The historic town of Harpers Ferry is an absolute hidden gem that we discovered while traveling the United States. Located in West Virginia, this charming little town offers a variety of unique activities and attractions that are perfect for the whole family.
Harpers Ferry was an unplanned destination during our family gap year. We had just spent two weeks in Atlanta, and we had already booked an upcoming stay in Virginia Beach — with two weeks in between! We just needed to find a place to stay, and we weren’t too picky about where it was.
We ended up booking a beautiful two-story house in Bunker Hill, West Virginia and planned to have a relaxing couple of weeks, mostly staying at home, working and roadschooling.
When we arrived at the home, we realized that the couple who owned the house had put it on Airbnb because they were taking several months to hike the Appalachian Trail. Then, we realized that the Appalachian Trail wound its way right nearby, in neighboring town Harpers Ferry.
We decided that hiking part of the Appalachian Trail, especially such a beautiful, historic section, would be the perfect thing to do in West Virginia. So on a sunny Sunday, we packed the kids in the car and went to explore Harpers Ferry!
Why you should visit Harpers Ferry
One of the main draws of Harpers Ferry, WV is its incredible natural beauty. Surrounded by the stunning Appalachian Mountains and situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, this town offers breathtaking views and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. Whether you’re into hiking, kayaking, or simply taking a leisurely stroll, Harpers Ferry is a great place to be outside!
History buffs will also know that Harpers Ferry played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Centrally located between the north and south, the town changed hands eight times!
It’s also known for being the site of John Brown’s raid on the federal armory in 1859. Visitors can explore the historic buildings and museums in town to learn more about this fascinating chapter in American history.
One thing I loved about Harpers Ferry is that, as we spent the day exploring the town, we saw lots of hikers arriving off the Appalachian Trail. Harpers Ferry is a major “rest stop” for hikers — a place to relax, regroup, eat at a restaurant, maybe even sleep in a bed for the night! There was an electric, exciting energy to the area, and it made me want to hike the whole trail myself someday!
Harpers Ferry is a great day trip destination from several nearby cities. It’s located within a 1-2 hour drive from major metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Whether you’re seeking adventure, history, or serene natural beauty, Harpers Ferry is an ideal day trip option.
Historical significance of Harpers Ferry
As we were roadschooling our kids during our stay in West Virginia, we were thrilled to learn about the rich historical significance of Harpers Ferry. From its pivotal role in the Civil War to John Brown’s raid, there was so much for the kids (and us!) to learn about.
John Brown’s Raid and Fort
One significant historical site in Harpers Ferry is John Brown’s Fort.
This is where John Brown and his followers seized the armory in 1859, in an attempt to start a slave rebellion. While the raid was ultimately unsuccessful, it played a significant role in the lead up to the Civil War.
Civil War Battlefields
Harpers Ferry was also the site of several Civil War battles, including the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1862. Visitors can explore the battlefields and learn about the strategies and tactics used by both sides.
Enjoy an informative and picturesque stroll as you check out the cannons along the trail around Bolivar Heights Battlefield.
Antietam National Battlefield is a significant historical site located near Harpers Ferry. It commemorates the Battle of Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Visitors can explore the battlefield and learn about the strategies and sacrifices made by both Union and Confederate forces.
The site offers a somber and reflective experience, allowing visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the war. It is a must-visit attraction for history enthusiasts and anyone interested in the Civil War.
Natural Beauty and Outdoor Activities
There are so many opportunities in Harpers Ferry to explore the great outdoors and take in the stunning natural beauty of this area. If you’re inside, you’re doing it wrong!
Here are a few of my favorite outdoor activities to do in Harpers Ferry:
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
One of the most iconic hiking trails in the world, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail passes right through Harpers Ferry. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a leisurely stroll in nature, there’s a section of the trail that’s perfect for you.
As a family of six, with our youngest being three at the time of our visit, we weren’t exactly up for any strenuous hiking. But that was okay, because the section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Harpers Ferry is a very easy hike, with some cool landmarks to discover along the way!
Our path took us past Jefferson Rock, a rock formation named after, you guessed it, Thomas Jefferson. From that vantage point, we got to enjoy breathtaking views of the town and the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.
We also hiked past the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church. This church was originally built in 1852 but was severely damaged during the Civil War. The ruins stand today as a reminder of the past.
As you come off that section of the trail, you’ll pass St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, a gorgeous building that overlooks the town.
After spending some time in town, having some lunch and visiting some of the historic sites, we then walked across the Winchester and Potomac Railroad Bridge into Maryland!
From there, avid hikers can continue on the Maryland Heights Trail or the C&O Canal Towpath.
Kayaking and Rafting on the Rivers
For a more adventurous outdoor experience, kayaking and rafting on the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers is a must. There are plenty of outfitters in the area that offer guided tours and rentals, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own equipment. If you’re up for a challenge, try tackling some of the rapids for some exhilarating whitewater rafting.
Exploring the Town
Harpers Ferry is the quintessential small town with tons of charm. We had a great time exploring. Here are some of the can’t-miss locations:
Strolling Through Lower Town
One of the best ways to experience the town is by taking a leisurely stroll through Lower Town. This historic district is home to a variety of quaint shops, restaurants, and museums.
Browse the goods at some of the vintage shops and check out the unique gifts at Tenfold Fair Trade Collection. The views of the rivers are stunning, and there are plenty of benches and picnic tables to relax and take it all in.
Shopping and Dining in Downtown Harpers Ferry
Downtown Harpers Ferry is a bustling hub of activity, with plenty of shops and restaurants to explore. True Treats Historic Candy is a must-visit for anyone with a sweet tooth – they offer a wide variety of vintage candies and chocolates.
After our hike, we refueled by enjoying a lunch of sub sandwiches and sodas at the Cannonball Deli.
Cultural Attractions in Harpers Ferry
Part of our goal while traveling the United States was to immerse ourselves in the history and culture of every place we visited. Harpers Ferry has a lot to offer in those areas! Here are a few of my favorite cultural attractions in the area:
Historic Sites in Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry is steeped in history, and there are several must-see sites for history buffs. The John Brown Wax Museum is a fascinating look at the life and legacy of the abolitionist, while the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park offers a glimpse into the town’s role in the Civil War.
John Brown Wax Museum
The John Brown Wax Museum is great for anyone interested in the history of the abolitionist movement. The museum features life-sized wax figures and detailed dioramas depicting the events leading up to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. As you walk through the museum, you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time to the 1850s.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
One of the must-see attractions in Harpers Ferry is the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Visitors can explore the exhibits and learn about the history of the area, including the role it played in the Civil War.
Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum
If you’re traveling with kids, the Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum is a great place to visit. The museum features an extensive collection of toy trains, including vintage Lionel and American Flyer models. Kids can watch the trains run on the museum’s large layout or take a ride on the miniature train that circles the property.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top photo spots in Harpers Ferry for the perfect shot?
If you’re looking for the perfect photo spot in Harpers Ferry, you can’t go wrong with the Jefferson Rock overlook, which offers stunning views of the town and the surrounding mountains. Another great spot is the beautiful and towering St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Which museums in Harpers Ferry offer a glimpse into history?
Harpers Ferry is steeped in history, and there are several museums that offer a glimpse into the town’s past. The John Brown Museum and the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Visitor Center are both excellent choices, as is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters.
Can you recommend some romantic activities for couples in Harpers Ferry?
For couples looking for a romantic getaway, Harpers Ferry offers plenty of options. Take a stroll through the historic town, hike the Appalachian Trail, or enjoy a scenic drive through the mountains. More adventurous couples should check out River Riders for some exciting watersports and other outdoor activities.
What are some exciting activities to do in Harpers Ferry after dark?
Harpers Ferry may be a small town, but it still offers plenty of nightlife options. Enjoy a live music performance at The Barn of Harpers Ferry, or take a ghost tour of the town. You can also enjoy a night hike or stargazing at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
What are the must-visit attractions at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park?
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a must-visit destination for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Be sure to check out the John Brown Museum and the historic Storer College. You can also hike the Appalachian Trail or enjoy a scenic drive through the park.
Overall, exploring Harpers Ferry is a delightful way to spend a day. Whether you’re interested in history, hiking, or simply taking in the scenery, there’s something for everyone in this charming town.
If you need to check West Virginia off your 50 States bucket list, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Harpers Ferry!