View Full Version : Starting 1st of april 2016 in harpers ferry.

09-07-2015, 08:38
Hi guys,

i am a first time poster, long time reader.
i have been preparing this for a while, and decided a while ago that i would be starting in Harpers ferry, hike to Maine etc..
I am flying in from Belgium, to Washington Dulles, taking a taxi to harpers ferry.
as far as i understand, people start hiking the AT in Georgia on the 1st of April. As i will be starting in Harpers ferry, i am concerned that the outfitters/resupply stores along the way will not be open for another month. Is this something i should be worrying about?

it would be a catastrophe for me to arrive and find out there is no way to resupply along the way. As i will be a very long way from home.

i have to start in the beginning of April, due to some time constraint.

I hope someone can enlighten me :)


09-07-2015, 11:14
Not a problem. Outfitters are open year round as are the supermarkets in towns where you will be buying your food. The only question might be hostels, which can be seasonal. However, there are plenty of other options for in town stays, although they would be more expensive.

Odd Man Out
09-07-2015, 12:16
Instead of taking a taxi to HF you could take the bus from the airport to the city center. From there you can take a train to HF. it would take longer but would be less expensive. Last year I took the express bus from the airport to L'Enfant Plaza. From there I walked to the train station (2 km?) To catch a late afternoon train. The walk takes you right down the center of the mall past the Smithsonian Museums and the US Capitol. Even if you have don't have time to stop and sightsee, If you have not seen DC it is worth the trip and a good way to stretch your legs after a long flight. I had some extra time so i stopped at the art gallery (free admission, free bag check). The have the only DaVinci in the Americas and a Van Eyk that is to die for.

09-07-2015, 13:11
I started April 19 from HF this year on my FF thru attempt. I found that PennMar park was still closed (no water/no restrooms), the store/grill at Pine Grove Furnace was not open during the week (only weekends), and there was one other pay campground that I can't think of the name right now that was still closed. Not a big deal but don't depend upon smaller service providers unless they state that they are open at that time of year or at least call ahead for verification. Supermarkets, stores, and motels are all open and no need to worry about them.

The first week of May seems to be the when some of the seasonal services open up.

09-07-2015, 13:14
Hi Ittai!

Welcome to WhiteBlaze.net. Good input by the friendly and helpful folks here already.

Awesome that you are considering an alternative to a Georgia start--especially if you want to start April 1, one of the most overcrowded times to start at the southern terminus.

However, April 1 is early to be leaving Harpers Ferry.

Here's why:

There would be almost no long-distance hikers. (There are a few section-hikers out, and day-hikers on weekends.) In other words, you may meet people at an overlook or spend the night together at a shelter, but you'll likely have no one to share the journey with more than a few days at a time.

The weather from Harpers Ferry northbound starting April 1 can range from quite pleasant to light snowfall or icy.

If you are wedded to the April 1 date, you might consider starting further south in Virginia. It will be significantly colder if you started anywhere more than 60 miles south of Harpers Ferry, at which point the elevation increases and stays higher all the rest of the way south to Georgia. Given an April 1 start, Shenandoah National Park (mile 60 to 160 south of Harpers Ferry) might be a good choice. There would be additional time and expense required to get to a starting point.

The beginning of April from Harpers Ferry north is a halfway between winter and spring; in Shenandoah, it's still mostly winter up high where the A.T. is located. Ice storms occur periodically in Shenandoah the first week of April, although more typically the ground is bare and it's just cold. Snow can fall in Shenandoah as late as the 3rd week of April, but that's not typical. It's usually not much and melts quickly.

The scenic byway Skyline Drive runs right through the center of Shenandoah National Park, and crosses the A.T. every few miles. In summer, that means it is debatably the most accessible part of the entire Trail. However, when snow falls, the drive is closed and is usually not plowed. It instantly becomes one of the more inaccessible places on the Trail in the mid-Atlantic, with 30-45 miles between road crossings (where highways cross over the mountain, as opposed to the Skyline Drive, which follows the ridgeline and parallels the A.T.)

You can get an Amtrak train from Union Station in Washington, DC to not only Harpers Ferry, West Virginia but to Culpeper, Virginia, or Charlottesville, Virginia, which will get you to within 20-25 miles of access points further south. (Union Station is accessible from DC-area airports Reagan, BWI (Baltimore-Washington) and Dulles.

From Charlottesville, you can get a shuttle or taxi to the trail. I haven't researched Culpeper, but there are probably taxi options there, too.

Here's more detail:

Shenandoah National Park

Some of the amenities in Shenandoah National Park would be open that early; others not. This year's schedule can be found at nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/facilities-opening-schedule.htm (http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/facilities-opening-schedule.htm).

Rockfish Gap (160 miles south of Harpers Ferry)
The southern end of Shenandoah National Park, where the hiker-friendly Waynesboro is 5 miles west and larger city of Charlottesville is 20 miles east. It then leads into the most remote section of Shenandoah National Park. At the beginning of April, there are no services. This year, the one service option (Loft Mountain Wayside--snack bar, minimal camping supplies) opened April 9. Loft Mountain Campground Campstore with Showers/Laundry didn't open until May 6.

Swift Run Gap/US 33 (115 south of Harpers Ferry).
This is the section of the park with the most amenities.

Thornton Gap/US 211 (80 miles south of Harpers Ferry
A shuttle or taxi from Dulles is only about 70 miles.

Again, the weather would be significantly colder, since the mountains are generally about 2000 feet higher throughout Virginia (except for the rugged 55-mile section immediately south of Harpers Ferry, where it's similar to Maryland, and much higher at the southern end of the state).

Check out elevation profiles at http://postholer.com/databook/elev.php?trail_id=3.

Basically, what it boils down to is: start a little further south to see more thru-hikers, and have colder weather, or start in Harpers Ferry and have less wintry weather and easier logistics, but fewer thru-hikers.

Good luck, whatever you decide to do!

Laurie Potteiger
Appalachian Trail Conservancy

09-07-2015, 13:33
I refrained from commenting on weather since my predictions seem to be off. Traditionally, April is the spring rainy season which transitions into the spring bug season. As you get farther north, May can also be very wet. But weather patterns are changing and last year April and May were pretty dry and warm. April was more like May and May was more like June. But with the big El Nino this winter, it's too early to tell how next year's spring will shape up. It could mean we'll have a more traditional cold and wet spring rather then a warm and dry one.

09-07-2015, 17:09
Any chance you can start closer to May 1st?

Grocery stores will be open year round. It'll be easy enough to hitchhike into the larger town and go to a grocery store - so resupply will be fine.

What will be closed that early are all the hostels, and the park concessions, etc., as mentioned above.

The other issue is how fast you want to hike. If you are going at a good pace, you'll be hitting Vermont in late May or early June, when it can be rather wet and buggy.

Good luck and welcome.

09-07-2015, 22:52
I'd say its definitely possible you may even hit some snow.

09-08-2015, 13:03
Guys, thanks a lot for all this extremely helpful input.
What i am generally reading is that it would be better to start a little later. Lets say i would start April 11th, would that make any difference at all?

what i don't get, is how starting more south will give me a bigger chance to meet more thru hikers. seeing most start in Georgia, it seems to me like they will be far away from either Shenandoah or HF? or is this incorrect?

i don't like crowds, i would rather experience the wilderness in its serenity... although i would enjoy meeting people every once in a while... at least at the campgrounds.

i am so anxious to do this, its not even funny :). but it does scare the crap out of me too though.

09-08-2015, 13:35
Just to throw in another possible - we did a trip down there in Shenandoah during April break a number of years ago (staring on the 13th, which is not that far off from your dates) and we had temperatures in the 80's & 90's for most of the week - even had someone with one of those pocket thermometers measure 99 on the Shenandoah River itself while canoeing one day (and even splashing water with paddles didn't keep you cool). So it could be cold, or it could be hot, just depends on the year and how "normal" it is.

09-08-2015, 14:37
The suggestion to start further south is not to meet more hikers, rather, it's effectively the same as starting later at Harper's Ferry. Around May 1 seems to be the sweet spot for starting in HF, for weather both in the mid-Atlantic and up in New England in late June and July.

Starting on April 11 will make some difference over starting April 1, certainly. Again, a lot depends on how fast you end up hiking. If you're very fast, you may end up in New England too early and get to enjoy Mud Season and Black Fly Season.

The Appalachian Trail can be a wilderness experience, but please realize that it's so close to so many people who live on the East Coast that you're never all that far from civilization except in a few places.

Hope you enjoy the hike. A large undertaking like this can be a little scary, but it can also be a lot of fun. :)

09-08-2015, 23:08
I like Laurie's idea...go south for your start. Take mass transit into Washington DC, and then take a bus to southern Virginia, e.g., Marion, VA (via Greyhound bus) or Christiansburg, VA (via Megabus).

09-08-2015, 23:52
Once you get to DC it's reasonably easy to get to several starting points in Virginia by bus. You can pick where to start based on the current weather outlook at the time. If its looking like a warm, dry spring, start north. If its looking like a wet, chilly spring, start farther south.

Personally, either way I'd start at Marion, VA (one of the easy bus stops) just north of Damascus. The elevation is reasonably low so the weather is moderated and the woods are more "alive" with wild flowers, flowering bushes and trees than farther north. I'd do Virginia in April again for sure.