Guests at the Thomas Shepherd Inn very often want to know where they can go for a “walk” or a “hike”. Some want to spend an hour and others want to fill much of the day. Some have limited mobility and some are ready to take on the world. Whether it’s communing with nature, bird watching, looking for history or testing your physical limits the Shepherdstown area has something for you.
I have chosen 5 hikes, ranging from easy to challenging, as a sampler of the beauty and bounty of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. All are within 30 minutes of Shepherdstown and all will leave you coming back for more.
1. C & O Canal Towpath – Easy
The C & O Canal Towpath, 184.5 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, is just one mile from the inn. Take Rt. 480 North across the Potomac River and then your first right to the parking area (Mile 72.8). Follow the trail east toward Harpers Ferry. Tree lined and easy walking, the path will take you past Lock 38, Packhorse Ford (also known as Boteler’s Ford, crossed by both the Union and Confederate Armies), and to the Antietam Aqueduct (Completed in 1834) at Mile 69.4. Wild flowers and wild life abound.
2. Yankauer Nature Preserve – Easy
Yankauer Nature Preserve is a 104 acre preserved area that is just a short drive from Shepherdstown. Donated to the Nature Conservancy in 1967, the preserve is co-managed by the Potomac Valley Audubon Society. About three miles of self-guided trails meander through farmland returning to its natural forested state and limestone bluffs that overlook the Potomac River. Over 100 species of birds and 100 species of plants can be seen in the preserve. Map and directions are available here.
3. Antietam Battlefield Hiking Trails – Easy to Moderate
Walk on any of Antietam National Battlefield’s more than 12 miles of trails to experience the present day beauty at the site of the bloodiest day in American history. Marvelously preserved, walk in the footsteps of the past. Handouts and maps are available at the Visitor Center. Only about 4 miles from Shepherdstown, it is easy to spend an entire day immersed in the past and enjoying the beauty of the present.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, a 25 minute drive from Shepherdstown, has 20 miles of trails within the park. The trails vary in intensity from an easy walk to scaling steep slopes. I will focus on two of the more challenging but rewarding hikes.
4. Maryland Heights Trail – Moderate to Challenging
The Maryland Heights Trail has so much to offer. Breathtakingly beautiful views, Civil War history, and the bounties of nature. Taking about four hours this 6.5 mile trail is steep (1600 ft. gain in elevation) and rocky in places. When the weather is nice the trail is heavily traveled. A map of the trail is available here.
5. Loudoun Heights Trail – Challenging
Opposite the Maryland Heights, this trail also offers spectacular views of Harpers Ferry and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Deep with Civil War history, this trail also follows the Appalachian Trail through Harpers Ferry and up the mountain for an elevation gain of 1880 feet. The 8.5 mile trail will take about 5 hours to complete. A map of the trail is available here.
If you go:
- Dress for changeable weather.
- Wear good walking shoes or hiking boots.
- Stay on marked trails. The habitats are delicate and need our care to remain beautiful for those who follow.
- Carry water and food with you and carry your trash out.
Pack a lunch with goodies from these fine Shepherdstown establishments:
- Community Garden Market at 207 S. Princess Street.
- Mellow Moods Cafe at 119 W. German Street
- Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery at 100 W. German Street.