The small town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is the perfect place to escape for a day trip or long weekend. This charming town is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and is home to many historic buildings.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love the hiking and tubing opportunities in the area. History buffs will enjoy exploring the many historic sites.
Harpers Ferry History in a Nutshell
The small West Virginia town played an important role in United States history. It was the site of a pivotal battle during the Civil War and also home to John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859.
Today, visitors can explore the many historic sites that make up Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The park includes old buildings, preserved fortifications, and trails that tell the story of this unique town.
If you are a history buff and outdoor enthusiast, you may want to navigate to Jefferson Rock, named after Thomas Jefferson who visited Harpers Ferry on October 25, 1783. This popular destination is situated along the Blue Ridge Mountains section of the famous Appalachian Trail between the Lower Town and Camp Hill areas of the park. You’ll know you have spotted the famous rock formation when you see a large rock on top of four stone pillars.
1. Hike Maryland Heights
To get a bird’s eye view of downtown Harpers Ferry, hike up the Maryland Heights Trail, part of the National Park Service. The trail is considered to be a moderate to strenuous hike that can be from 4.5 to 6.5 miles round trip. The hike can take up to 3-4 hours, round trip.
The hiking trail is pretty amazing and you just might catch glimpses into Civil War, industrial, and transportation history.
The trail is open from sunrise to sunset, so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to return from the apex. You can pick up a trail map at the park’s Visitor Center at 171 Shoreline drive.
Be sure to keep yourself hydrated while you hike as there is no water available on the trail. (There are also no restrooms, so “go” before you go.)
The scenic views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River from Maryland Heights is stunning. Be aware that there are not any barriers to protect hikers, either from wildlife or natural hazards such as slippery rock formations and there have been fatalities.
2. See John Brown’s Fort
After descending the mountain, make your way to the center of the town and take in the sites. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a must-see. The park includes a museum dedicated to the abolitionist John Brown who led a raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 in an attempt to start a slave uprising.
The fort was used as a prison, powder magazine, and possibly a supply house during the Civil War. It was the only Armory building to not be destroyed during the Civil War.
Interesting fact: the fort was sold, dismantled, and transported to Chicago in 1891 and put on display. After having only 11 visitors in ten days, the building was closed, dismantled again, and left on a vacant lot. In 1895, the fort was re-assembled on a farm about 3 miles outside of Harpers Ferry. In 1909, the building was relocated to Storer College. In 1960, the National Park Service acquired the building and had it moved to its current location in Lower Town in 1968.
3. Buy Historic Candy
Another museum that pays tribute to the past is True Treats Historic Candy. If you have a sweet tooth, this candy shop is the place for you because it is all about candy throughout the years. I am talking way back to the 1700s.
The store is “the nation’s only historic candy company with over 500 products including cakes, teas, syrups, gums, waters, cocktail mixes, sweet vinegars and more.”
4. Grab a Bite To Eat
If a hearty meal is what you crave, head up the hill and stop by The Rabbit Hole, a wood-paneled cozy restaurant located at 186 High Street. The portions are generous and you could easily split one meal between two people.
Menu items include the likes of Loaded Pork Fries, CBD High Street Salad, Blue Ridge Burger, and Mac N Cheese.
5. Float Down the Shenandoah River
After having worked up a good sweat on your upper lip from climbing up the mountain, a casual float down the Shenandoah River is a nice way to relax and unwind and River Riders will help make it happen.
For the not-so-adventurous, flat water tubing is the way to go. At River Riders, you will watch a safety video, don a life jacket, and then load up in the bus and be taken to a drop-off point on the Shenandoah River. You can take a leisurely float down the river where you will get off at a specified point and get back on a bus to be taken to the River Riders Family Adventure Resort.
6. See the Allstadt House and Ordinary
On your way out of River Riders, you might spot an old white house. That was the house of John H. Allstadt. The home was built on 1,675 acres by the Lee family with the earliest part of the house dating to about 1790.
The home and 114 acres were purchased by Jacob Allstadt in 1811. Allstadt began an inn that served meals (called an ordinary) and expanded the dwelling.
The house was not immune to John Brown and his men. In 1859 on his way to Harpers Ferry, Brown and his party stopped there and knocked down the door. He took Allstadt, his son, and seven slaves as prisoners. (All were released but one who was captured helping John Brown and jailed in Charles Town, where he died.)
7. Get Spooked in Harpers Ferry
If you are interested in the paranormal and tales from the past, consider taking a ghost tour of Harpers Ferry. The Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry offers a guided exploration of the town’s haunted past with stories from the historic town. The ghost tour usually takes 90 minutes to 1 ¾ hours and covers several blocks of the lower town. Tours are offered year-round and reservations are required.
8. Savor Two Scoops of Pure Deliciousness
If that wasn’t sufficient enough to cool you off, then head to Sharpsburg, Maryland and make a beeline to Nutters Ice Cream and throw a few Washingtons to the ladies and walk away with two ginormous scoops of some incredible ice cream. (Note: They only accept cash.)
Tip: if you decide to eat it outside in 90+ heat, eat fast or get it in a cup. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Harpers Ferry National Park Information
Harpers Ferry National Park is worth a visit if you are in the area. The main parking lot is located at 171 Shoreline Drive. The entrance fee to the park includes parking, ranger programs, and access to park museums, exhibits, and trails.
Parking passes are valid for 3 consecutive days. You can purchase your pass online or pay at the Entrance Station near the park’s visitor center, Bolivar Heights, Harper Ferry Train Station and at the River Access Parking Lot. (Note: credit cards are only accepted at the Entrance Station and online.)
Entrance fees are $20 for vehicles, $15 for motorcycles, and $10 per person.
- Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races – 7.2 miles
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park – 25.5 miles
- South Mountain State Park – 21.7 miles
Harpers Ferry is considered one of the best small vacation towns in America and it’s easy to see why. Although the town has less than 400 residents, there is no shortage of things to do. Whether you’re looking for history, outdoor adventure, or just a place to relax.
Please leave a comment below telling us about your favorite things to do and places to eat in Harpers Ferry. Thanks!