The Appalachian Trail – Keys Gap to Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Sign

Since our first day-hike on the Appalachian Trail, my wife and I have added an every-other-day six-mile round-trip hike to our exercise routine. Since the first hike, we’ve been making plans to hike the six-mile section from the Keys Gap trailhead to historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail to Harpers FerrySunday, we finally had a chance to complete the hike. In total, the hike was just over six miles and took roughly 2.5 to 3.5 hours. We hiked the first 2-3 miles quickly without mention. We reached a small camping area where we enjoyed a packed lunch and gave Turtle a break from the Kelty Toddler Carrier. The next section of the trail proved to be a bit more difficult as it is mostly small rocks and boulders that lie in wait for a twisted or sprained ankle. The landscape was beautiful and we stopped often to survey our surroundings. Towards the end of the fourth mile, the trail leads up a hillside that didn’t seem to end.

Harpers Ferry and Keys Gap SignShortly after the top of the hill, we began a slight descend where the landscape was fantastic. We spooked a couple of whitetails which ran hard and then slowed to a trot allowing for some nice wildlife viewing. The trail splits at roughly the end of the fourth mile. A blue-blazed trail leads further along the ridgeline which is supposed to have spectacular views (I’m sure I’ll be publishing a post in the future after we complete it.) The A.T. turns downhill towards Harpers Ferry.

Downhill on the Appalachian Trail

The switchbacks, steps, obstacles and significant downhill slope were tolerable but more difficult on the knees and shoulders than I had expected. Eventually, the trail crosses Chestnut Ridge Road and continues its meandering downhill.

Shenandoah River from the Appalachian TrailAs the trail approaches Route 9 and Harpers Ferry, the mountainside is dotted with scenic views of Harpers Ferry, the Route 9 Bridge and the beautiful Shenandoah River. Although the trail isn’t very technical, a slip on this part of it could mean sliding down a mountainside to significant injury or death. If you get a chance to hike this section, use caution.

Flowers on the Appalachian Trail

Throughout this section, there were beautiful flowers, blooming trees and interesting rock and plant formations. Here is one of the many pictures that the Mrs. took of them.

Route 9 Bridge Appalachian TrailThe trail follows route nine across this bridge. Although it is quite safe, crossing it with my wife beside me and a toddler on my back seemed intense between the 40+ foot drop to the Shenandoah on one side and speeding cars on the other.

Turtles in the Harpers Ferry CanalAs we reached the valley that follows the river and defunct canal, the activity from the city increases. The Park Service busses shuttle people back and forth between their parking lot and historic downtown. Car, motorcycles and other hikers and pedestrians began filling the road and trail as they were also enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon. In the remnants of the canal, there are a quite a few turtles and birds. We caught quite a few smaller turtles (species unknown) sunning themselves on partially submerged logs. And if you’re paying attention, you’ll see a few snapping turtles creeping their way through the murky water.

Historic Harpers FerryWe finally made it to historic Harpers Ferry and took a moment to look at the many old building and historic sites. We’ll likely spend more time here seeing what the little shops, historical markers and re-enactors have to offer.

Shenandoah River from Harpers Ferry

We left the main street and walked the course of the Shenandoah River. Although I’m not as familiar with the Shenandoah as I am with some of the rivers in Southern West Virginia, I have found that the Shenandoah is a wonderful river full of smallmouth bass, canoe-able waters and beautiful views. I the photo above, you can see the last few hundred yards of the Shenandoah and the Potomac River beyond it.

The Potomac River from Harpers Ferry

The trail crosses the Potomac River just before it reaches the Shenandoah. We crossed the bridge and took a short break in Maryland, the third state of our day-hike.

As our hike ended, we stopped for frozen custard from a local vendor. I’m not certain of the vendor’s name, but if you visit Harpers Ferry, you’ll certainly find it as you will see countless people walking away from it with a cone in hand.

We returned home to a grilled steak dinner and the fantastic feeling of exhaustion from an enjoyable day. If you get a chance, I highly recommend hiking this section of the A.T. as it proves to be beautiful, interesting and enjoyable.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Day-Hiking on the Appalachian Trail and The End of the Road.


2 thoughts on “The Appalachian Trail – Keys Gap to Harpers Ferry

  1. Pingback: Day-Hiking the Appalachian Trail (Harpers Ferry, WV to Weverton, MD) |

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