See below for details on the America the Beautiful pass (above) and other park pass options.
With gasoline prices climbing, it makes more sense than ever to take advantage of nearby recreation options. Fortunately, there is no shortage of national wilderness areas and parks within a short drive from Jefferson County. And you can stretch your dollar even farther by taking advantage of discounted or free access passes from the National Park Service.
Stay Close to Home
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park – A national park in our own backyard, Harpers Ferry draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from all parts of the country and from around the globe. Besides the history, the park offers many opportunities for hiking and camping. The admission charge ($20 per carload) reflects its popularity but discounted passes are available (see below) to make it a cost-effective local playground.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail – Completed in 1937, the “Footpath for the People” is free to access. But since parking is limited at most of the access points, the easiest approach is from the Harpers Ferry visitor center parking lot (fee/pass required). Fun fact: West Virginia’s four miles of the Appalachian Trail is the shortest of any state’s, making it possible for AT hikers to traverse an entire state easily in a single day.
Chesapeake & Ohio National Historic Park – 184.5 miles of trails for walks, hikes, cycling – Free admission (except for Great Falls Tavern in Potomac, MD).
Antietam National Battlefield – Learn (or relearn) some Civil War history this summer and enjoy hikes through lovely countryside. Admission charge ($20 per carload for 3-day access) with discounted passes available (see below).
A Bit More Driving
George Washington & Jefferson National Forests – Encompasses over 1.8 million acres of Appalachian forests in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky for hiking, camping (47 campgrounds), fishing, mountain biking, and bird watching. Admission charged in some locations.
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve – West Virginia’s newest national park, with more than 1.5 million recreational visitors in 2021, New River Gorge is approximately 4 hours by car from the Eastern Panhandle and has no admission charge.
Save Money with a Pass
By federal law, 80 percent or more of admission fees are used to benefit the park being visited. But, while you can feel good about where your fees go, you can also plan ahead to save money.
If you want to stay local, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park offers a park-specific annual pass for $35 (good for one pass holder and immediate family). You’ll need to visit the entrance station at the park visitor center (171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry WV) to purchase.
If you want to venture further afield, the America the Beautiful pass offers access to 2,000+ national parks and federal recreation lands across the USA (including the Harpers Ferry park). The standard America the Beautiful pass costs $80 and is valid for one year from the date of purchase. Each pass can have two “owners” and will cover entrance for up to four adults in a single vehicle (admission for children under 16 is always free at national parks). The America the Beautiful Senior pass is only $20 per year (or $80 for a lifetime pass), available if you are over 62. Active military members, veterans, Gold Star families, and US residents with permanent disabilities are eligible for free America the Beautiful passes. A special program for 4th graders and their families also provides free passes (details at EveryKidOutdoors.gov). All versions of this pass can be obtained online via the National Park Service’s website (NPS.gov – under “plan your visit, passes” in the menu) or at the Harpers Ferry park visitor center.
Happy adventuring!By Harriet Pearson