermittently rocky trail actually starts in Maryland about 5-10 miles before you enter Pennsylvania. “The Rocks of Pennsylvania” are not as bad their reputation. Care and patience will get the job safely done. The hardest and rockiest section of trail is on the descent off the ridge down to Pen Mar County Park near the MD/PA border.
Raven Rock Shelter
The new 2-story Raven Rock shelter replaces the old Devil’s Racecourse shelter (many guides still refer to the older shelter). The flat expanse around the shelter has lots of great camping areas, many with their own picnic tables. Photo: HIKERS OF TWC
Raven Rock Shelter (mile 36) is one of the nicer shelters of the trip. In addition, the flat expanse around the shelter has lots of great camping areas, many with their own picnic tables. The only downside is that there’s no water at Raven Rock Shelter. It’s a fairly long round trip downhill get water. (Alternatively you can collect water from the stream at MD 491/Raven Rock Hollow, before hiking about 1 mile uphill to the shelter).
Pen Mar County Park and Mason Dixon Line
Pen Mar County Park has nice views. It’s a good place to get spigot water, have a snack at a shaded picnic table/pavilion and use a restroom. There are vending services in season. Just a few minutes past the park is marker for where the AT crosses the historic Mason Dixon Line.
The AT where it crossed the Mason Dixon line.
The AT crosses a few farm fields before ascending back up to the Appalachian ridge in the distance.
Deerlick Shelters are nothing to get excited about. But there’s a a really nice spring about 0.2 miles walk from the shelters. And there are some nice campsites along the trail to the spring (and at a comfortable/quit distance from the shelters).
Tumbling Run Shelter to Caledonia State Park
This is one of the nicer portions of the hike. But it is rocky and has a fair amount of elevation change. At 10 miles long it is also a dry and long section. Best to fill up on water from the nice piped spring across the creek from the Tumbling Run shelters. And the shelters have nice shaded picnic tables.
The only water mid-route is at Rocky Mountain shelters. Unfortunately, they are a 1 mile round trip downhill from the ridge. Unless you are camping there, you might not want to walk all the way down just for water.
Caledonia State Park is an unqualified delight. We arrived at the Park in the late afternoon, overheated, grimy and sweaty from a very long day hiking on an unusually hot and humid spring day. We had an ice cream sandwich and a large cold drink from the snack bar, then followed that with a sublime dip in the vast and cold outdoor swimming pool. We emerged an hour later, freshly showered and blessedly cool and comfortable. Needless to say, it was one of highlights of the trip. In addition to the snack bar and pool, the park has a beautiful stream running through it, large shaded picnic areas with many pavilions, and excellent bathrooms.
From Caledonia State Park, it’s only a 30-45 minute walk uphill to Quarry Gap Shelters. These shelters are new and carefully tended and maintained. The picnic shelter had flower pots hanging from the eaves. There was a camp host to guide hikers to camping areas and otherwise help out and make things run smoothly.
In season, make sure you take a sublimely cooling dip in the vast outdoor public pool at Caledonia State Park. [also in season, there’s food and ice cream at the pool’s concession]
Quarry Run Shelters
Rhododendron tunnel on the way to Quarry Run Shelters.
Birch Run Shelter
Birch Run is a nice shelter with grassy camping around it. There is small stream in front of the shelter and the larger stream, Birch Run itself, is only a few hundred feet further down trail. There is also a nice camp on the other side of Birch Run.
Appalachian Trail Midpoint(s)
The historic or traditional mid-point on the AT is just a few miles before you enter Pine Grove Furnace.
The exact mid-point of the AT varies from year to year due to re-routing and other trail changes. You need to pay attention to not miss this much smaller sign. (It’s generally south of the historic marker in the photo above.)
Pine Grove Furnace
The Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It’s in a 200 year old grist mill.
Pine Grove Furnace is an excellent stopping point on the AT. It has:
- The Pine Grove Furnace General Store, which has limited food, groceries & camping supplies; and a short-order counter serving hamburgers, sandwiches, ice-cream, shakes, etc.
- The store is where thru-hikers traditionally celebrate “1/2 and 1/2,” reaching the halfway point on the AT and by attempting to eat a half gallon of ice cream.
- Lodging at the Ironmasters Mansion Hostel
- A pleasant campground (fee) with excellent facilities
- A public swimming lake (in season) with free showers.
- Historic site/remains of the Pine Grove Iron Works/Pine Grove Furnace. In operation 1764 to 1895.
- The Appalachian Trail Museum housed in a 200 year old grist mill.
James Fry Shelter
The James Fry Shelter located between Pine Grove Furnace and the Cumberland Valley: Cozily hanging out in our hammocks with light rain pattering on our huge hex tarps. The full force of tropical storm Bonnie would hit sometime overnight. We woke up happy and dry the next morning
The start of two fun “rock mazes” along the ridges just before you drop into the Cumberland Valley.
Entering the Cumberland Valley
Note: After the Alec Kennedy Shelter there are no official AT Shelters until the Darlington Shelter 18 miles down the trail.
After after almost 100 miles hiking along ridges and through woods you break out into the idyllic farmlands of the Cumberland Valley.
Boiling Springs PA – 1st option to uber to train
Boiling Springs is a lovely, historic mill town surrounding a large mill pond (now “Children’s Lake”). At mile 98 it is the first obvious opportunity to take an Uber to the Amtrak Station in Harrisburg PA. Cost of ride is approx. $25 to $35 and around 30 minutes.
There are a number of lodgings, a couple of food stores and a few restaurants in Boiling Springs. There is also a free campground. There’s a nice public pool in town with showers (get $3 off admission at the ATC HQ Office).
The Appalachian Trail Club Mid-Atlantic Regional Office is along the shore of the lake. It’s definitely worth a visit—it has a lovely porch for sitting in the shade, trail needs, maps, and fuel.
The AT crosses over this bridge into the historic mill town of Boiling Springs.
The Appalachian Trail Club Mid-Atlantic Regional Office is a great place to stop and rest on their shaded porch. There’s water and a nice store inside.
Crossing the Cumberland Valley
The fertile farmlands of the Cumberland Valley run along both sides of the AT.
There are a number of fun fence stiles like this in the Cumberland Valley.
Pre-civil war graveyard alongside the AT in the Cumberland Valley. Many where buried 20-30 years before the Gettysburg campaign.
Leaving the Cumberland Valley to Trip End in Duncannon PA
This section Starts with lots of walking through bucolic farm fields and hedge rows. Then you exit the valley by climbing the two ridges of Blue Mountain and Cove Mountain before dropping into Duncannon PA.
- From Boilings Springs to Duncannon PA, pretty much every crossing of a major road is a potential place to Uber to the Amtrak Station in Harrisburg PA. See trip logistics section.
- There is no camping along the AT for this section.
- Spring water is much harder to find. And we were less happy about getting water from streams running through farmland and moderately populated areas. Altho there are some options to get spigot water along the way.
- Darlington and Cove Mountain Shelters are the last two AT Shelters of the trip: These shelters are respectively at the top of the last two ridges of the trip, Blue and Cove Mountains.
This rocky promontory offers superb views of the Duncannon area. It’s a stop on the Audubon’s Susquehanna River Birding and Wildlife Trail, and a famous rest stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
Duncannon PA – the end of the trip
Uber to the Harrisburg Train Station is approx. $20-$30 and about 20 minutes. Duncannon PA is a very hiker friendly town. Their is a riverfront campground in Duncannon for a modest cost. There are also number of lodging options, food stores, restaurants and even an ice cream store.
Note: Duncannon is a historic river town on the Banks of the Susquehanna River just outside the Harrisburg metropolitan area. Duncannon is just downstream from the Juniatta-Susquehanna River confluence at Clarks Ferry and sits below the impressive the Kittatinny Ridge. The town had historic impact as a trading crossroads in Pennsylvania’s colonial era. From Conestoga freight wagons to canals, railroads, and highways, the Duncannon was a major influence on the region’s transportation.
Logistics – getting to and from trip start and trip end
Trip Start: getting to Harpers Ferry, WV from Washington, DC
Harpers Ferry is easily accessed from Union Station in Washington DC. The first train of the day arrives in Harpers Ferry just after 5:00 pm. The $13 Amtrak 29 Capitol Limited: 4:05 pm “Washington – Union Station, DC (WAS)” to 5:16 pm “Harpers Ferry, WV (HFY).” Other options are the MARC Brunswick Line commuter trains arriving at 6:05pm, 7:18pm, and 7:54pm, and 9:00pm (weekdays only), see MARC train schedule.
Need to Start from another city in the North East or Mid-Atlantic?
Amtrak’s DC Union Stations is accessible by train from most of the East Coast. See Amtrak trip planner.
Rail yard at Washington DC Union Station
Trip End: from Boiling Springs, PA or Duncannon, PA back to Washington DC
- Uber – We took Uber from our trip end to the Harrisburg Train Station. It took ten minutes for our car to arrive and 20 minutes to the train station, costing around $30. This works equally well from Boiling Springs or Duncannon, PA.
- Bus from Duncannon, PA – Although we didn’t take it, there appears to be a once daily, morning CAT commuter bus Route 23 from the Clarks Ferry Bridge Park and Ride – CAT and Carpool (it’s essentially on the AT, south shore of the Susquehanna River – here’s its location on Google Maps). It’s a 10 minute walk from the N 6th St & Boas St bus stop to the Harrisburg train station.
- From the Harrisburg Train Station there are number of daily trains back to DC. We took the Amtrak Keystone Service to Philadelphia, PA 30th Street Station (PHL) and transferred to the Northeast Regional to Washington – Union Station, DC (WAS). Approximately 4-5 hours and $80 to $120.
Bording the train in Harrisburg PA. It’s a short 1.5 hour ride to the Northeast train hub of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
Lodging in Harpers Ferry
If you decide to stay overnight in Harpers Ferry, it’s best to book well ahead. Trip Advisor is a good place find a room. The historic town and National Historical Park are popular destinations. Even for mid-week reservations many B&Bs are booked weeks, even a month or more in advance (many with 2 night minimums on weekends).
The lower, historic section of Harpers Ferry. The upper portion of the town is up and to the right of the train station (lower right of the photo at the end of the train trestle). This view is from Maryland Heights. The hike up here is highly recommended.
The Lower and Upper Sections of Harpers Ferry
The town of Harpers Ferry is in two sections. 1) The small lower historic section by the river and the National Historical Park and 2) the larger upper section, about 10-20 minutes walk uphill. In the lower section, lodging is limited and competitive. There are a just few nice B&Bs in the lower section and they tend to be fully booked weeks or even month’s in advance. The Town’s Inn is a traditional place for Appalachian Trail hikers to stay. In addition to rooms, it has a small hostel, a cafe, a bistro and a small store with a good selection of trail food and supplies. Be forewarned, it was recently featured in the reality TV series, Hotel Hell (an amusing watch).
Rocking chair on the porch of the Town’s Inn, in the historic lower section of Harpers Ferry.
The Town’s Inn (featured on Hotel Hell ) in Harpers Ferry has a good supply of food for hiker re-supply, a few camping supplies, and a cafe.
Lodging options are more plentiful in the upper section of the town, but there are fewer attractions and restaurants—altho the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters are here and also the best coffee shop in town, the Guide Shack Cafe which opens at 5:00 am for those wanting a very early start with coffee/breakfast. Many lodgings in the upper section provide free shuttle to and from the lower section. Some will even meet your train. We stayed at the Jackson Rose Bed & Breakfast and enjoyed it.
The Jackson Rose B&B is one of many nice lodging options in the upper section of town.
Fun things to do in Harpers Ferry besides the National Park
Adventure Alan under the sign for Adventure and as always finding the best coffee in town! The Guide Shack Cafe is veteran owned, veteran operated and sources it’s coffee and food from veteran owned Co’s! It opens at 5:00 am for those wanting a very early start and coffee/breakfast.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is a fun place to stop. There’s a great relief map of the entire AT, a well stocked bookstore, some camping supplies, an AT hiker lounge where you can check Web/email. There’s friendly and helpful staff and of course, AT hikers milling around.
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https://www.adventurealan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/enter-train-1200-lt.jpg 800 1200 Alan Dixon https://www.adventurealan.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/adventure-alan-lightweight-backpacking-hiking.png Alan Dixon 2016-09-19 13:20:30 2022-05-17 15:11:37 Low Carbon Appalachian Trail Section Hike via Train – Harpers Ferry WV to Harrisburg PA
How did you handle your trekking poles and a small Swiss army knife on the train?
Thank you for assembling all of this information. As a solo traveler I often use public transportation to go to / from the trail. New England is great for bus service to small college towns near the trail. I have wanted to do HF to Duncannon leg and this information will lessen the my research time. My favorite use of Amtrak is the Empire Builder out of Chicago to Glacier NP. The 30 hour train trip drops you right off in West Glacier depot and from there it is a 2.5 mile walk into the park and the park free shuttle center.
Jim thanks for the kind words and the info! Wishing you a great trek from Harpers Ferry to Duncannon. Warmest, -alan & alison
Excellent description! I’m planning to solo hike from Harper’s Ferry to PenMar in September and am using your reviews and recommendations to pack lightly and prepare physically. It’s good to know that there will be plenty of water sources.
Have a great trek! As to water, make sure you do your homework (AWOL or this guide) and know on where water sources are on the ridges. That way you can make intelligent decisions on how much water to carry to the next water source. Also you might want to read “Drink When Thirsty.” Warmest, -a
All went great! Ran into some nasty rocks after Pogo and a few days of rain. But you prepared on us for the hike with your detailed itinerary. Loved the coffee shop in Harpers Ferry too!
So glad you like the hike Tim! And happy that you found the info helpful. That section is one of our favorites. Have a great year trekking. Warmest, -alan & alison
Leave today to fly to DC to begin our journey. Thanks again for all the info! Tim and Chris Case
Enjoy your hike! Luv to hear about it when you are done…
At the end of February, I used this guide as inspiration for a 3.5-day shuttle hike on the AT north of Harpers Ferry. My plan was to combine the hike with a business trip into DC, driving to Harpers Ferry and then using Amtrak to reduce the carbon impact, parking fees, and hassle of navigating DC traffic. Parking at the Harpers Ferry visitors center cost $10, with a free NPS shuttle down to the historic city center and a short walk to the railroad bridge into MD.
That first afternoon’s hike took me from Harpers Ferry to the Ed Garvey shelter, where I arrived and set up my hammock after dark. The combination of a Jarbridge 3-season underquilt, a Thermarest Z-lite Sol pad, and an REI Halo 25 sleeping bag (unzipped and used as a quilt) over kept me quite warm, even with temperatures in the high 20s and wind speeds gusting up to 30 mph. My tarp (an ENO ProFly) did little to block the wind, and I didn’t bother rigging it for the rest of the trip.
The next day, I found out that weekend hikes in Michigan had not prepared me for AT elevation changes, and I was really starting to hate the omnipresent rocks on MD trail slopes by mid-afternoon. (Among other things, the noise of my poles’ carbide tips skating on rock was growing very tiresome. Next trip East, I’ll bring rubber pole tips.) I limped into the Pine Knob Shelter in the late afternoon with insufficient ambition to push on until nightfall, slung my hammock and was asleep only shortly after nightfall.
The 3rd day, I turned around and headed back south, ending up at Ed Garvey in the late afternoon. Since I my train was scheduled to leave the next morning, I opted to push on to Harpers Ferry. Luckily, the light held out until after I’d descended the Weverton Cliffs trail, and my headlamp was entirely sufficient for the C&O canal path back to town. The Towns’ Inn was fully occupied that evening, but the proprietor took pity on me and let me camp out on a rear porch overnight. (It turns out that folding a synthetic quilt atop a Z-lite gives a more-than-adequate R value, while hiking 23 mountain miles on out-of-shape legs is a great inducement to a full night’s sleep.)
The next morning, I took the NPS shuttle back to my car, swapped my pack for a suitcase (and my hiking clothes for business casual), shuttled back downtown and caught the Capitol Limited to DC. If you haven’t had the opportunity to travel by rail after a backpacking trip, I can highly recommend it: plenty of leg room, lots of scenery passing by your window with absolutely no leg work required, and dual electrical outlets to recharge all those devices that haven’t seen wall power in several days. All for $10 each way.
Four days later, the Capitol Limited dropped me back off in Harpers Ferry. After a nights stay at the Towns Inn, I walked a couple more miles along the AT and Lower Town trail (past Jefferson Rock and interrupting a flock of whitetail deer during their morning forage) back to my car, and the long drive home.
And now, instead of remembering how my quads felt every time I took another downward step on the AT, I’m shopping for lighter gear, shaving grams off my packing list, and planning the next family hiking trip (where my endurance and ego are unlikely to be the driving factors for the attempted mileage). At least this hobby is only moderately expensive, and one that I can share with my wife and son!
Lovely trip report. So glad you like the trip and the train. Best wishes on a lighter pack and a great hiking season. Best -a