Slackpacking Harpers Ferry

Destination: Harpers Ferry, WV

| Activities: Hiking and Slackpacking

The Appalachian Trail, while often rugged and remote, is designed to accommodate both people who want to hike the entire trail and those who choose to section hike it, either by backpacking or by slackpacking. This trip covers the northernmost section of Virginia, covering 60 miles between Harpers Ferry, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) headquarters is located, and Chester Gap just outside of Front Royal. In between are 60 miles of classic AT trail with varied terrain including beautiful vistas over the Shenandoah Valley, the 'roller coaster' section (with those AT 'muds' and 'puds'), great shelter areas for lunches and breaks - all the time following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains that forms the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia. Join us as we complete this beautiful section of the AT! Maximum group size: 12


  • Enjoying the beautiful vistas over the Shenandoah Valley
  • Hiking the infamous "roller coaster" - 13.5 miles of ups and downs
  • Learning the role that this area played in the Civil War
  • Experiencing spacious solitude at the Blue Mountain Retreat

Departures and Prices

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  • Two to three experienced AGC guides, based on group size
  • Six nights lodging at the Blue Mountain Retreat
  • All meals from dinner on Saturday through breakfast the following Friday
  • Daily shuttles back and forth to the trailheads

What's not included: Travel to and from Dulles International Airport (IAD), alcoholic beverages, guide gratuities, and travel insurance

Trip Documents

Trip Info

This trip is rated both a 4 and 5 because it involves hiking from 6.5 to 14 miles a day (see the itinerary for daily mileage) and requires being in excellent physical condition. On two days there are shorter options and the rating of 4 is appropriate if you choose these or if you prefer to just take one or two days off from hiking. A rating of 4 requires aerobic conditioning for at least 40-50 minutes 4-5 times a week with additional endurance exercise (e.g. going for a 2 hour hike with elevation gain once a week) and strength training recommended. Going for longer hikes before the trip is recommended if you want to hike the entire 60+ miles. Rating: 1 2 3 [4] [5].

This is a hiking trip on the northern Virginia section of the legendary Appalachian Trail. You will be hiking in the mountains with constant elevation gain and loss on a trail that is extremely rocky at times. We will begin out trip just outside the historic town of Harpers Ferry, although there will be limited time to visit it.

We will be staying in the lovely Blue Mountain Retreat for the week. It is a private, spacious house with ample parking space. There is a wraparound deck with a dining area, and a living room full of comfy chairs to relax in after a long day of hiking. The lodging has 9 bedrooms 4 bathrooms, 2 living rooms and 2 dining rooms. Some bedrooms can accommodate up to 4 people, but we will have a maximum of 2 people per room. Please note: Single supplements refer to your own bedroom only. There are 2 larger single rooms and 2 smaller single rooms used for single supplements and are priced accordingly. All bathrooms are shared.

Below is the proposed itinerary for the trip. As is true on any adventure travel trip, plans for any specific day may be modified due to weather considerations, unforeseen circumstances, new opportunities, and group interests.

Meet at 1:00 p.m. at the Dulles Airport (IAD) or 3:00 p.m. at the Blue Mountain Retreat Center, just across from Harpers Ferry. If you are flying, group transportation from the airport to Harpers Ferry will be arranged for 1:00 p.m. The shuttle ride is about an hour and will deposit you right at the door of the lodging. If you prefer to drive to Harpers Ferry, please plan to arrive at the Blue Mountain Retreat Center by 3:00 p.m. After settling in we'll gather for introductions and trip orientation before enjoying one of the first delicious dinners made by your guides. Overnight: Blue Mountain Retreat Center (D)
Today and every day we'll have an early and hearty breakfast, so we have adequate time to prepare for the day and get on the trail early. After breakfast, we'll shuttle to the very tip of Harpers Ferry, near the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, where we'll start along the Appalachian Trail. Passing Saint Peters church and Jefferson Rock, we'll cross over the Shenandoah River and continue under canopy to Keys Gap. For those who would like to keep hiking, we'll continue through Buzzard Rocks, along Laurel Springs, and on to the Blackburn Center situated approximately .3 miles off trail. The Blackburn Center is a PTC maintained shelter area. While they offer bunk space and tenting platforms for those who are backpacking, we'll meet our shuttle there and head back to the Blue Mountain Retreat Center. Distance: 13.0 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 2,720 feet/1,900 feet Think you might want to ease into the week a little more gently? We've got you covered. You can always take out at Keys Gap for a 6.3-mile day with an elevation gain/loss of 1440 ft. /800 ft. You don't even have to decide till you get there. Tonight, and every night we'll return to our lodging where the guides will prepare a filling, home cooked meal, designed to replenish your spirits and your body. Overnight: Blue Mountain Retreat Center (B,L,D) Shuttle Time: 10 minutes/35 minutes
Another day on trail! This morning we'll shuttle back to the Blackburn Center, where we ended yesterday, and hike the .3 miles (all up!) to rejoin the AT. We'll pass through Snickers Gap (maybe a trail angel will have left some real Snickers?) and begin the first 4 miles of the infamous 13.9 mile 'Roller Coaster' - so called because of tightly packed ups and downs. There will be plenty of rocks, great challenging ups and lovely wooded downs. We'll pass Raven rocks and Crescent Rocks - yes, there is a theme here - and at the end of the day we'll walk right to the Bears Den Lodge – a favorite destination for AT hikers! Distance: 9 miles Elevation gain/loss: 2,100 feet/2,000 feet Shuttle Time: 35 minutes/40 minutes Overnight: Blue Mountain Retreat Center (B,L,D)
Putting back on trail this morning from the Bears Den Lodge, we'll first pass by the Bears Den rocks - beautiful granite and sandstone boulders that do look like they would make the perfect den for bears! If you want a big challenge, you have the option to hike 13.9 miles, including the remaining 9.9 miles of the 'Roller Coaster', and on to Ashby Gap. If that isn't appealing, you can opt for an earlier out after 7.5 miles. You will still have lots of up and down, but the shorter mileage allows you to do it at a slower pace. Regardless of which you choose, at the end of the day we'll end up shuttling back to our home on the trail - the Bears Den. Distance: 13.9 miles Elevation gain/loss: 4,000 feet/2,000 feet, or 7.5 miles and less gain and loss. Shuttle: 40 minutes/50 minutes Overnight: Blue Mountain Retreat Center (B,L,D)
After another hearty breakfast, we'll be back on trail this morning starting at Ashby Gap. We'll start off hiking by passing a rock wall that was originally surveyed by 19-year-old George Washington. The trail today passes several AT shelters including Whiskey Hollow and Manassas Shelter. Whiskey Hollow is a newer shelter built by the local AT club. After a long and absolutely satisfying day, ending at Manassas Gap, we'll shuttle back to the Blue Mountain Retreat for another delicious home cooked meal and a well-deserved rest. Distance: 13.6 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 2,400 feet/2,780 feet. Shuttle: 50 minutes/1 hour 10 minutes Overnight: Blue Mountain Retreat Center (B,L,D)
Can it really be over so soon? Sadly, yes. And our last day on trail, is going to be a great one! We'll put in at Manassas Gap for our final 8.7 miles of the trip. About halfway through we'll be sure to take a break at the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter area. This shelter has a great front porch as well as a solar shower and yes, running water! We'll finish the day with a slow downhill, losing about 1,000 feet in elevation, where we'll find ourselves on Route 522 and our awaiting shuttle. We should be back in plenty of time to prepare for dinner out tonight where we'll remember our week together and say goodbye, until the next AT opportunity! Distance: 8.7 miles. Elevation gain/loss: 1,955 feet/1,590 feet. Overnight: Blue Mountain Retreat Center (B,L,D)
As always, we start the day with a great breakfast. Except today we won't be burning it off! After close to 60 miles and about 12,000 feet elevation gain and loss in 5 days, our bodies will be confused - no hiking today! If you're driving, you’re free to leave when you need to. If you are flying, there will be a 9:30 a.m. group shuttle to IAD for flights out after 12:30 p.m. (B)


(60 reviews)
4.9 Food
4.2 Lodging
4.8 Safety

*These are the unfiltered reviews of women who have been on this trip in answer to the question "What made this trip special for you?". We take reviews very seriously and often tweak itineraries based on feedback. Please feel free to contact us about any questions you have.

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Most Recent

Claire W.
8 months ago

Heather K.
9 months ago

Jennifer L.
9 months ago

Great group, great guides, nice accommodations

Anne L.
9 months ago

Beautiful location, challenging hiking, great lodging and food and very nice group of women. The only negative was the extra travel time due to the road closures.

Pam M.
9 months ago

Great guides and great women!

Holly K.
9 months ago

Great Guides, enjoyable companions, good weather, good scenery, and a good challenge.

Shawn Y.
9 months ago

The guides were excellent in every way possible. The fellow hikers exemplified "good company" and the trail was some of the best AT miles I've done so far. Another great AGC trip!

Kimberly H.
9 months ago

The guides made my first AGC trip spectacular! They worked well together as a team, were knowledgeable guides, amazing chefs, and created an atmosphere of acceptance and support.

Jean M.
1 year ago

The guides and participants

Susan G.
1 year ago

The caring and hard-working leaders, the other hikers and hiking trough the autumn forest each day made this trip special for me.

Tess P.
1 year ago

The group of ladies that were on this trip were very friendly, nice, interesting to chat with, and very encouraging! There was a great energy in this group. The guides were AWESOME…..also very encouraging, patient, and helpful in every way.

Eva B.
1 year ago

Exactly what I expect from AGC: fun companions, beautiful hiking, top-notch organization, great foods, and guides that go above and beyond to make the trip a success.

Katherine A.
1 year ago

The support, camaraderie and humor of my fellow hiking sisters, along with the outstanding and seemingly limitless supply of encouragement, patience and hard work from the 3 guides, Emily T., Anne F., and Karen K. Thank you so much!

Andrea B.
1 year ago

The AT in Virginia is challenging, even as a slackpack. But it is gorgeous, especially this time of year (fall). The trip was made extra special by the friendly, supportive, and interesting group of participants. I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know all of them. Our accommodations, although rustic, where quite adequate. The Bears Den Lodge is perfectly situated for this hike. I was a little apprehensive about sleeping dormitory style, but this allowed us to get to know each other better and made for a more cohesive group. And of course the guides, Karen, Anne, and Emily were the best! They did everything they could to make the trip memorable for all of us. Their support and guidance was exactly what I needed to reach my goals on this trip. I hope to see all of these women on the trail again.

Theresa D.
1 year ago

The comradeship of the all the women in the group including the guides.

Debra C.
1 year ago

Nice terrain and good amount of miles. Awesome group of women including guides. Yummy healthy food choices! Everything was great.

Deborah A.
1 year ago

Great guides, participants and hostel location

Francine M.
2 years ago

The hiking was great- if we just could have made a solid 60 miles it would have been great

Jane C.
2 years ago

The beauty of the area and the experience of being on the AT.

Shannon B.
2 years ago

The agency and the guides were well prepared for every eventuality and all conditions. I did not have to worry about a single thing! When participants raised concerns, even small ones, they were addressed immediately and professionally.

Brenda K.
2 years ago

The guides and Claire’s cooking.

Pamela H.
2 years ago

Great hiking, great week meeting new women, and another great week with Claire as my guide!

Constance M.
2 years ago

Leaders were excellent. Good camaraderie among attendees.

Jennifer K.
2 years ago

The guides! Along with the quality of planning, knowledge and kindness. The women who were also on the trip. The meals (where else can you hike 60 miles and not loose an ounce😂) Lodging was what I expected with a traditional hiker hostel. I know it’s harder to cook in a shared kitchen and for some didn’t seem fancy enough. I however, enjoyed seeing how thru hikers and local trail users survive on trail. I enjoyed the Bears Den

Lynn W.
2 years ago

Great group of women, wonderful guides, and challenging trails. Good food and fun hostel life!

Doris E.
3 years ago

Pam F.
3 years ago

Eenee F.
3 years ago

Covid continues to be so confining that we were all excited to escape into the wilderness of the Appalachian Trail. The private Bear's Den was a wonderful oasis for our group. I was so impressed with the fitness of the other 9 hiker-ladies. We all hiked together and no-one ever lagged behind. The Guides generosity and attention to our comfort and care exceeded my expectations. They were terrific.

Wendy S.
3 years ago

Sheila C.
3 years ago

Susan R.
3 years ago

Sure helped that we had fantastic weather!! I was travelling with a friend that I met way back on the GC-Havesu trip. Another bonus is that two of my 2021 trips will re-connect me w/ladies I met on this trip. It was good to see the 'back office" on a trip - what better way to see what really happens after the planning is done.

Brenda D.
3 years ago

I was a little disappointed there was only a couple of good overlooks along this particular section of the trail and, due to the rockiness, I spent a majority of timing looking at where I was placing my feet vs. being able to enjoy the landscape.

Rachael S.
4 years ago

Fabulous guides, always encouraging and helpful. They work really hard to 'take care' of us and keep us safe. The weather was hard one day and I became hypothermic, by my own stupidity. I learned a valuable lesson, which they carefully and thoughtfully guided me thru.

Tara R.
4 years ago

The previous slackpacking trip I had done (Virginia) and the following one (Maryland) were all based out of a single place of lodging. This trip had 3 different places to stay. I really prefer the one "home base."

Patricia Y.
4 years ago

I have never had a bad AGC trip as it relates to the guides and the activities and the planning that goes into a trip. THis trip because of the women who were on the trip was especially wonderful but AGC has no control over how a group of 10-12 strangers will bond or not bond. THis group was especially cohesive and friendly.

Sj T.
4 years ago

Tara M.
4 years ago

The highlights of my trip were finishing an entire section of the AT, all of the really delicious food and the interaction between the members of our group. I loved staying at Mountain Home. I liked that AGC supported the HI Hostel by staying there (its one of my favorite organizations) and Bear's Den too. Also the day we finished the rollercoaster was my favorite day start to finish: made to order french toast at Mountain Home, excellent and challenging hiking, Claire meeting us at the end with coffees and chocolates then having Thai curry for dinner. I could not have wished for a more perfect day.

Rita R.
4 years ago

I just enjoyed the ease of everyday. All details were expertly handled and we were able enjoy the hike, each other and wonderful meals and showers.

Charlene S.
4 years ago

Guides were so enthusiastic, upbeat, and helpful, it would have been impossible not to enjoy it!

Mary B.
4 years ago

Completing the rollercoaster portion of the hike--we knew it would be challenging and 8 of 12 of us did it and stuck together.

Charyn H.
4 years ago

I was not sure what to expect and was very happy with the guides (great job!), the food, and the accommodations. I really appreciated the fact that we stayed on schedule, yet felt relaxed and well prepared for the day ahead.

Mary U.
4 years ago

Alice R.
5 years ago

The beautiful scenery and challenging hiking on the AT, meeting and interacting with other women interested in hiking, enjoying the experience without having to worry about logistics and meal prep.

Rebecca J.
5 years ago

Marta B.
5 years ago

I had a good time. The trip pushed me physically particularly on the long days.

Susan C.
5 years ago

Great group of ladies. Good food. Beautiful hike.

Patty B.
5 years ago

Alexis E.
5 years ago

Meeting group members. Roller coaster (believe it or not). Silence in the forests and mountains. Achieving my personal goals.

Lynda N.
5 years ago

Trip was awesome... guides, other participants, hikes, food, scenery, you name it. Exceeded my expectations in many ways. Everyone was made to feel comfortable and could hike their hike at their own pace. This was amazing. I wasn't sure if I could hike the whole mileage, having not been on a hike like this before. I was glad I did. Guides were so supportive, of everyone.

Julia J.
5 years ago

Laura R.
5 years ago

Challenging nature of hikes, organization and guides. The hostel was less comfortable and appealing than expected.

Susan S.
6 years ago

The highlights would be the physical challenge and camaraderie among the women

Vicki B.
6 years ago

trip was everything I wanted! great people, challenging and beautiful hikes, incredibly organized with excellent leadership.

Laura R.
6 years ago

The gorgeous hiking (weather was perfect!!), amazing company of new friends, the food, the awesome guides. Everything was just fabulous. It could not have been a better week.

Laurie W.
6 years ago

Being able to slackpacking the AT for five days to see if I would be able to hike for five days in a row and eventually try to section hike and camp out on the AT.

Rita A.
6 years ago

Well organized itinerary throughout day for optimal hiking experience. Meals were thought out, well prepared and appetizing. Would have liked to start hikes earlier in the day however weather permitted later starts so it worked.

Annmarie E.
6 years ago

Highlights were the great group of women on this trip, the challenge of trails we hiked, and being able to have Marian as one of the guides.

Karen N.
6 years ago

Flexibility for length of hikes.

Judy K.
6 years ago

Finishing each day. Having lunch overlooking a valley

Terri R.
6 years ago

The guides were awesome. I felt honored and privileged to hike Harper's Ferry with Marian. She made a point to talk and get to know with each of us on an individual basis. I enjoyed the challenge and left feeling more confident by my abilities.

  1. Where do we eat?

    The guides will be cooking breakfasts and most dinners at the lodging. Before you leave in the morning the guides will put out lunch 'fixings' and you'll take a packed lunch. One night we'll order pizza, and one dinner will be at a restaurant where you can order off the menu; other nights you'll relax in the lodge and have dinner there.
  2. What dietary preferences or restrictions can you accommodate on this trip?

    If we know well in advance, we can accommodate vegetarian, lactose-free, and gluten-sensitive diets. We cannot guarantee a completely gluten-free diet and we cannot provide a kitchen guaranteed to be free of cross-contamination. If you are vegan, we ask that you bring some additional protein bars; and if you are gluten-sensitive, please bring some gluten-free snacks. If you have severe allergies, Celiac disease and/or other significant dietary restrictions, please call the office before you register.
  3. I will be coming by myself. Do I need to pay a single supplement?

    On all of our trips, you only need to pay a single supplement if you want to guarantee you have your own room. On this trip, where most of the lodging is based out of hostels, singles are not offered.