If you’re a Northern Virginia local and have out-of-town guests who want a quick dip into the best of the Blue Ridge, take them to Harper’s Ferry and Virginius Island. Rather than parking in the busy Harper’s Ferry lot at the Visitor Center and doing the typically touristy thing, I recommend parking in the small lot on Shenandoah Street just off Route 340 West as you cross the Shenandoah River; this is where the Appalachian Trail connects to the old Shenandoah Canal and provides a gorgeous scenic hike into the village. Go early to get a parking spot, and then plan to spend a few hours wandering.
We recently visited on a cool, cloudy, early-winter day when we had the place nearly to ourselves. The path to the village is just off the parking lot and immediately the views of the village, the river, and the Shenandoah Canal are fascinating. We really appreciated the historical markers along the way that educated us about what Harper’s Ferry was like before the Civil War and large floods changed its destiny forever. We wandered by the pretty remains of an old pulp factory and then across a foot bridge to Virginius Island, completely uninhabited now but once a thriving part of the village. The views of the Shenandoah and the hills from this island are worth the visit, and we enjoyed poking around in the old ruins of houses, waterworks, cotton mills, butcher shops, and boarding houses.
At the end of the island, we climbed a set of stairs and wandered down to the huge, old trestle that crosses the Potomac River from West Virginia to Maryland. There are lots of hiking options here, but we chose to go north on the C&O Canal/Appalachian Trail and wander down the river for a few miles. The views of the Potomac, especially with the leaves off the trees are spectacular here, and with the still functioning railroad paralleling the defunct canal on our left, we got a great sense of how “The Iron Horse” changed life here dramatically in the early 1900s.
Upon our return, we wandered in the village of Harper’s Ferry, always a fantastic thing to do. The church bells were ringing merrily, reminding us that it was Sunday morning, and we felt truly blessed to be able to wander in such a pretty place, bound by two famous rivers, the crossroads of two canals and the Appalachian Trail, and the site of amazing American and Civil War history. It’s a place to return to again and again.