Perfect Day Trip to Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is a historic town located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in West Virginia. It’s less than two hours from DC, making it a perfect day trip from Washington, DC. It’s known for its picturesque setting, historical significance, and outdoor activities. Here’s a suggested itinerary for spending a day at Harpers Ferry.

I’ve been to Harpers Ferry at least a dozen times in all different seasons and weather. It’s a beautiful place for a day trip year-round, and you’ll have an amazing time no matter what!

Table of Contents

Maryland Heights Loop trail overlooking harpers ferry

About Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry’s unique blend of history, natural beauty, and cultural significance make it a perfect destination for those interested in exploring America’s past. The town’s historic district is a National Historic Landmark, and the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park continues to educate and inspire visitors about the events that unfolded in this picturesque setting.

In 1944, Harpers Ferry was designated a National Monument. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill creating the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, preserving the town’s historic structures and landscapes. There are just 300 residents who live in Harpers Ferry and it feels like a step back in time!

The area that would become Harpers Ferry was first settled by European colonists in the early 18th century. The town is named after Robert Harper, an early European-American settler who operated a ferry across the Potomac River.

The Appalachian Trail goes right through Harpers Ferry and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located in town. You’ll find lots of hikers here and get to experience a small portion of the trail on a day trip here!

In 1796, the U.S. government selected Harpers Ferry as the site for a federal armory. The location was strategic due to its proximity to both the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, providing water power for manufacturing.

One of the most famous events in Harpers Ferry’s history is John Brown’s raid in 1859. Abolitionist John Brown led a group of followers in an attempt to seize the federal arsenal, hoping to instigate a slave rebellion. The raid ultimately failed, and Brown was captured, tried, and executed.

Soon after during the Civil War, Harpers Ferry became the site of many different battles. The town changed hands multiple times between Union and Confederate forces. The Battle of Harpers Ferry in September 1862 was part of General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North and resulted in a Confederate victory.

Today, Harpers Ferry is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors with its well-preserved 19th-century architecture, historical sites, and outdoor activities. The town is part of the National Park Service and has been designated a National Historical Park.

Because it is a historic site, small, and a National Park, there are some special considerations for a day trip to Harpers Ferry that you will want to make before. Let’s get into that below.

view of harpers ferry in the fall

Photo by Joshua Hummell on Unsplash

Planning for a Day Trip to Harpers Ferry

Getting to Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is about a 90 minute drive from Washington, DC and driving is the most popular way to get there. It’s easy to rent a car in DC and drive from there. However, there is also a train station in Harpers Ferry and Amtrak does run from Washington, DC to Harpers Ferry. You can often find train tickets for less than $20 round trip. It’s located in the center of the historic downtown.

Parking

The main parking lot at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is located at 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, and can accommodate several hundred vehicles. At this location is also the park’s Visitor Center and the starting point for the shuttle bus service to Lower Town.

NOTE: pets are not allowed on park shuttle buses or in park buildings.

While other parking does exist in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in the Lower Town, it is extremely limited. I’d strongly recommend that if you plan to explore the exhibits or hike here, you park in the lot at the National Historic Park Visitor Center.

Doing so reduces vehicle congestion in Lower Town and provides for pedestrian safety. If you pay to park in the metered street parking maintained and monitored by the town of Harpers Ferry, and you visit the park, you are still responsible for additionally paying the park entrance fee and it must be displayed on your car.

Entrance Fees

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park visitors are required to have a park entrance pass. Standard Entrance Pass is $10.00 per person or $20.00 per vehicle, depending on how you enter the park. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, entry here is included.

If you choose to park outside the lot at the visitor’s center, you’ll also need to pay a parking fee in addition to the entrance fee.

historic streets in harpers ferryPhoto by Girma Nigusse on Unsplash

Morning: Explore the Historic Lower Town

Start your day by exploring the historic lower town. Visit the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which includes museums, exhibits, and preserved buildings from the 19th century.

Walk along Shenandoah Street, lined with charming shops, cafes, and galleries. Take your time to explore the unique and historic architecture of the buildings.

There are also so many historic buildings and places you can visit as you walk through the historic Lower Town. Places to explore are outlined below.

Don’t miss John Brown’s Fort, a key historical site associated with the abolitionist John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry. There is a museum next to the fort as well which is great to visit.

Here’s a few museums and historical buildings to visit:

  • The town’s 19th century landscape
  •  
  • A Place in Time
  • Boarding House
  • Dry Goods Store
  • Philip Frankel & Co./Ready-Made Clothing
  • White Hall Tavern
  • Harper House (currently closed for repairs)
  • Confectionery
  • A. Burton: Fine Watch Repair/Burton Jewelry Store (currently closed for repairs)
  • Harpers Ferry’s military importance as the site of the second US Armory
  • Master Armorer’s Quarters
  • Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry
  • Provost Marshal Office (currently closed for repairs)
  • The Civil War in Harpers Ferry
  • 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry
  • Civil War Museum (currently closed for repairs)
  • Provost Marshal Office
  • Archeological and preservation work at Harpers Ferry
  • Reading an Old Building

You can also join a ranger program. Check the Ranger Programs page for more details and to view the park calendar.

There are living history and historic trades rangers, in partnership with the Harpers Ferry Park Association, that offer workshops throughout the year which focus upon 19th century trades and skills. Workshops may include cooking, blacksmithing, tin-making, or gardening. Check the Harpers Ferry Park Association website for upcoming workshops.

Step back into the past and join us on living history event weekends throughout the year! These events range in topic from the War of 1812 and 19th century farming to Civil War medicine and artillery demonstrations. Check the park calendar for upcoming events.

almost heaven pub & grill harpers ferry
Photo by Henry Deng on Unsplash

Lunch: Local Cuisine

After spending the morning strolling through town and learning about the history, enjoy lunch at one of the local restaurants or cafes. Harpers Ferry has a variety of dining options, ranging from casual to more upscale.

  • Kelley Farm Kitchen: Vegan and delicious deli-style food in a casual setting
  •  
  • Snallygasters: the back bar is so cozy and the food is good. It’s a coffee shop and breakfast place that has sandwiches and the back bar open later. They also have a good grab and go selection of local bread, alcohol, etc.
  • The Rabbit Hole: Sharing plates, bar bites & build-your-own burgers in a cozy bar with wood furnishings & a terrace.
  • Almost Heaven Pub & Grill: Charming tavern in a structure from 1836, featuring American grub, craft brews & outdoor seating.
  • The Anvil Restaurant: Cozy outpost specializing in crab dip, onion soup & other hearty dishes in a low-key setting.

Afternoon: Hiking or Outdoor Activities

Harpers Ferry is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes. Consider going for a hike in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or nearby Maryland Heights for stunning views of the rivers and the town.

Maryland Heights Trail Harpers Ferry
Photo by Chenzhi Zhao on Unsplash

Option 1: Maryland Heights Trail

If you’re looking for the iconic view of Harpers Ferry, you want to hike Maryland Heights Trail. It’s a moderate to strenuous hike, 4.5 – 6.5 miles (7.2 – 10.5 km) round trip and takes 3 – 4 hours.

The Maryland Heights Trail offers hikers the opportunity to see many aspects of Harpers Ferry NHP on one walk: spectacular scenery, geology, Civil War, industrial, and transportation history.

The quickest route to the Maryland Heights Overlook is 4.5 miles round trip from the Master Armorer’s House. The Stone Fort Loop trail adds another 2 miles and will take you past more Civil War era ruins with a few decent views to the east over the Potomac River Valley before descending back to a second junction with the Maryland Heights Overlook trail.

Either way, you’ll get to take in the beautiful views of Harpers Ferry. I recommend this trail in the afternoon because the sunset here is stunning. Well worth spending your afternoon on this hike!

Option 2: Water Activities

If you’re visiting in the summer, Harpers Ferry has plenty of amazing water based activities you can do. You can go tubing, kayaking, white water rafting, or canoeing on the Potomac or Shenandoah rivers.

There are several different places that offer half-day trips on the water here. Below are a few I’d recommend:

  1. Harpers Ferry Adventure Center
  2. River Trail
  3. River Riders 

Option 3: Snow Tubing

If you’re visiting in winter and looking for a fun adventure, consider snow tubing with River Riders! Their snow tubing hill is almost 3 football fields long, making it the longest tubing slope on The East Coast! Tickets include your snow tube, access to The Magic Carpet and 1 1/2 hours of unlimited tubing for your tubing time slot.

Dinner: Riverside Dining

Choose a restaurant with a view along the rivers for a scenic dinner. Many establishments offer outdoor seating where you can enjoy the evening ambiance.

  • The Barn of Harpers Ferry: if you want to go where the locals are, this is your spot. Friendly bartenders, strong drinks and live music make this a chill option to grab a drink.
  • Harpers Ferry Brewing: for a classic brewery feel with some great views, food trucks, and tons of space to spread out.
historic buildings downtown harpers ferry
Photo by Girma Nigusse on Unsplash

Evening: Ghost Tours

Harpers Ferry has a reputation for being a haunted town. If you’re wanting to finish off your day trip to Harpers Ferry with something spooky, a ghost tour can be the perfect thing to end your trip.

The Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry by “O’ Be JoyFull” is the oldest ghost tour in America. ‘Family & Dog Friendly’ walking tour appropriate for most people of all ages. The tour is approximately an hour and a half long and takes you around several blocks of the historic Lower Town section of Harpers Ferry to view many sites and buildings that have had ghostly phenomena reported in, or around them, over the years.

Of course, with Harpers Ferry’s violent past, especially during the American Civil War, many of the stories will tell of death, and some background history of Harpers Ferry is also an element of the tour.

Although the tour has often been described as “spooky,” it is not especially scary.

Open Year Round. In season: April – September, tours Monday through Saturday 8 PM, reservations required Monday through Thursday.

,Off season: October – March, reservations required for all tours.

Available Monday through Saturday 8 PM. Extra tours during October at 6 PM and on Sundays. Call for more information.

A day trip to Harpers Ferry is the perfect way to spend a day in a historic and beautiful natural place! You’ll love spending a day here exploring this picturesque place.

Discover the perfect day trip to Harpers Ferry, a historic town with stunning scenery, outdoor activities, and rich cultural significance.
Discover the perfect day trip to Harpers Ferry, a historic town with stunning scenery, outdoor activities, and rich cultural significance.
Meghan

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