Weekend Backpacker: Washington, D.C.

Harpers Ferry
By Victoria Logue
Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

The Appalachian Trail traverses nearly 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The Maryland and West Virginia sections make up only 43 of those miles but pass through some of the most historically significant areas on the trail. The hike in Harpers Ferry and along the C&O; Canal is a wonderful day trip and can be made while still allowing time to explore the town. Or you could go whitewater rafting on the Shenandoah River. For those mainly into backpacking, a traverse of South Mountain is a great experience.

Recommended trip: South Mountain Traverse
This 18.9-mile trip traverses the ridge of South Mountain from U.S. 40/Interstate 70 south to Harpers Ferry. The trail passes a number of historical features, including a lesser-known Washington Monument, Turners Gap, Gathland State Park, and Weverton Cliffs before reaching the town of Harpers Ferry. Washington Monument, 30 feet high and built of native stone, is reminiscent of an old cream bottle. It was the first tower to be erected in honor of George Washington. The trail then passes a Civil War site at Turners Gap before heading on to Gathland, where there is a monument to Civil War correspondents and artists. The hike ends at Weverton Cliffs, with its spectacular views of the Potomac River Gorge.

Getting there: From Washington, D.C., take Interstate 495 to Interstate 270. From I-270, take Interstate 70 west toward Hagerstown, exiting at U.S. 40 shortly after Frederick, Maryland. Follow U.S. 40 to just before it crosses over Interstate 70. The parking area is just on the left right before you cross the interstate. To get to the Appalachian Trail, hike 0.1 mile on the blue-blazed side trail and hike south on the AT. To get to Harpers Ferry, follow Interstate 270 from Interstate 495 to Frederick, where you will pick up U.S. 340 south to Harpers Ferry.

Permit information: Permits are not required to hike along or camp beside the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. Should you choose to camp at Gathland State Park, however, you will need to obtain permission from the park office.

Maps: Maps are available through outdoors stores or through the Appalachian Trail Conference.

Practical information: This is a moderate traverse that requires good solid footwear. Because it is a traverse, you will need to make car-shuttle arrangements.

Recommended guides: Appalachian Trail Guide to Maryland and Northern Virginia (ATC) is a good guide, as is The Best of the Appalachian Trail: Overnight Hikes (Menasha Ridge) by Victoria and Frank Logue.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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