Category Archives: West Virginia

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Overview

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was supposed to connect ports in Washington, D.C. with the Ohio River, but it never reached its destination before the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad rendered it obsolete in 1850.  It employed 35,000 laborers (mostly European immigrants) during its 22 years of construction and eventually carried coal out of the Appalachian Mountains for decades.  The canal closed in 1924, but it left behind indelible historic landmarks like locks, dams, aqueducts, historic hotels, and a 3,118-foot long tunnel.

Highlights

Historic locks, boat tours, Great Falls Tavern, boating

Must-Do Activity

C&O Canal National Historical Park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and offers multiple free visitor centers along the route that are open seasonally.  Near Washington, D.C. both the Great Falls Tavern and Georgetown Visitor Centers offer mule-drawn canal boat rides on a first-come, first-served basis April through October.  We enjoyed touring the historic locks of the canal in Hancock, Maryland after visiting Catoctin Mountain Park and Antietam National Battlefield.

Best Trail

Today you can walk and bike the graded 184.5-mile towpath that follows the Potomac River, camping at designated sites along the way if you choose.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The canal locks at Hancock, Maryland became part of the park that was created in 1971.  The boarding house located there now serves as an NPS visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, as most of the visitor centers are closed seasonally

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at Great Falls Tavern

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are primitive drive-in camping areas at five spots along the canal path, as well as 30 backpacking campsites spaced approximately five miles apart.  There is also a nice NPS campground at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia-Maryland)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – At its peak of operation, how many mule-drawn boats were in service on the C&O Canal?

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Overview

Robert Harper started ferrying folks across the Potomac River at this site in 1747.  It had a strategic location at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where the point of what is now the state of West Virginia meets the border of Maryland and Virginia.  Harpers Ferry is most famous for the 1859 raid led by abolitionist John Brown of Kansas in attempt to seize the federal armory to incite a slave rebellion.  His trial and execution for treason helped foment the Civil War, during which conflict the town changed hands between the two sides an astounding eight times!

Highlights

Historic buildings, museums, Jefferson Rock, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A portion of the town today is run as a series of museums by the National Park Service (NPS), though other parts remain open for business as restaurants, shops, and inns.  Parking is limited in town, so the NPS runs a shuttle (free with parking fee) two miles from their visitor center.

Best Trail

You can hike into town on the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail that cuts right through the buildings and over the footbridge across the Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Jefferson Rock is located just up the hill from town, named for Thomas Jefferson who visited in 1783.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 to park at NPS visitor center or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There is limited parking in town so it is easier to take a shuttle from the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are multiple private campgrounds in the area, as well as Maryland’s Gambrill State Park.

Related Sites

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

New River Gorge National River (West Virginia)

Explore More – Which famous member of the Corps of Discovery visited the national armory in Harpers Ferry in 1803 before heading to the Pacific Ocean?

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New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Overview

Ironically, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world at 65-million years.  In the 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge it falls 750 feet in elevation, meaning it is full of Class I to V rapids that attract whitewater rafters from around the world.  On December 27, 2020, the park was changed from a National River to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

New

Highlights

Bridge, scenic views, hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, free campgrounds

Must-Do Activity

Canyon Rim Visitor Center offers information and great views of the New River Gorge Bridge.  From there you can drive down the twisty road to the river.  Most visitors come here for whitewater rafting, so you should consider hiring a guide to take you out.

Best Trail

The Endless Wall Trail makes a 3-mile loop trail that provides great views of the New River Gorge and the bridge, as well as access to some of the park’s 1,600 rock climbing routes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Completed in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge is the second longest single-steel span in the world.  Highway 82 passes underneath where it rises 876 feet above the river.

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Peak Season

Summer (fall for whitewater rafting)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, and even many of the NPS campgrounds are free.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads we drove were steep and windy but passable by passenger vehicles, probably not by RVs.

Camping

Gravel roads access 5 free primitive campgrounds and historic ruins like Thurmond Historic District.

Related Sites

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Bluestone National Scenic River (West Virginia)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Group shot!
Overlook on the Endless Wall Trail.

Scott (in red) along the Endless Wall trail

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Ladders provide an easier way for non-rock climbers to ascend the Endless Wall.

 

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Rhododendron bloom

 

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Some whitewater on the New River.

Morning fog along the New River gorge

Tiff swimming in the New River
There are lots of rapids, except here at Stone Cliff primitive campground.

Explore More – Annually, what day is the bridge closed to allow BASE jumpers and rappelers to play on it?

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WONDON WAS HERE

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