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TRAIL CONDITION: ★★★★★
GPS TRAILHEAD COORDINATES: N39° 19.523' W77° 44.431'
DISTANCE & CONFIGURATION: 2.1-mile loop
HIKING TIME: 1 hour to all day
HIGHLIGHTS: Historic Harpers Ferry, Jefferson Rock, confluence of Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers
ELEVATION: 527' at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy office; 245' at the Potomac River
ACCESS: Open 24/7; no fees or permits required. Parking is very limited in Harpers Ferry; the A.T.C. recommends parking on Washington Street downhill from its office.
MAPS: National Park Service Harpers Ferry National Historical Park; town map available at Appalachian Trail Conservancy office in Harpers Ferry; USGS Harpers Ferry
FACILITIES: Restrooms, food and drink available at the numerous museums and establishments in town
CONTACT: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 304-535-6331, appalachiantrail.org
COMMENTS: This is a great hike for the whole family. Plan on spending a fair amount of time visiting the Lower Town.
Beginning at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (A.T.C.) Visitor Center, this hike makes a loop through the historic Lower Town of Harpers Ferry, which encompasses the point of land at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. The whole town is in effect a museum, with many of the buildings containing exhibits.
Harpers Ferry is best known as the site of John Brown’s Raid in 1859. Along with 21 armed men, John Brown led a revolt intended to initiate a rebellion against slavery. The men captured and occupied the federal armory’s fire engine and guard house, now referred to as John Brown’s Fort, near the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Ultimately, they were captured by a group of marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, and Brown was hanged. The event, however, was prescient in that it in many respects foretold the Civil War, which began two years later.
Begin this hike at the A.T.C. Visitor Center at the corner of Washington Street and Storer College Place in Harpers Ferry. From the visitor center, follow blue blazes southbound along Storer College Place. The road ends at Fillmore Street. Make a left onto Fillmore Street and then a quick right onto the footpath through the Storer College campus. The path is blazed as it passes through the campus. Storer College, a historically black college, began as a school for freed slaves. Now the buildings are used by the National Park Service. The large building on the right as you enter the campus is the Stephen T. Mather Training Center for the National Park Service.
Continue across the campus following the blue blazes, down a set of steps, and through a small parking lot, where the path exits from the southwest corner and becomes a dirt track in woods. Just below the parking area, the path joins the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), and onto it you will turn left (northbound), heading east above the Shenandoah River. The first point of interest along the trail is Jefferson Rock, about 0.5 mile from gaining the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, the trail hugs the cliffs and passes through the woods high above the river. Some old stone walls indicate that you are entering the historic section of town, and a set of steps leads up to the Lockwood House.
Beyond these steps, the trail begins a steady descent and soon comes out to Jefferson Rock on the right (0.7 mile). The view from the large slab of rock is outstanding. Thomas Jefferson, for whom the rock is named, declared the view from here to be one of “the most stupendous scenes in Nature.” To your right you get a view up the Shenandoah River Valley to the south and west, and to the left, you can look downstream past a church steeple and over Harpers Ferry to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and the Potomac River Valley beyond.
From Jefferson Rock, the path is paved. It descends a little more steeply toward the old town of Harpers Ferry. Shortly beyond the rock, the A.T. passes the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church on the left. The A.T. continues down steps to Church Street and past St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on the right, the steeple of which dominates the view from Jefferson Rock. Continue down Church Street to its end at High Street. At this point, the A.T. crosses High Street and passes through a small courtyard. Instead of following it, turn right and follow High Street to its end at Shenandoah Street. Directly across from High Street on Shenandoah is the foundation of one of the old arsenals that dates back to the days of John Brown.
To the right (west) along Shenandoah Street, you’ll find the information center for the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and several museums. To your left, you will be looking at John Brown’s Fort, the small stone building where John Brown was captured. The John Brown Museum is on the north side of Shenandoah Street next to Stephenson’s Hotel.
Continue along Shenandoah Street to the east, and pick up the A.T. again at its end. Turn right and walk past John Brown’s Fort and beneath the railroad tracks. Once beyond the tracks, the A.T. bends to the left and follows the footpath alongside the train tracks over the Potomac at the confluence with the Shenandoah River. The railroad section of the bridge is a bit of an eyesore, but the scenery includes items of both natural and historical interest and is still quite lovely in this area. From the A.T.C. Visitor Center to the east side of the bridge is about 1.1 miles. Here the railroad enters a tunnel below Maryland Heights, and the A.T. descends a set of steps to the C&O Canal Towpath. You can hike to the top of Maryland Heights via a side trail gained from the canal path upstream along the Potomac River. A map detailing the route is available at the A.T.C. Visitor Center.
After returning to town, follow the A.T. blazes a short distance along Potomac Street, and then to the left through the little courtyard across to High Street. Once on High Street, turn right. High Street eventually becomes Washington Street, at the corner of Church Street, and in 0.75 mile it returns to the A.T.C. Initially, along High Street in downtown, you’ll walk past several shops and a couple of restaurants, all in old historical buildings.
Really, the whole town is full of nearby attractions. The main visitor center for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (nps.gov/hafe) is located about 2 miles from downtown following Shenandoah Street. Shuttle buses run between the visitor center and downtown. If you would like to grab a bite to eat along the hike, I recommend Bistro 840 (304-535-1860; bistro1840.com) on the west side of High Street, about two blocks uphill from downtown, or the Potomac Grille (304-535-1900) directly across the street from it.
From US 340 in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, an officially designated Appalachian Trail Community, head north onto Union Street. Follow Union Street 0.4 mile to Washington Street. Turn right onto Washington Street and follow it 0.2 mile to Storer College Place. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center is on the southeast corner at 799 Washington St.
Table of ContentsOverview Map
Overview Map Key
West Virginia and Maryland
1 Harpers Ferry
2 Weverton Cliffs
3 White Rocks and Lambs Knoll
4 Washington Monument
5 Annapolis Rock
6 High Rock
7 Chimney Rocks
8 Hosack Run
9 Toms Run and Sunset Rocks
11 Center Point Knob
12 PA 850 to Tuscarora Trail
13 Cove Mountain South
14 Cove Mountain North
15 Clarks Ferry via Susquehanna Trail
16 Clarks Ferry and Peters Mountain
18 PA 325 to PA 443
19 Cold Spring and Rausch Gap
20 Yellow Springs from PA 443
21 Round Head and Shikellamy Overlook
22 Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle
23 PA 309 to Bear Rocks
24 Mount Minsi
25 Sunfish Pond
26 Culvers Fire Tower Overlook
27 Lake Rutherford
28 New Jersey High Point
29 Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge: Liberty Loop Trail
30 Pochuck Boardwalk
31 Wawayanda Mountain
32 Eastern Pinnacles and Cat Rocks
33 Mombasha High Point
34 Island Pond and Fingerboard Mountain
35 Silver Mine Lake
36 West Mountain Loop
37 Bear Mountain Loop
38 Bear Mountain Zoo and Bridge
40 Canopus Hill
41 Shenandoah Mountain
42 Nuclear Lake
43 Great Swamp and Dover Oak
APPENDIX A: Contact Information
APPENDIX B: Hiking Clubs and Organizations
APPENDIX C: Appalachian Trail Communities
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL CONSERVANCY