History, adventure, and nature meet at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. Just an hour and a half away from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Harpers Ferry lies across the bridge from Maryland at the intersection of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.
It is a quaint town full of amazing Civil War sites & history, and in the fall, the foliage along the Potomac Rivers is dazzling. It is a beautiful place to spend a day or, better yet, a weekend.
After just one visit, you will understand why locals refer to West Virginia as “almost heaven.” and why you’ll wish you were soon visiting Harpers Ferry.
Things To Do In Harpers Ferry
This historic town has much to offer the mature traveler, from outdoor activities and scenic views to museums, historic parks, and battlefields.
Take In Civil War History And Amazing Views At Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is run by the National Park Service and encompasses a series of museums where you can learn about the Civil War history of the area. History buffs will especially enjoy the guided tour of the site of the Battle of Bolivar Heights which is one of the top Civil War sites to see.
Harpers Ferry also is a great place to hike, with 22 miles of hiking trails open from sunrise till sunset with great views of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. There are easy, moderate, and challenging trails available.
For incredible views of the rivers and Harpers Ferry, hike up to Maryland Heights and surrounding mountains. The 5-mile Maryland Heights Loop is our very favorite hike in West Virginia. It’s rated moderately difficult — the first half mile is uphill — but then the hike is pretty simple. If you hike the entire loop, you’ll return to the point where you started.
Another hike that provides fantastic views is the Loudoun Heights Trail. This out-and-back trail near Harpers Ferry leads to Split Rock. It’s rated moderate by the National Parks Service, since there are roots and rocks plus elevation to contend with. The payoff is spectacular, however, featuring scenic views of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and the town of Harpers Ferry.
Take The Grandkids To The Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum & Joy Line Railroad
The Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum showcases a collection of toys and antique electric trains. The outdoor miniature train ride, known as the Joy Line Railroad, is fun for the young and the young at heart alike. An original railroad section car house serves as the station.
This museum is only open on holidays and weekends between April and October, weather permitting.
See John Brown’s Fort And The John Brown Wax Museum
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, John Brown’s Fort is where an attempt to seize the Harpers Ferry federal arsenal took place. Brown hated slavery, and this was his effort to start an armed insurrection of abolitionists and enslaved people. Captured in this house, Brown was later hanged. His legacy, John Brown’s fort, remains a popular historical attraction.
The John Brown Wax Museum details Brown’s life and views and his raid on Harpers Ferry.
Bike Or Walk Through The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Visitors can bike or walk along the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Just cross the footbridge over the Potomac River below mile marker 61 on the towpath. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal once transported lumber, agricultural products, and coal to market and runs from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. While the canal is no longer in use, some locks and houses remain as reminders of the industrial age looked after by the National Park Service.
The surface of the towpath is flat and made of crushed gravel, making riding easy for bicyclists. The natural beauty and sounds of nature along the path will soothe your senses. Be on the lookout for birds and other animals.
Take A Town Tour Or Ghost Tour
O’ Be JoyFull Historical Tours and Entertainment offers two Harpers Ferry tours that are highly rated and worthwhile.
The Historical Walking Tour explores the town’s history from its first settlement to its participation in building the world’s first successful steamboat.
If you want a ghostly experience, try the 2-hour walking tour through the historic Lower Town of Harpers Ferry. You’ll visit several buildings and sites where paranormal phenomena have been reported and will hear stories about the hauntings and tales of years gone by. This top-rated attraction is also America’s oldest ghost tour.
Have A River Adventure
If you enjoy water activities, check out River Riders for kayaking, tubing, whitewater rafting, paddleboarding, and more in the Potomac river or Shenandoah.
For the more adventurous, mountain biking, zip lines, and other challenging activities are available.
Pay Your Respects At The Nearby Battlefields
Civil War buffs might consider traveling the short distance to the two additional Civil War battlefields located near Harpers Ferry.
Antietam National Battlefield is 6 miles from Harpers Ferry and marks the site of the bloodiest battle in American history.
Monocacy National Battlefield is 23 miles from Harpers Ferry and marks the site of the Civil War battle that saved Washington, D.C., from the Confederacy.
Try Your Luck At The Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races
Make your way to nearby Charles Town, West Virginia, to try your luck at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Hollywood Casino has slots, table games, and award-winning restaurants.
Enjoy An Old-Fashioned Christmas
The sound of carols and the clippity-clop of horse-drawn carriages bring the holiday history of Harpers Ferry to life during the Christmas season. You’ll feel like in a Christmas movie!
The Harpers Ferry & Bolivar Olde Tyme Christmas festival includes musical performances, a living history program, a traditional yule log lighting, and much more.
HIke the Appalachian Trail (At Least a Part of A.T.)
The West Virginia section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail passes right through the heart of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the site of John Brown’s Raid and notable Civil War battles.
Harpers Ferry is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters as well as Visitor Center which is known as the “psychological halfway point” of the Appalachian Scenic Trail. The path that connects the Appalachian Trail to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy passes straight through the campus of the former Storer College which was founded to provide education for freed slaves after the American Civil War.
Often described as a green tunnel, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is renowned for its rich biodiversity and the sanctuary it provides within the forest. Yet, it’s the scenic viewpoints that offer a much-needed break and a sense of liberation from the extended stretches beneath the canopy.
Reflecting on the trail, Myron Avery, an early pioneer and leader of the Appalachian Trail, once said, “It beckons not merely north and south, but upward to the body, mind, and soul of man.” This sentiment becomes vividly clear when you embark on hikes to breathtaking vistas like Hump Mountain, McAfee Knob, Franconia Ridge, and Katahdin, encapsulating the essence of his words.
Undertaking the entire 2,190+ miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in one trip is a colossal feat. Annually, thousands of hikers take on the challenge of a thru-hike, yet only about one in four manages to complete the full journey.
The average duration for a thru-hiker to complete the entire Appalachian Trail is 5 to 7 months. Once you’ve determined your starting point and time and registered for your thru-hike, strategizing your resupply points and familiarizing yourself with the camping regulations along the Appalachian Trail become essential steps.
It’s crucial to get to know the camping regulations along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and understand the ATC’s requirements for hikers aiming to be officially recognized as a 2,000-miler. Beyond these logistical considerations, adequate physical and mental preparation plays a major role in this wonderful West Virginia hike.
Best Restaurants In Harpers Ferry
The Country Cafe
The Country Cafe serves breakfast and lunch. If you are hungry for breakfast, order the Beast Omelet — six farm-fresh eggs with sausage, bacon, ham, spinach, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, Cheddar, and Swiss served with toast. Be sure to try their hot, fresh donuts, too.
Where To Shop While Visiting Harpers Ferry
True Treats Historic Candy
The only sweet shop in the nation of its kind, True Treats Historic Candy sells accurate recreations of vintage candy from various eras. Everything from old-time chocolates and bars to Charleston Chews are available to satisfy your sweet tooth.
True Treats sells candies that were invented as far back as the 1500s. Think sugar plums, chocolate sticks, and creamed filberts. They also offer a vast selection of retro and penny candy. This candy shop will take you back to your childhood days!
The Vintage Lady
Earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other unique gifts made by local craftspeople are on offer at The Vintage Lady. This is a great place to purchase a souvenir for yourself or a gift for a friend.
Best Places To Stay In Harpers Ferry
Clarion Inn Harpers Ferry
Clarion Inn Harpers Ferry offers 100 rooms, an indoor pool, and three on-site restaurants. It is near most of the popular attractions in Harpers Ferry.
The Angler’s Inn
The Angler’s Inn is a classic Victorian bed and breakfast. The gourmet breakfasts are made from scratch each day. Refreshments and homemade cookies are available to enjoy on the porch in the afternoons.
The Light Horse Inn
The Light Horse Inn is more than 225 years old and one of Harpers Ferry’s most historic homes. Built during the Revolutionary War, the restored inn now has seven beautiful suites with great views.
What To Know Before You Go
Harpers Ferry is a casual town, so don’t feel self-conscious about wearing jeans around. If you plan on hiking, wear appropriate footwear. Unless you’re visiting in the heat of summer, you will need a jacket.
Dogs are permitted on the hiking trails, but they must be leashed. Watch for animals — deer and other critters are everywhere.
Check the websites in advance to see what is open during the time of year you are visiting. Some museums are seasonal, and some are only open on weekends.
How Many Days Should I Spend In Harpers Ferry?
Harpers Ferry is perfect to explore for 3 days. While you might be able to bang out all of its main attractions in 1 day, a weekend is essential to take in the nature and history apparent all around.
Is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Worth Visiting?
In order to take in history exactly where it happened, Harpers Ferry is well-worth visiting. With some of the most notable Civil War battlegrounds in the area, history buffs will have a field day in Harpers Ferry.
In addition, if you like the outdoors and hiking, the monumental challenge of the 2,190+ miles of the world-famous Appalachian Scenic Trail.
What is Harpers Ferry Most Famous For?
Harpers Ferry is most famous for its major role in the infamous John Brown’s raid in 1859. Initially established as an armory and arsenal in 1799, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has been integral to the nation’s narrative since its early days.
However, while John Brown’s raid remains such a significant moment in American history, Harpers Ferry has encompassed a wealth of diverse and compelling events over the last two centuries.