Appalachian Trail State Profile: West Virginia
Of the 14 Appalachian Trail states, West Virginia is the shortest by far. Considering that there are only four (!!) miles of trail through the entire state, there’s an incredible amount of AT mythos packed into this tiny stretch of trail. West Virginia is home to the scenic trail town Harpers Ferry, the symbolic midpoint of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also part of the fabled Four State Challenge, in which hikers attempt to walk from northern Virginia to southern Pennsylvania in a single day.
After a long slog through the 550-mile behemoth that is Virginia, northbound thru-hikers can experience near-instant gratification with the quick completion of West Virginia. Take time to savor this lovely little section, because it will be over before you know it.
After a 1.5-mile descent from the ridge at Loudon Heights, you’ll cross the Shenandoah River and enter Harpers Ferry. The remaining 2.5 miles in the state are mostly flat as you make your way through town. The Potomac River on the other side of town marks the West Virginia-Maryland border.
Mile 1,023.1: Loudon Heights
After hugging the state line for about 15 miles, the AT finally crosses into West Virginia at Loudon Heights. That makes it an ideal place to start (or end) the Four State Challenge, in which hikers attempt to set foot in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in a single day. Starting on the Virginia side of the border at Loudon Heights, it’s 43 miles north on the AT to reach the Mason-Dixon Line and complete the challenge.
Incidentally, Loudon Heights is also where the AT starts coming down from the ridge on its final descent into Harpers Ferry. That means weary hikers can finally celebrate that “it’s all downhill from here” to town.
1,024.9: Side Trail to ATC
Many thru-hikers leave the AT at this point to visit the Appalachian Trail Center 0.2 miles away. This is the symbolic halfway point of the AT, after all. Who doesn’t want that iconic halfway point photo in front of the ATC? From here, you can return to the AT or take to the streets and explore Harpers Ferry proper. Between the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the town’s beautiful landscaping and architecture, there’s plenty to see and do. If you go this route, you can easily rejoin the AT at the Goodloe E. Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway farther north (and there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to snag burgers and beer along the way). There’s also an Amtrak station on the south side of town from which adventuresome hikertrash can catch a train to nearby Washington, D.C.
1,025.3: Jefferson Rock
Thomas Jefferson is said to have stood at this impressive shale formation in 1783 and took in the sight of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. The world is very different today, but the same majestic view of the confluence of these two great waterways still greets hikers today.
West Virginia Dispatches
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All milages taken from The 2019 AT Northbound Guide by David “AWOL” Miller
Edit: We originally stated incorrectly that Thomas Jefferson stood at Jefferson Rock in 1873. The article has been updated to reflect that Jefferson was in fact said to visit the site in 1783.
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