Fun Fact: Harpers Ferry was formally spelled Harper’s Ferry (with an apostrophe) until 1891.
It feels rather poetic that I picked a place historically known for its position smack in the middle of the fighting between the north and the south. The divisions that still very much exist, well over a century after a war that sparked because of them.
Harpers Ferry sites on WV’s border, with Maryland to the north and Virginia to south. As a strategic point during the Civil War, it was often fought over and had a revolving door of occupations between the Confederate and Union armies. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is full of hiking trails through rolling landscapes and old farm lands where some of the more famous battles took place. There are more historic battlefields 20 – 30 minutes away including Antietam & Monocacy both just north, in Maryland.
I’ve never been much of a history buff but I found myself enthralled by the rich American History that surrounded this little bed & breakfast city that also entices outdoor enthusiasts, which is what brought me here in the first place.
Its strategic desirability, and the occupying armies seeming inability to defend it, had a lot to do with its landscape, Harpers Ferry sits in a valley between two large rivers; the Potomac and the Shenandoah. That means there are a lot of great vantage points accessible all over the valley. It’s impossible to be disappointed by any trail that has “cliffs” or “overlook” in the name. You’re probably in for a heart-pounding workout but you are going to be rewarded with an expansive view up a river or overlooking downtown Harpers Ferry.
There’s also tubing, kayaking and whitewater rafting available along the rivers. The tubing in particular seems to draw a huge crowd in the summer months. Buses shuttling tubers up and down the Pototmac run all day on the weekends and as you pass over Sandy Hook Bridge which overlooks the Potomac you can see bright green and orange tubes floating gently down the river alongside some rafts and a couple of kayaks.
I, of course, was one of the those tubers.
I had been dying to tube down a river since my stay up near the Delaware River in New York.The experience in Harpers Ferry was fun, especially since I had good company, but I’m not sure I’d pay the $30 to do flat water tubing against since the experience itself was a little bland. Many people load up a floating cooler and tied up their group somewhere along the river to just sit and drink which wasn’t entirely my thing. I had plans to park the tubes and swim but the river was much too shallow to swim comfortably. According to locals the rivers are at their lowest in August. However they do have “white water tubing” where you ride a tub down some rapids which sounds more up my alley. I’d probably try that next time.
The hiking around here has been *chef’s kiss* magnificent. It helps that trails are walking distance from my place but I’m at about 15 hikes this month which would bring my total since starting this trip to over 30. That sets me on pace to crush my goal of 56 hikes in 2020. Look for a post about all of my favorite Harpers Ferry hikes coming soon.
Speaking of hiking, another reason people flock to Harpers Ferry is because it’s the (emotional) halfway point of the Appalachian Trail or the A.T. for short. The A. T. is the longest continuous foot trail in the world, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine, it stretches over fourteen states and extends over 2,000 miles. It has it’s own culture of backpackers and hikers that hike the entire trail but for recreationally day hikers like me, walking the famous trail known for its white blazes make me a little giddy. I’ve now hiked the A.T. at least once in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, & Virginia.
Harpers Ferry hosts the Visitor’s Center for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. An organization that partners public works, such as the National Park Service, and private entities to protect and maintain the extensive trail systems that connect the A.T. If you’ve ever hiked a white blaze on the east coast you most likely were on the Appalachian Trail and you can thank the ATC for it. You can support the ATC and the A.T. here.
Besides visiting the ATC website, if you’re interested in learning more about the Appalachian Trail I’d recommend Bill Bryson’s Book, A Walk in the Woods, it’s a great read about his adventures on the trail and Bryson even stops to go over the history of some of the portions of the hike and the Appalachian Trail itself.
If you’re also reminded of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, one of my favorite books, she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, a similar trail on the west coast. The book is still a great read.
My accommodations in Harpers Ferry was a lovely three story apartment that featured a deck on the second floor that overlooked the mountains and a picture window on the third floor that gave you a gorgeous view from the couch. Three stories sounds like a lot of space but it’s the equivalent of a set of rooms stacked on top of each other.
You walk into the front door into a kitchen with a small dining area, which is where I spent most of my days working and to the immediate right is a half bathroom that has another small room for the washer and dryer. You head up a set of spiral stairs to the master bedroom which also has a master bathroom. You head up another set of spiral stairs and there is a living room area with a couch and TV that can also double as a second bedroom.
It may seem bizarre to some of you but I was really excited about the concept of having my bedroom on a separate floor as the rest of my living space. I lived in the same house my entire life as a kid and it was a one-story home and then I moved to NYC apartments so I’ve never got to understand the concept of going upstairs to go to bed. The novely wore off quickly when I’d get ready for bed to only realize my I left my water bottle in the kitchen and had to navigate the spiral stair case in the dark again
Reflecting back, I hadn’t really had a desire to visit Harpers Ferry until I was trying to figure out a halfway point between my July and September stays and randomly saw a picture of the area on my news feed and was struck by how beautiful it was. It was nice to come into this stay without any expectations or planning and to just go with it.
I’ve really enjoyed my time in Harpers Ferry, WV and while I’m excited to keep my adventures going to my next stop, for the first time I’m a little sad to leave behind this beautiful gem of a town.