Looking for a small town with a big history? Add visiting Harpers Ferry to your bucket list. Located in Jefferson County WV, right on the point where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, this town is full of things to do. While visiting Harpers Ferry, you can spend your time dining, shopping, and hiking, all while learning about the area’s rich Civil War history.
Hiking Trails in Harpers Ferry
There are many hikes stemming from the town, ranging from the Appalachian Trail to hikes with a view above historic Harpers Ferry. There is a trail for everyone, ranging from easy to strenuous, so be sure to plan a hike for while you’re visiting Harpers Ferry! The trails below are open during daylight hours, and are closed from sunset to sunrise.
Hikes With a View
1. Maryland Heights
Maryland Heights trail features an overlook of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and the town of Harpers Ferry. The hike is considered moderate to Strenuous, and stretches 4.5 – 6.5 miles (7.2 – 10.5 km) round trip. The hike takes approximately 3-4 hours round trip, but the view from the overlook is worth every minute.
2. Loudon Heights
Loudon Heights is the most difficult hike on this list. It is considered to be strenuous, and is a 7.5 mile (12.1 km) round trip. The hike takes between 4-5 hours to complete, but offers views of the town of Harpers Ferry, both the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and valleys, and rock formations. This hike is special because it is the only view to the east into Pleasant Valley.
3. Sections of the Appalachian Trail
About 4 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through West Virginia, and approximately 3 of those miles run through Harpers Ferry. This hike is a moderate 1-2 hour round trip that has the opportunity for additional side trails. Through this stretch of the Appalachian trail, you can see Jefferson Rock, Harper Cemetery, Lockwood House, and views of both the rivers. Be sure to check out the Harpers Ferry Appalachian Trail visitor center!
Less Challenging Hikes
1. Virginius Island and Hall’s Island trails
Virginius Island and Hall’s Island trails provide a fairly easy hike that is approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip, and takes about an hour to complete. The trails take you through riparian forest, and allow you to see the ruins from old mills and waterworks. Additionally, the trails take hikers past the site of John Hall’s Rifle Works, and offer views of the Shenandoah river.
2. Bolivar Heights Trail
Bolivar Heights trail is a short hike featuring an overlook of the Shenandoah valley and the Blue Ridge mountains. The short hike is considered to be easy to Moderate, spanning 0.3-2.4 miles (0.4-3.9 km) round trip. The trail includes optional side trails, and takes approximately 15 minutes to 1 hour to complete, and is a great option if you are looking for sights without doing much walking while visiting Harpers Ferry.
Local Rustic Dining
While visiting Harpers Ferry, there are many places to eat after your hike. These range from sit down dining in historic buildings to sandwich and coffee cafes.
Photographed by Bruce Emerling on Pixabay
Sit Down Dining
1. The Rabbit Hole
186 High St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Check out The Rabbit Hole while visiting Harpers Ferry for sit down dining ranging from burgers & pulled pork sandwiches to shrimp, loaded fries, and more. Seating options include both indoor and outdoor, with the outdoor seating overlooking the train station and rivers
2. The Anvil
1290 W Washington St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
The Anvil is a historic restaurant known for their signature crab cakes. They also serve meat & seafood courses, as well as sandwiches, salads, soups, and more. The restaurant includes a bar, dining room, and an outdoor garden and patio area. Reservations are recommended.
1. Cannonball Deli
125-129 Potomac St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
The Cannonball Deli serves courses such as sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and salads. The deli is known in the area for its friendly staff, and features both indoor and patio seating options.
2. Battle Grounds bakery & Coffee
180 High St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Stop by Battle Grounds Bakery & Coffee for sandwiches on fresh baked bread, salads, coffee and more. A great place for local breakfast and lunch options, and be sure to try their fresh house made bread while visiting Harpers Ferry.
Harpers Ferry Civil War History
Photo from Pixabay
The history of Harpers Ferry begins before the Civil War. Between 1801 and the beginning of the war, Harpers Ferry was home to an armory that manufactured a majority of arms in the United States. This is even the armory that supplied Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Additionally, this was the first place interchangeable parts were used in manufacturing.
In 1859, the John Brown raid took place. This event is considered to be what sparked the Civil War. John Brown and his army attempted to sieze the armory and free the slaves with the overall goal of ending slavery in the United States.
The Civil war began on April 12, 1861, and lasted until April 9, 1865. The Battle of Harpers Ferry was fought September 12–15, 1862, as part of the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War led by General Robert E. Lee. For a full timeline of Civil War events in Harpers Ferry check out: timeline of Harpers Ferry Civil War events, and read on to discover historic places to visit and learn more!
Historic Places to Visit
1. The 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry Museum
While visiting Harpers Ferry, there are many historic places to check out. The 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry Museum is a place to learn more about the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry, which was fought September 12-15, 1862 and was a part of General Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign. This museum talks about the battle itself, as well as the factors that led to it and the aftermath caused.
2. John Brown’s Fort
John Brown’s Fort was originally used in 1848 as the Armory’s fire engine and guard house. During the Civil War, the Fort was used as a prison and a supply house. John Brown’s Fort was the only armory to survive the civil war. In 1891, the fort was sold, dismantled and transported to Chicago where it was displayed near The World’s Columbian Exposition. However, this exhibit was not very popular, so it was once again dismantled. In 1894,, a campaign was started to return the fort to Harpers Ferry, led by journalist Kate Field. In 1895, John Brown’s Fort was rebuilt on the Murphy Farm, located about 3 miles from the town of Harpers Ferry. In 1909, on the 50th Anniversary of John Brown’s Raid, the building was purchased and moved to the campus of Storer College located on Camp Hill in Harpers Ferry where it was used as a museum. Finally, in 1960 the fort was acquired by the National Park Service, and in 1968 it was returned to the lower town of Harpers Ferry. The fort currently sits approximately 150 feet east of where it was originally built, due to the fort’s original site being covered with a railroad embankment in 1894.
We hope this blog provided you with helpful suggestions for ways to enjoy this delightful town. As you can see, Harpers Ferry is full of history and great ways to spend a day: either for a perfect getaway, an insight into US ancestry, or a delicious food-stop. While visiting Harpers Ferry be sure to snap a picture and share it with us on our Instagram. For more information about the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, be sure to check out our website, and read our other blogs for more trip inspiration!