Living in the Washington, DC area, Harpers Ferry West Virginia is one of our favorite road trips anytime during the year! Below are 20 top things to do in Harpers Ferry West Virginia with about half you can do any time of year and the other half divided out by season. Following that are our restaurant and hotel/Airbnb recommendations.
Table of Contents:
- 10 Things to Do Year-Round
- 10 Seasonal Things To Do
- Hotel and Airbnb Recommendation
- Where to Park in Harpers Ferry
- Restaurant Recommendation
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10 Year-Round Things to Do In Harpers Ferry West Virginia
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
One of the cool and unique parts of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is that the whole town is a National Park! My kids loved walking around and going into the storefronts and inside the many 'mini-museums.'
It is located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in West Virginia and showcases the historical significance of Harpers Ferry, where pivotal events in the nation's history unfolded. The park features a meticulously restored 19th-century town that made me feel like I was going back in time. It felt a lot more like Colonial Williamsburg than a battlefield national park. And it is located in the most beautiful natural setting!
Confluence of the Potomac River
Speaking of the beautiful setting, the confluence of the Potomac River is a remarkable natural phenomenon where two waterways, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, merge in a breathtaking display of natural beauty. Located near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, this confluence forms a picturesque junction right at the heart of the historic downtown.
Our family visit included 3 generations so we had a lot of fun taking pictures near John Brown's Fort at the end of Shendnaoh Street. This is also a great place to start walking across the footbridge mentioned below.
This confluence not only provides a stunning backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts but also serves as a symbol of the region's rich history and the natural wonders that have long drawn people to its shores. Whether for kayaking, hiking, or simply taking in the serene beauty, the confluence of the Potomac River stands as a testament to the captivating power of nature's artistry.
Blue Ridge Mountains - Top Attraction Near Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry is situated in the Shenandoah Valley, with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian Mountains to the west. The Blue Ridge Mountains are characterized by their rolling hills, lush forests, and iconic blueish hue which you can see in my pictures, which gives them their name.
You can easily access the Blue Ridge Mountains for hiking, scenic drives, and outdoor adventures. AllTrails has a great list of the top 10 trails from Harpers Ferry. In fact, anyone can walk a part of the famous Appalachian Trail from downtown Harpers Ferry which I'll talk about next!
Appalachian Trail Footbridge - Favorite Thing to Do in Harpers Ferry
Our family all agreed that our favorite thing to do was to walk along the Appalachian Trail Footbridge! It is located right at the end of Shenandoah Street in the historic downtown and was recently refurbished.
There are beautiful views from all sides as you cross the river on the actual Appalachian Trail! It is also a very easy trail for those who are elderly. No incline, however not fully wheelchair accessible.
The Appalachian Trail stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. The footbridge serves as a testament to the town's importance in the hiking community and offers a serene escape for all who venture across it.
Historic Town of Harpers Ferry
The historic town of Harpers Ferry is a captivating gem nestled at the connection of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in West Virginia. Steeped in American history, this charming town has played a pivotal role in the nation's narrative. Iconic 19th-century buildings like John Brown's Fort and St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church stand as enduring symbols of this history.
We liked wandering beyond the museum part to the small streets like High Street for window shopping in the cute shops and grabbing lunch. More on that below. You can also walk along Potomac Street and check out the working Harpers Ferry Train Station. It's a beautiful building in itself and kids love to watch the trains go by!
Jefferson Rock Panoramic View of Harpers Ferry
Moving beyond the historic center of the town, one of the most popular viewpoints is Jefferson Rock. This viewpoint was famously described by Thomas Jefferson as "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." From this vantage point, visitors are treated to a breathtaking vista of the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, with the historic town of Harpers Ferry nestled in the valley below.
To get to Jefferson Rock, first go to the Lower Historic Town and go up the stone steps located between the African American History Museum and the Civil War Museum on High Street. Go past St. Peter's Catholic Church and continue past the ruins of St. John Episcopal Church. Then you will reach Jefferson Rock.
John Brown's Fort in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
This is the location of the most famous historical event of Harpers Ferry. It was originally a U.S. Armory fire engine and guardhouse and gained lasting notoriety when it became the site of John Brown's last stand in 1859. My kids and I listened to an engaging National Park Service Ranger share more about the history.
(I wish we had this Graphic Novel on John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry before we visited!)
John Brown was an abolitionist who led a raid on Harpers Ferry in an attempt to initiate a slave rebellion. The fort played a central role in this pivotal moment in American history, serving as a makeshift stronghold for Brown and his followers during their ill-fated siege. Today, John Brown's Fort stands as a museum, preserving artifacts and exhibits that recount the story of Brown's daring raid and its significance in the lead-up to the Civil War.
Maryland Heights Trail
The Maryland Heights Trail is a 10.5-mile trail with panoramic views of the historic town of Harpers Ferry, the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and the picturesque Shenandoah Valley beyond. We have not done this trail as we have elementary-age kids but All Trails has a great page with directions and recent photos.
Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum
The Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum is a delightful attraction and miniature train ride! Stepping into the museum is like stepping back in time, as it features intricate model train layouts, vintage toy trains, and exhibits that celebrate the history of railroading and its impact on American culture. All toys date from prior to 1938.
Hours: It is open on weekends from 10 AM to 4 PM, April through October.
Harpers Ferry Civil War Battlefields
Harpers Ferry is renowned for its historic Civil War battlefields, which hold a significant place in the annals of American history. The Battle of Harpers Ferry in September 1862 was a pivotal moment, resulting in the capture of over 12,000 Union troops by Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee. Today, visitors can explore these hallowed grounds, with well-preserved remnants of fortifications, artillery placements, and interpretive markers that offer insights into the fierce fighting that once took place here.
The Lower Town of Harpers Ferry also saw its share of conflict, with historical buildings still bearing scars from the war. These battlefields serve as poignant reminders of the sacrifices made during the Civil War and provide a meaningful backdrop for reflecting on this tumultuous chapter in American history.
Top 10 Seasonal Things to Do in Harpers Ferry West Virginia (River Tubing in the Summer & Snow Tubing in the Winter!)
We loved kayaking in Harpers Ferry with this Amazon inflatable kayak!
Summer Things to Do in Harpers Ferry (Tubing, Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking)
Summer in Harpers Ferry includes all things water sports! Below are the top recommendations:
- Flat Water Tubing - Harpers Ferry Adventure Center
- Whitewater Tubing - Harpers Ferry Adventure Center
- Kayak - We brought our inflatable kayak which found very affordable on Amazon and are so happy with! The kids took kayak trips any chance they could get on the lake behind our Harpers Ferry Airbnb.
Fall Things to Do in Harpers Ferry (Leaf Peeping & Festivals)
Fall in Harpers Ferry is all about enjoying the beautiful leaves changing and the outdoor festivals!
There are 2 major fall festivals near Harpers Ferry including:
- Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival - September 22-24, 2023
- Harpers Ferry Highland Games- October 7, 2023
My family and I sledding at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia!
Winter Things to Do in Harpers Ferry
As some of the closest mountains to Washington DC, we've enjoyed the Harpers Ferry, West Virginia area during the winter for many years! Here are some great spots:
- Snow Tubing - Snow Riders is only 5 minutes from town in my list of Top 8 Snow Tubing Spots in Virginia and West Virginia.
- Skiing - Whitetail Resort is about an hour from Harpers Ferry
- Sledding in the longest Sled Run on the East Coast - Blackwater Falls State Park (2.5 hours away but so fun!)
Spring Things to Do in Harpers Ferry
Springtime in Harpers Ferry is great for getting back on the many hiking trails including the Appalachian foothills and the C&O Canal towpath. In addition to the natural splendor, Harpers Ferry's rich history and quaint charm continue to captivate, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a perfect blend of historical exploration and springtime serenity. There is also the annual Blue Ridge Arts & Crafts Festival which is usually held in May each year in Harpers Ferry.
Hotel and Airbnb Recommendations
Our family of 3 generations including 9 people really enjoyed staying at this Spacious Lake House walking distance to the Appalachian Trail. It had so much room for all of us and this gorgeous back deck, tree swing, and lake deck that we used every day. It was 16 miles from Harpers Ferry and a lovely getaway for our family!
Closer hotels and apartment rentals to Harpers Ferry:
(I've linked to each hotel's Booking.com link because I love the traveler reviews and generous cancellation policies. Our family books through Booking.com for most of our trips!)
- Clarion Inn Harpers Ferry-Charles Town: Located nearby in Charles Town, this hotel offers comfortable rooms and easy access to both Harpers Ferry and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
- Riverfront House in Harpers Ferry with mountain views and outdoor fireplace.
- Modern Chalet with Hot Tub and Game Room and Dog Friendly
Shown the #3 option listed below, the Train Station but go early because we couldn't find a spot!
3 Places to Park in Harpers Ferry West Virginia
Harpers Ferry offers three convenient parking options for visitors exploring this historic town. First, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Visitor Center provides ample parking, making it an ideal starting point for those interested in learning about the town's history before exploring its sites. Note: It is located 2 miles west of the historic center but they do have a free shuttle that takes you.
Second, the Lower Town Parking Area is situated closer to the heart of the historic district, offering easy access to shops, museums, and the footbridge. There are not a ton of spots so go early!
Lastly, the Train Station Parking Lot provides a convenient option for those arriving by train or planning to explore the area around the train station. This is where we tried to get a spot but couldn't find one so we went to the Visitor's Center.
Each of these parking areas ensures that visitors can comfortably access Harpers Ferry's rich history, stunning natural beauty, and charming streets.
Restaurant Recommendation: Battle Grounds Bakery & Coffee
We highly recommend Battle Grounds Bakery & Cofee for a casual lunch with a beautiful view! They have a great deck that overlooks the train station and mountains and a great menu of sandwiches, coffee, and baked goods. I highly recommend the BLT and chicken salad sandwiches.