The view of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers is “worth a voyage across the Atlantic,” according to Thomas Jefferson. But history buffs will discover there’s more than just scenery to be enjoyed in Harpers Ferry.
From industrial innovations to Civil War battles to the civil rights movement, Harpers Ferry has been—and continues to be—an important setting in American history. Plus, the Appalachian Trail runs right through the heart of it. Whet your appetite with this 11.8-mile loop leading past historical highlights to viewpoints atop Loudoun Heights, which rises nearly a thousand feet over the Shenandoah River.
Turn-by-turn Pick up the Appalachian Trail next-door to the Harpers Ferry train station. Head west past the 100-plus-year-old ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church and the river viewpoint at Jefferson Rock, the subject of our third president’s effusive praise. Follow the AT over the Shenandoah River and climb to a junction with the blue-blazed Loudoun Heights Trail at mile 2.1. Follow the trail 1.7 miles to the vista at Split Rock, near the spot where Confederate artillery rained destruction on Union positions during an 1862 battle. Loop back to the AT and proceed 2 miles south to find a campsite tucked in the trees atop the ridge (more sites .5 mile farther if it’s taken). Note: Water on Loudoun Heights is unreliable, so pack enough for a dry camp. Next day, return 4.2 miles on the AT to the train station and head back (Amtrak: daily departure 11:31 a.m.; MARC: weekday departures 5:25 to 6:50 a.m.).
Get there From Union Station in Washington D.C., take the Maryland Area Regional Commuter ($5, 1 hr 40 mins; weekday departures 3:30 to 7:25 p.m.) or Amtrak’s Capitol Limited (starting at $10, 1 hr 10 mins; daily departure 4:05 p.m.) to Harpers Ferry. The Teahorse Hostel ($35/person per night; 1 mile from the train station) and the Huckleberry Hill campsite (free; first-come, first-serve; 2.6 miles away) are good options for people looking to overnight in Harpers Ferry.
Additional options From the campsite, you can continue 5.3 miles south on the AT to the David Lesser Shelter (first-come, first-serve).
Permits $5/person walk-in entrance fee