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Head to the midpoint of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and you’ll find Harpers Ferry. This charming West Virginia town played an important role in the American Civil War and has made a name for itself over the years as a place to learn all about the rich history of the United States. But, while history may be its main pull, Harpers Ferry has plenty more to offer all kinds of travelers. You’ll find gorgeous nature, impressive museums, and great restaurants and breweries right here, too. Read on for all of the best things to do in Harpers Ferry!
Visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
What Is It? Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a culture-filled large park that includes several historic sites, like the John Brown Museum, the Storer College campus, and the ruins of an armory that was destroyed during the Civil War. More into nature than history? The park also offers hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and impressive exhibits.
Why Do It? Visiting Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a great way to learn about the town’s role in shaping American history. The park offers a variety of experiences, from learning about John Brown’s raid to hiking along the Appalachian Trail. It’s a great place to spend a day outdoors and immerse yourself in history.
Good to Know: The park is open year-round, but some sites may be closed during the winter months. Entrance fees apply, but annual passes are available for frequent visitors.
Explore the Town's History
What Is It? Harpers Ferry is known for being a history-filled town, and it’s virtually impossible to pass through without learning something new. The town played an important role in the Civil War and the abolitionist movement. Take a guided tour of the town’s historic buildings to learn about the people and events that shaped its history.
Why Do It? Exploring the town’s history is a fascinating way to learn about the struggles and triumphs of America’s past. By exploring the town’s history, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who came before us.
Good to Know: Guided tours are available from the Harpers Ferry Park Association and the National Park Service. The tours cover different aspects of the town’s history, from the Civil War to African American history.
Take a Scenic Train Ride
What Is It? Not so much into walking? Take the train! The Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad offers a three-hour train ride through the Potomac River Valley. It runs from May to October and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and countryside – perfect for snapping some photos en route.
Why Do It? This stunning train ride is a relaxing way to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and is suitable for travelers of all ages. You’ll pass remote valleys and the banks of the Potomac River, with spectacular views of the changing foliage and the surrounding mountains.
Good to Know: Don’t worry about bringing snacks: the train has a concession car that serves snacks and drinks. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season.
Explore the Town's Watery World
What Is It? Harpers Ferry is surrounded by natural beauty and plenty of opportunities for kayaking or fishing. Head to the Potomac River, which runs right through Harpers Ferry, for some truly gorgeous sights.
Why Do It? Getting outside and enjoying nature is a great way to relax and unwind and Harpers Ferry is one of the best places to do just that. It’s a little more active than just strolling around and makes a great activity for all the family.
Good to Know: You’ll find a handful of stores in town that offer equipment rentals. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and make sure you’re wearing clothes you don’t mind getting wet!
Drink a Beer at Harpers Ferry Brewing Company
What Is It? Harpers Ferry Brewing Company offers a variety of craft beers in a cozy atmosphere that’s perfect for relaxing while enjoying a drink or two.
Why Do It? See Harpers Ferry through a whole new perspective by trying the town’s local offerings. A fun way to sample the flavors of the region, the Harpers Ferry Brewing Company offers a variety of beers, from pale ales to stouts. It also sometimes offers live music, adding the best kind of final touch to your experience.
Good to Know: The brewery is located just outside of town but is easily accessible by car or bike. It’s also both kid and dog friendly, so you’re free to visit with the whole family.
Hike the Maryland Heights Trail
What is it? The Maryland Heights Trail is a popular hiking trail in Harpers Ferry, with scenic views of the town and the river from the top of Maryland Heights. It’s about 4.5 miles in total and is rated as moderately difficult.
Why do It? You’ll kill two birds with one stone: experience the natural beauty of Harpers Ferry and get some exercise at the same time! You can admire stunning views of the Potomac River as well as the surrounding forests and mountains. Along the way, hikers can also explore historic Civil War-era fortifications and learn about the area’s rich history.
Good to know: The trailhead for the Maryland Heights Trail is located at the end of a residential street and parking is limited, so it’s best to arrive early.
Soak Up History at John Brown’s Fort
What Is It? John Brown’s Fort is a historic building that was originally a fire engine house. It gained notoriety during the Civil War as the site of John Brown’s raid in 1859 – a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the Civil War.
Why Do It? Visiting John Brown’s Fort is a great way to learn about the history of Harpers Ferry and the lead-up to the Civil War. The site offers a glimpse into the dramatic events that unfolded in the town in 1859, and visitors can see the spot where John Brown and his men barricaded themselves during the raid.
Good to Know: The building is open to visitors year-round and admission to the museum is included with the park entrance fee.
Admire the Views From Jefferson Rock
What Is It? Jefferson Rock is a natural rock formation named after Thomas Jefferson, who visited the site in 1783 and wrote that the view from the rock was “worth a trip across the Atlantic.” If that’s not an incentive to visit, we don’t know what is.
Why Do It? The rock offers one of the best views in the town and has been a popular tourist attraction for over a century. It’s also steeped in history, as Thomas Jefferson’s comments put Harpers Ferry on the map as a must-visit place.
Good to Know: The trail to the rock is only about 0.3 miles long, but it is fairly steep and rocky, so sturdy shoes are recommended.
Peek Inside St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church
What Is It? St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the state and was built in 1833. It’s well-loved for its Gothic Revival-style architecture with pointed arches, lancet windows, and a prominent bell tower.
Why Do It? The church is notable for its intricate woodwork and stained glass windows. It was also the only church to avoid destruction during the Civil War and still holds regular Sunday mass, which is open to the public.
Good to Know: The church is only open on weekends, which means you’ll want to time your visit here for a Saturday or a Sunday between the hours of 11am – 2pm.
Ride Waves of a Whitewater Rafting Adventure
What Is It? An opportunity for adrenaline seekers in Harpers Ferry, that’s what! This historic town, located between the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the region, so you should definitely make the most of this while you’re here.
Why Do It? While most of Harpers Ferry’s activities might be more on the historic or cultural side, whitewater rafting offers something a bit more exhilarating than the norm. Many guided rafting trips do include stops at historic sites along the river, if you’re hoping to fuse both sides of the experience.
Good to Know: Don’t worry if you haven’t tried it before. You’ll find several tour operators in the area that offer guided trips, ranging from beginner-level rapids to advanced Class V rapids.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at True Treats Historic Candy Shop
What Is It? Even candy comes with a dash of history in Harpers Ferry. The True Treats Historic Candy Shop specializes in historical candies and confections, featuring treats that date back to the early 19th century. You’ll find everything from rock candy and licorice sticks to horehound drops and chocolate-covered insects.
Why Do It? The store offers a glimpse into the world of candy-making and confectionery from past centuries, with a variety of sweets that are difficult to find elsewhere. If you’re searching for unique souvenirs to bring back home, you’ll find them here.
Good to Know: The candy selection changes seasonally, which means you’ll want to stock up now if you find something you really like!