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While history and scenery are the dominant attractions of this corner of West Virginia and Maryland, shopping, dining and hiking also provide lures.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in West Virginia, the tiny historic town of Harpers Ferry attracts visitors from both near and far who come to take in its spectacular scenery, enjoy its many outdoor recreation opportunities, learn about its rich history dating back to the mid-18th century and browse the wares in its quaint and quirky shops.
With the Appalachian Trail running right through the town plus its easy access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park and the two rivers, Harpers Ferry is a popular destination for outdoor adventure seekers of all kinds.
“Harpers Ferry is a hiker’s paradise, a walker’s paradise and a cyclist’s paradise,” says Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which adjoins and almost surrounds the town. “And for the history lover, we also have great museums and living history exhibits that tell a multitude of American history stories,” he adds.
Here’s a guide to help you plan the perfect weekend getaway to Harpers Ferry, no matter what thrills you.
Friday: Taste the History
Arriving in Harpers Ferry, you may feel as if you’ve taken a step back in time thanks to the picturesque cobblestone streets and the impressive collection
of 19th century buildings in the Lower Town historic district. The idyllic town was not designed with cars in mind, though, so parking can be extremely limited.
“The first thing I always recommend is don’t fight the lack of parking,” Frye advises. The NHP has a 1,000-car parking lot at the park entrance and visitors center where visitors can park and then catch a shuttle for a scenic, five-minute ride into town.
Guests at the Town’s Inn, a cozy, five-room inn located in the heart of Harpers Ferry’s historic district, have the option of pre-arranging private parking just a short walk away. Made up of two stone buildings – the Heritage House and the Mountain House – dating back to 1840, the Town’s Inn is perfect for individuals or couples seeking a quiet retreat or families or groups traveling together.
When you’re ready to hit the town, start with a tour of the Lower Town district, recommends David Gilbert, author of “A Walker’s Guide to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.” The NHP offers ranger-guided tours nearly every day of the week as well as in-depth private tours by certified park guides who cover battlefield areas like Bolivar Heights Battlefield and other significant historic locations in the park. “O’ Be JoyFull” tours, led by living historian Rick Garland, are another option.
No tour of Lower Town is complete without making the short trek up to Jefferson Rock to see the view, Gilbert says. In 1783, Thomas Jefferson described the view from that spot as “worth a voyage across the Atlantic,” so there’s no doubt it’s worth hiking up a couple flights of stone steps for.
In addition to tours, the NHP offers a wide range of living history and museum exhibits, demonstrations and reenactments throughout the year that offer insight into 19th-century life and the pivotal role that Harpers Ferry played during the Civil War and in educating freed slaves at Storer College, one of the first integrated schools in the country.
After you’ve toured Lower Town, head back to the Town’s Inn to dine outside on the patio or in the full-service restaurant and pub on the first floor of the Heritage House, which offers a wide range of breakfast, lunch and dinner options – all of which are available all day, every day, according to owner Karan Townsend. “You can have eggs and bacon at 9 p.m. and pan-fried rainbow trout at 9 a.m.,” she says. Other Town’s Inn specialties include homemade Belgian waffles, Shepherd’s pie and fiesta stew, a hearty dish made with chicken, beans, corn and tomatoes.