Harpers Ferry NHP: Virginius Island Loop

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The park includes the historic center of Harpers Ferry, notable as a key 19th-century industrial area and as the scene of John Brown’s failed abolitionist uprising. It spans three states (West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland) and contains four national park units:

  • Harpers Ferry
  • Appalachian Trail
  • C&O Canal
  • Potomac Heritage Trail

In 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited the area and declared, “The passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.” Then, in 1801, the United States Armory began producing guns here.

In 1859, in protest of slavery, John Brown led a raid and captured the federal armory. He was defeated and hanged for inciting a slave uprising. Two years later, the Civil War started. Harpers Ferry sat on the boundary between the North and South and was important because of it’s manufacturing capabilities. The town changed hands eight times during the course of the war.

I visited Harpers Ferry with the National Park Travelers Club for NPTC Across America in August 2022. We started the day with a hike on the Virginius Island/AT Loop. Then we went to the visitor center for “The Story Behind the Scenery,” a ranger program. The ranger gave our group an overview of the history that made this place famous. Next we took the shuttle to Lower Town to see the historic buildings and to have lunch. After lunch, I explored the C&O Canal and Potomac Heritage Trails.

The Virginius Island trail runs along the Shenandoah River past the ruins of water-powered mills from the 1800s. These thrived prior to the civil war, then some were damaged or occupied during the war. They never fully recovered from the war and, in 1936, a devastating flood destroyed what remained.

Once in Lower Town, trail loops back to the starting point on the Appalachian Trail. This section winds past the Jefferson Rock and is considerably more challenging than the Virginius Island section. By the time we completed the 2-mile loop, most of us were huffing and puffing.

  • Virginius Island Trail
  • Lower Town
  • C&O Canal
  • Potomac Heritage

Location: 171 Shoreline Dr, Harpers Ferry, WV
Designation: National Historical Park
Date designated/established: June 30, 1944
Date of my visit: August 2022

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