From Home to Harpers Ferry (and Antietam) by Bicycle

I have taken many long-distance cycling trips since I became interested in bicycle travel. But I hadn’t done the one thing I’d really wanted to do all along: roll my bicycle out of my back yard in Bethesda, Maryland, and bike to somewhere far away.

I live close to the C&O Canal National Historical Park, so the canal towpath is a perfect option for a cycling excursion from home. I visit the towpath often to walk or bike, and I’ve bicycled its entire length twice. I’ve always thought a trip from home to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, via the towpath, with a side trip from Harpers Ferry to Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland, would make a perfect three-day bicycling trip.

During a stretch of unseasonably warm weather this past October, I finally ran out of reasons to put off this trip. I made a two-night reservation at a bed and breakfast in Harpers Ferry, loaded clothing, supplies, and snacks into one of my touring panniers, and headed for the canal.

(Mile markers appear along the towpath at one-mile intervals and provide a handy reference for describing locations along the canal, as in the captions below.)

Harpers Ferry occupies the strategic point of land where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers merge. Once an industrial town, it became known for John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal here in 1859, an event that helped incite civil war a year and half later.

Union and Confederate troops traded control of the town throughout the Civil War. After the war, severe floods helped end industry here. Much of Harpers Ferry is now a national historical park managed by the National Park Service.

Harpers Ferry itself is well worth a visit. However, I’d visited many times before, so I didn’t do any exploring. But staying overnight at the Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast was a first for me.

The next morning I biked another 12 miles up the canal towpath to Boonsboro Pike (Maryland Route 34), and then another easy 4½ miles on roads to the Antietam National Battlefield visitor center near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Antietam preserves the grounds of the exceedingly costly Civil War battle that took place here on September 15, 1862. By the end of 12 hours of fighting, about 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing. It was the single bloodiest day in American history.

I headed home the next day, retracing my route down the canal. I had biked almost 75 miles from home to my farthest point in Antietam, and a total of 162 miles over three days.

David Romanowski, 2016

4 thoughts on “From Home to Harpers Ferry (and Antietam) by Bicycle

  1. Reblogged this on historyplaces and commented:
    My friend and former writer for the Smithsonian, David, writes a great blog about his biking and other adventures. Here’s a recent post he wrote about a bike trip to one of my favorite history places, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Be sure to check out some of his other posts.


  2. Pingback: Big Slackwater on the C&O Canal | Bike Walk Drive

  3. Hi David, I live in NYC but want to see Harpers Ferry and Antietam, with a side trip to Shepherdstown. I was going to visit a friend in DC/ Arlington maybe rent a bike from there, oi do want to see some of the local DC bikeways. I do wan to see harpers Ferry and the battlefield late summer or early fall.

    good write.


    • Hi Patrick. Thanks for your comment! All the places you mentioned are well worth visiting, especially if you are interested in Civil War history. Bicycling, I think, is the best way to explore Antietam; you just follow the driving tour route on the Park Service brochure. Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown are best explored on foot but are easily reachable by bike from the C&O Canal. If you want advice on the C&O, or other biking trails or destinations in the DC area, feel free to get in touch.


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