Your shoes tell the story of your life. Whether they are beat-up tennis shoes worn with the grime from laboring in the garden or leather strappy sandals made for a night out on the town, your shoes are a part of you. In each mark or stain, you see memories of first dates or rushed mornings on the way to work – you see little, random pieces of life that have made lasting impacts.
My hiking shoes, while still somewhat new (aged with a little mud splatter and some broken thread), have tales that are as vivid as the day I traveled in them. Such is my recollection of Harpers Ferry.
Situated on the very tip of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle in Jefferson county, Harpers Ferry is best known for its involvement in the Civil War including John Brown’s Raid. In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown raided the military arsenal at Harpers Ferry in an elaborate plan to establish an independent group of freed slaves in the Maryland and Virginia mountains. The easternmost town is also noted for the convergence of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the Winchester & Potomac Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
While the journey to Harpers Ferry is just a little over four hours from the Mid-Ohio Valley, it is best to give yourself plenty of time to experience all of the wonders the little town, and surrounding area, have to offer. Researching and making a travel itinerary will make certain you don’t miss a thing on your trip, but don’t hold yourself down to every scribble and bullet point on the list- enjoy every moment and make them all leisurely ones.
Day 1: If you find yourself pressed for time, maybe hitting the road at four or five o’clock on a Friday, I suggest stopping half or three-fourths of the way and resting for the night. There are plenty of options for those wanting indoor plumbing and a continental breakfast, but if you truly want to rough it, choose from more than six national and state parks/forests in the region.Green Ridge State Forest in western Maryland will trick your senses into believing you are still in the Mountain State. The rolling peaks with mixed pine trees are seamlessly stitched together like a patchwork quilt. Plus, it is only a little over an hour away from Harpers Ferry. Oh, and if you do decide to sleep under the stars, I have three tips: make camp before dark, practice making a fire before you leave, and keep anything that smells away from the campsite (Insert “Office” joke – “Bears eat beets”).
Day 2: Any adventurer, or aspiring hiker, will come to know the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or simply, the A.T. This marked trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, passing through 14 states. Approximately 2,184 miles long, it is famous for its many hikers and backpackers (thru-hikers) that attempt to travel the length within one season; about six months. Four of those miles run through Harpers Ferry, where the A.T. Conservancy is located, and is considered the halfway point for many thru-hikers. As you enter the small stone building, you instantly become inspired by those before you, each tired yet smiling face on printed photo paper stare at you with the accomplishment of their 1,000 mile. With that, you are ready to hit the white blazes and begin your trek. The only question is: are you a south or northbounder?
Winding down the path from the A.T.C., passing Jefferson’s Rock, you will eventually find yourself on the paved roads of downtown Harpers Ferry. One of the most sturdy foundations in the town is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. The Gothic-style building was the only church the escape destruction during the Civil War. From St. Peter’s, the brick-laden streets lead to the Point where the Footbridge to the C&O Canal will cross the Potomac River into Maryland. The northbound expedition on the A.T. transforms into the Maryland Heights trail, which reveals the most beautiful view of the river town, but will also test your “height” of perseverance and stamina. When the folks at the A.T.C. said it was a strenuous hike, they weren’t kidding!
In the cozy nook of my living room, a black frame holds the cross-stitch that says, “The best view comes after the hardest climb.” I can attest this is the honest truth. Running through Civil War forts and trenches, the rocky path is an upward battle of 1,600 feet. Yet, my shaking quads and labored breath stilled after reaching the peak. I said Harpers Ferry was the easternmost town in West Virginia, and when situated on the overlook, the state’s Eastern Panhandle outline is clear – carved out by the Potomac and Shenandoah River. Yeah, the best view.
After hiking 9.2 miles and burning 957 calories in four hours and 43 minutes, the tummy rumbles. That is why you turn to the White Horse Tavern for a most delicious meal. Known for their burgers and brews, this conveniently located restaurant served up the perfect chicken and cheese with a side of housemade kettle chips and chipotle ranch dipping sauce that had the right amount of kick to send my tastebuds soaring (after eating beef jerky and apples all day, anything would have satisfied by stomach).
The people and history surrounding Harpers Ferry make it a must-see if you are traveling the state, or just want a quaint weekend getaway. There are many more trails, eateries, and locally-owned shops to visit. The Murphy-Chambers Farm trail located in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park allows visitors an easy 2.2 mile run from the park’s visitors center into the most important area battlefield. The Murphy-Chambers Farm is where General A.P. Hill lead 3.500 troops and captured the Union in a tide that turned the Civil War to favor the Rebel army.
Oh, and be sure to look out for the the outline of John Brown’s Fort. The fort was originally on the property before moving several more times to its home in Downtown Harpers Ferry.
Whether you are an avid hiker, history-lover or want to scratch a destination off your bucket-list, Harpers Ferry has it all. All you have to do, is take the first step!