I had been looking forward to arriving in this “hiker town” almost from the beginning. It is significant for thru-hikers for a couple of reasons, first it is the unofficial halfway point of the trail (it is said that in order to finish your hike before Mt. Kahtadin closes you must be in Harper’s Ferry before July 4th) and second it is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This is also the place where we get our “official photo (see copies on the wall at church) and number (Dragonfly is #984 and I’m #985)”.
Harper’s Ferry is also famous as the place of John Brown’s raid. As you might remember from high school history class, John Brown raided the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry with the intention of giving the guns and ammunition to the African Americans so that they could violently overthrow their owners. It didn’t end well.
The town itself, I didn’t find to be very hiker-friendly, which is odd for being the headquarters for the ATC. The building in which the ATC is housed is a little off the beaten path. Upon entering the building you are presented with a counter and office area. To the left of that is a small gift shop with t-shirts (mostly cotton of which hikers shouldn’t wear– they really need to be made of wicking material), maps and guidebooks, posters and Christmas tree ornaments. With so many hikers coming through, wouldn’t you think they would have more appropriate hiker gear available? (There is a backpacker’s outfitter in town, but blocks away from the ATC headquarters). The ATC headquarters accepts packages (mail drops of food), but won’t mail packages, there is a limited hours post office blocks away. A small lounge is available for hikers with drinks available for a fee.
The town itself is a large living history museum. This is a town without a grocery store or drug store. There is a bed and breakfast with limited rooms and a hotel a couple of miles away but how is a hiker to get there? Remember hikers don’t have cars, and in most cases have already walked 15-20 miles that day.
We (Dragonfly, me, Little Bird and Peppy) arrived at the ATC ten minutes before they closed. We had reservations at the Quality Inn, but how to get there? We mentioned this to the volunteers hoping that one of them would offer to take us. No. We then asked if there were trail angels who might be able to take us. No. Was there taxi service? No. Could the hotel pick us up? No. What to do? The volunteers gave us a list saying “try this”. Come to find out there is a taxi in a nearby town and they would pick us up soon and that it would cost us $10. We arrived at the hotel two miles out of town, good thing there was an on-site restaurant/pub. It is a pretty good place to stay despite the distance from town.
We spent the next day doing laundry, eating lunch, checking out the town, shopping at the candy store, we walked the trail through town and the headed back to the hotel.
We didn’t get much of a chance to experience the history of the town through its visitor center and numerous museums. As a hiker I was disappointed but I would relish the chance to return to this town as a tourist with a car.