Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is unique destination in eastern West Virginia. Here nature and history collide, making a great place for all ages. We have visited here several times while driving through the area and are always finding new things to do here. Harpers Ferry makes a great day trip for anyone in the Washington D.C. area.
About Harpers Ferry
So much history surrounds the town of Harpers Ferry and this area. President George Washington selected the Harpers Ferry area as the place for an armory due to it’s strategic location for a wide range of reasons. However, Harpers Ferry is most famous for its role in the Civil War. In 1859, John Brown, an abolitionist, raided the arsenal established here with 22 other men. His goal was to arm slaves and start a rebellion across the south. Even though the raid technically failed, it sparked rebellion and brought the nation’s attention to slavery. Much of the town was destroyed during the Civil War, but many of the remaining buildings were made into the Harpers Ferry National Historical Monument in 1944, later becoming the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. More information on the history of Harpers Ferry can be found on the National Park Website.
Where is Harpers Ferry?
Harpers Ferry is located in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and borders Maryland.
Distance from Washington D.C.: 64 miles, 1 hour and 15 minutes
Distance from Baltimore, Maryland: 70 miles, 1 hour and 15 minutes
Distance from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 171 miles, 2 hours and 45 minutes
How to Get to Harpers Ferry
There are two main ways to get to Harpers Ferry. You can go to Harpers Ferry by Amtrak Train or car We chose to go by car.
-If going by car, take note that there is not much (if any at all) parking in the Harpers Ferry Lower Town. The National Park website says this, but we thought we would try anyways, and we can definitely confirm that there is not much parking and that it is difficult to drive in the Lower Town Harpers Ferry. The best option is the park at the Visitor Center Park entrance which is almost 2 miles away from Historic Harpers Ferry Lower Town. They have multiple shuttle buses constantly taking people to and from Harpers Ferry. It was quick, efficient, and easy. The ride is about 5 minutes and both times we did not have wait in a line to board the bus. If you are driving, this is by far the easiest option. I will note that to park in this lot, you will either have to pay the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park fee or use your America the Beautiful annual pass that works for all national recreation areas in the country. If you do not have the annual pass, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park fee is $20 per vehicle and lasts for 3 consecutive days. More information about parking, fees, and annual passes can be found on the National Park Website.
-If going by train, Amtrak runs trains to Harpers Ferry several times a week. From Union Station in Washington D.C., it is reported to take a little over 1 hour to reach Harpers Ferry. Ticket prices for coach class range from $14-$26 on the weekend, as of August 2021. Tickets can be purchased from the Amtrak website. The Harpers Ferry train station is right in the lower town, only steps away from The Point and John Brown’s fort.
What to See at Harpers Ferry
Learn about the important history that took place here
As stated above, there is so much history in this area. Important events happened here from the 1700’s up until current day. The National Park Service has done a great job of providing as much information as possible on the area. Walk down Shenandoah Street and feel like you’re stepping in the past. Pick up a park map at the visitor center to guide you on a walking tour through the town. Watch the “A Place in Time” film to teach you more about the area. Step inside the old Marshal Office, Dry Goods Store, or Old Storer College. All of these buildings have information either outside or right inside about the significance of the building and the role that it played throughout history. Take a walk down to Arsenal Square and see John Brown’s fort, the fort that he and his comrades were placed in while they awaited trial. There are more exhibits all throughout this area and the park map can guide you to each of these.
Walk through the museums
There are several museums ran by the National Park Service that you can stop at. Some top recommended museums are the John Brown Museum, Black Voices: African American History, and the Industry Museum. All of these museums can be found in the Historic Harpers Ferry Lower town on Shenandoah Street or High Street.
Walk on the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail, a 2,190 mile trail running from Georgia to Maine, goes through the town of Harpers Ferry. If you’re interested on walking on part of this trail, there are several options in the area. One short, fun hike to do is to walk up to Jefferson Rock. Jefferson Rock is a rock at Harpers Ferry that apparently President Thomas Jefferson stopped here and claimed that the view from this rock is worth “crossing the Atlantic [ocean] for.” From High Street, turn onto Shenandoah Street and ascend the stone steps beside the church building there. At the top you will reach Jefferson Rock and will have walked on the Appalachian trail. In Harpers Ferry, there is also an Appalachian Trail Information Center that has exhibits, information, and gifts from the Appalachian Trail. This is a great stop to make if you are interested in the Appalachian Trail, or even just hiking in general.
Walk across the bridge
There is a footbridge that leaves from The Point in the historic lower town of Harpers Ferry. The town of Harpers Ferry was actually named because a man named Robert Harper ran a ferry across the river here starting in the late 1700’s. It was literally Robert Harper’s ferry. From The Point, you can see a great view of the Potomac River where the Shenandoah River combines with it. Walk across the C&O railroad bridge that has a foot bridge on the side. This bridge is also part of the Appalachian Trail and, if you are there at the right time of year, you will find AT thru-hikers crossing the bridge as well. Crossing the bridge, you will find views of the river and the rock cliffs above. Also, there are several hiking trails that begin on the other side of this bridge if that is something that you are interested in.
Search for the Peregrine Falcons
Peregrine falcons can be found at Harpers Ferry. Peregrine falcons like rocky cliffs, much of which can be found in the area surrounding Harpers Ferry. However, over the past 70 years, the falcons have had difficulty thriving due to a wide range of factors. In 2021, the peregrine falcons successfully reproduced for the first time in 70 years, giving hope that the peregrine falcons will be able to thrive in Harpers Ferry in the future. We were able to see the peregrine falcons as they have a large nest located on top of the bridge mentioned above. They can also be seen from their nest to other areas in the river from The Point. More information about the Peregrine Falcons can be found on the National Park Service Website.
Grab a bite to eat on High Street
High Street is the main street in the historical part of Harpers Ferry. It goes uphill and has shops and restaurants lining both sides of the street. There are many delicious restaurants with great reviews here. Since the buildings here are historical (read: old), most of the restaurants are small inside and have patio seating outdoors. Keep this in mind if planning to visit with a large party. There are many great restaurants here including The Rabbit Hole, Old Fireman’s BBQ and Catering Co, and Almost Heaven Pub and Grill. There are also several ice cream shops and coffee shops including The Coffee Mill, Creamy Creations, and Battle Grounds Bakery and Coffee. We got lunch a delicious pop-up BBQ tent in front of the Heritage House and The Town’s Inn that was so good. They had BBQ ribs and pulled pork sandwiches with a variety of sides and lots of outdoor seating. If they are there and open when you visit, they are definitely worth trying!
Hike up to Maryland Heights to get a view of the town from above
If you are up for it, there is a hike that crosses the river and goes to the top of the rocky cliffs you can see from the town. This point is called Maryland Heights, as crossing the river puts you in the state of Maryland. At Maryland Heights there is a great view of Harpers Ferry and the surrounding area. The Maryland Heights Trail technically leaves from a trail head in Maryland, but the parking is limited, so the better option is to leave from Harpers Ferry itself. If leaving from Harpers Ferry, the trail is 4.6 miles round trip and rated as moderate due to the steep incline. People report that the views here are pretty and that the hike can be steep, but not too challenging. If you have time and ability, this seems like one of the best hikes in the area.
-Harpers Ferry can get very crowded, especially in the summer. The earlier you arrive in the day, the less crowded the facilities and small town will be. I recommend arriving in the morning, doing one of the hikes mentioned above, grabbing lunch, and then spend the afternoon walking around to the various historical exhibits.
Have you been Harpers Ferry? Do you have any questions about Harpers Ferry? Let me know down below in the comments!
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