8 reasons WV is best of the AT
West Virginia’s stretch of the Appalachian Trail is short, but extra sweet.
The extensive 2,200-mile AT weaves through West Virginia twice, first skirting 20 miles along the Virginia border in the ruggedly remote southern part of the state, and then traveling 4 miles through the eastern panhandle over mountain ridgelines and past raging rivers.
While the Appalachian Trail’s appearance in West Virginia is brief, it definitely lives up to the Mountain State’s “wild, wonderful” motto.
1. Mountain Majesty
In the state with the highest average elevation east of the Mississippi River, it’s hardly a surprise that the southern West Virginia stretch of the Appalachian Trail packs a peak-filled punch, traversing a remote section of Appalachian high-country to just more than 4,000 feet over the summit of Peters Mountain.
In the eastern corner of the state, between Snickers Gap and Harpers Ferry, the Appalachian Trail crests the spine of the Blue Ridge and overlooks the Shenandoah River before descending toward the merging Potomac River.
Southern West Virginia’s secluded segment of the Appalachian Trail is the epitome of wilderness hiking, where black bears, bobcats and coyotes are the regulars and hikers are practically an anomaly. The trail cuts through part of the Jefferson National Forest, crossing both Peters Mountain Wilderness and Mountain Lake Wilderness. If you are seeking vast, wild spaces and light trail traffic, this is the place.
In Harpers Ferry, you won’t even need to leave the Appalachian Trail to hit some of the most celebrated historical sites, because the trail literally weaves through the waterfront town’s historic district.
Don’t miss the view from Jefferson Rock in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park— it’s so breathtaking that our 3rd president declared it “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” On the outskirts of Harpers Ferry, follow the Appalachian Trail to the historic Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, which was once a vital artery linking markets up and down the Potomac River with the nation’s capital.
4. Savvy Section Hiking
If you are earning your backpacking stripes in stages, look no further. West Virginia’s 2 sections of the Appalachian Trail have something for hikers at any level, and they’re especially perfect for weekend warriors because they don’t take weeks to complete.
While the stretch of trail surrounding Harpers Ferry is well-supported for a quick overnight excursion, head to the rugged and wilder stretch in the southern part of the state for a quick backcountry escape that feels light years away from civilization.
5. The Ultimate Trail Town
Although not the actual mileage midpoint between Springer Mountain and Mount Katahdin, Harpers Ferry is something of an honorary halfway point— and for thru-hikers, a welcome sight for sore eyes (and legs), with budget-friendly hostels, cozy B&Bs and a variety of restaurants for a real sit-down meal. The historic Blue Ridge town is an outdoor playground for backpackers of course, but is popular with rock climbers, cyclists and thrill-seeking river runners, too.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is also right here in Harpers Ferry, and it isn’t just a gathering place for thru-hikers to regroup, but also has internet access, water and information about hiking the Appalachian Trail.
While the Appalachian Trail around Harpers Ferry is usually bustling, the section of the trail in southern West Virginia near Peterstown is one of the least traveled sections of the entire Appalachian Trail.
Follow along the Virginia border, skirt the edge of the massive Jefferson National Forest, and then scale Peters Mountain to get to the vast open spaces of Symms Gap Meadow with view-rich, high-alpine campsites. Pitch a tent and enjoy a lingering, mountain-framed sunset in the evening, then wake up to views of the Mountain State’s mist-shrouded hollows.
7. The Allegheny Trail Junction
The Appalachian Trail isn’t the only long-distance trail that goes through the Mountain State. In southern West Virginia, just north of Peters Mountain, the Appalachian Trail meets the Allegheny Trail— a 300+ mile trail through West Virginia all the way to the Pennsylvania border.
If a multi-month stint on the Appalachian Trail isn’t enough to satisfy your wanderlust, take the Allegheny Trail to the newly minted Great Eastern Trail, a 1600-mile route that links recreation areas and hiking trails from Alabama to New York.
8. Mighty Rivers
What the Appalachian Trail’s West Virginia sections lack in mileage is made up for in scenery.
In the southern part of the state, along the border with Virginia, the trail crosses the New River, one of the Mountain State’s most spectacular natural wonders. The churning river sculpted both the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains, the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River, which just a couple hours’ drive away from the AT.
In the eastern panhandle, the trail first parallels the lazy Shenandoah River before winding past the whitewater-swirled, Blue Ridge-framed confluence of the Potomac River and Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry.
This post was last updated on July 27, 2020