Your guide to the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia
Stretching from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states, rewarding hikers with astounding scenery over miles and miles of rugged terrain. Since the completion of this National Scenic Trail in 1937, more than 12,000 people have hiked the full length of the trail. This “thru-hiking” a daunting task that takes an average of 4 to 6 months to complete.
But this trail isn’t just for thru-hikers. Thanks to numerous access points and parking areas at trail heads, you can customize your trek to any distance, whether it’s a 2-mile stroll or a 30-mile overnighter. You can also plan a fun itinerary around your hiking excursion at one of the two areas in West Virginia where the trail passes through.
Four miles of the AT pass through historic Harpers Ferry, which is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy—the trail’s headquarters. Here you can pick up guides and maps and shop for AT souvenirs. The staff is happy to answer any questions you may have, or you might just want to hang around and share trail stories with the other hikers who pass through.
The trail here is ranked easy to moderate, with an elevation between 265 and 1,200 feet. It’s just a few steps from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the conflux of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, so it’s an ideal place to spend the day before or after your hike on the AT.
- Eat: The Anvil Restaurant serves seafood and classic favorites. The Potomac Grille is the place to be for casual food and the scenic views from the outdoor deck. No AT trek is complete without ice cream, and you can get hand-dipped scoops at The Coffee Mill.
- Stay: In neighboring Shepherdstown, The Bavarian Inn is known for its luxury accommodations, German food, and an infinity pool overlooking the Potomac River. The Town’s Inn offers lodging for every budget, from luxury suites to cozy hostel beds. The Stone’s Inn boasts the distinction of being the only bed and breakfast in the heart of Harpers Ferry’s Lower Town.
- Play: Take a walking tour of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park; popular sites include the Bookshop, John Brown’s Fort and the battlefield at Bolivar Heights. Scenic overlooks include Jefferson’s Rock and Maryland Heights. Cool off from your hike with a whitewater tubing trip on the Potomac River—voted one of the Top 5 Tubing Trips in America by USA Today. River Expeditions also offers zipline canopy tours, an aerial adventure park and guided whitewater rafting.
Say “Appalachian Trail in West Virginia,” and most people think of the Eastern Panhandle. But a portion of the trail weaves in and out of West Virginia for about 20 miles along the Virginia border in Monroe County.
The AT here is much higher than the Harper’s Ferry portion, with a maximum elevation of 4,000 feet and terrain ranked easy to challenging. The trail can be accessed by hiking up the Groundhog Trail from the Sugar Camp Farm.
- Eat: Fuel up for your trek at one of several restaurants in Union and Peterstown. Dining options range from sandwiches and salads at The Deli on Main to spicy bratwursts at KC’s Dawg and Burger Haus.
- Stay: Nearby lodging includes historic bed and breakfasts like the Old Victorian Inn in Alderson and luxury cabins at the Four Fillies Lodge. Tent and RV camping is available at Moncove Lake State Park.
- Play: Pair your AT hike with a driving tour of Monroe County. The rural countryside is dotted with historic structures, including several grist mills and covered bridges, while rustic barns showcase more than 50 quilt blocks along the Rural Heritage Quilt Trail. If you’re a bird watcher, you might want to plan an excursion to Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory. The old fire tower high atop Peters Mountain is ideal for spotting migrating birds of prey including bald eagles and several species of hawks and falcons. The observatory can be reached via a 1-mile uphill hike from the parking area for the Allegheny Trail.
The Four State Challenge
If you’re not up for a thru-hike, you can still test your mettle (and earn some bragging rights!) with the Four State Challenge. Hike 43 miles through four states—Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania—in a 24-hour period. Using Harpers Ferry as your base, catch a ride to the trail head at Pen-Mar Park in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. (You’ll probably want to start out before dawn, so make sure you have a headlamp and extra batteries!) When you make your way south to Harpers Ferry, cross the Shenandoah River and hike 2.4 miles out and back in Virginia on the AT/Loudon Heights Trail before returning to your car. There you go … four states in one day!
What to wear/pack:
If you only plan to hike a mile or two, you won’t need anything but water. But if you plan on being in the woods all day, you’ll need to pack some essentials:
- Moisture-wicking, comfortable clothing
- Hiking boots are optional. For day hikes, tennis shoes or securable sandals like Chaco or Teva will do just fine.
- Hat with a brim
- Water (at least 1 liter per person per every 5 miles or so)
- Trail map
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- Extra layer of clothing (Remember, even in summer, weather is unpredictable and can turn in an instant.)
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Trowel, toilet paper and hand sanitizer (most shelters along the trail do have pit or compost toilets, though)
- Garbage bag
- Cell phone
- First-aid kit
For an overnight trip, you’ll need a 60-80 lb. backpack with a pack cover to keep out the rain. It’s also best to leave your trip itinerary with a friend. Essential items include:
- Meals and snacks (lightweight food that won’t melt, like dried fruit and beans, jerky, nut butters, pasta and powdered milk)
- Water bottles and/or water bladder and a water treatment system
- Backpacking stove
- Stove fuel
- Matches or lighter
- Cookware set
- Dinnerware set
- Dish soap and sponge
- Tent or camping hammock
- Map and trail guides
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Moisture-wicking clothing (in cool weather, also pack a base layer, warm hat, gloves and a fleece or down jacket)
- Waterproof rain jacket, pants and gloves
- Hiking boots and socks
- Hat with a brim
- Headlamp with spare batteries
- Toilet paper/trowel/hand sanitizer
- Garbage bag and ziplock bags
- Cell phone
- ID and cash
- First-aid kit
- Toiletries (lip balm, toothbrush, etc.)
Before you begin, be sure to grab a copy of our new West Virginia Official Vacation Guide. Contact our Call Center at 1-800-CALL-WVA to request your free copy today!
This post was last updated on July 31, 2020