Harpers Ferry is located in West Virginia and is a historic town where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, as well as the states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Bridges lead over the two connecting rivers to the town where John Brown led his famous raid in 1859. John Brown and 21 men led a raid on the arsenal. Five of the men in the raid were Black, which at the time was illegal under the Fugitive Slave Act because they were assisting fugitive slaves. The raid was able to capture several buildings in hopes of triggering a slave uprising. The raid has been considered an initial start to what would become the Civil War of the United States. The town today has museums, a national park, exhibits, hiking trails, battlefields, and much more to see and do.
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Living History Weekends
Throughout the year, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has what is called Living History Weekends. The events typically take place from March through December. Staff dress up in appropriate costumes for the era and participate in live reenacted events like the War of 1812, an artillery crew demonstrating field artillery, the staging of General Philip Sheridan’s Valley Campaign, medical and relief efforts during the civil war and many others. The reenactments done by staff make visitors feel what it was really like back in the historic days and times of war and conflict. The park website has a large list of Living History Weekends to choose from. Experience the history of the park by live reenactments!
Best Walks and Hikes in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry is known as one of the best parks to hike and walk. The scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the joined rivers, creates some stunning scenery. This combined with the historical aspects of a quaint town with excellent walking and hiking trails make it one of the best places to explore by foot. There are approximately 20 miles of hiking trails to utilize in the park. Choose from leisurely walks across battlefields to strenuous hikes that reach the top mountains.
The Maryland Heights Trail is one of the most difficult trails. It can be steep and rocky in some places but has great views of the Potomac River. There are wayside exhibits along the way for area information, and the hike is about 6 miles round trip and can last about 4 hours depending on your speed. For a more leisurely walk, try the Murphy-Chambers Farm Hike that travels through some pretty fields and wooded ravines to the Shenandoah River. There is a place to overlook the site of the John Brown Fort, and the trail leads to other small creeks and farm roads for a great walking experience in the park.
Historic Trades Workshops
The park also offers some unique workshops to really get into what it was like to live back in those historical times. Especially skilled park rangers lead these workshops for visitors and participants to learn or try out their skills at baking, gardening, blacksmithing, and sewing. A workshop like the “War of 1812 Dress Making Workshop” is held as a 3-day event. Participants will pay their entry fee and receive a dress pattern, twill tape, fabric, lunches, snacks, and guidance from skilled employees, many of which have been doing this for years. Try the 2-day blacksmithing workshop in which all supplies are provided or the America’s Picnic event that comes complete with a meal and interpretation from park staff for a meaningful and informative experience.
Stop at the Visitor Center
The programs and schedule of activities can all be found at the popular Harpers Ferry visitor center. It is highly recommended that you start your park visit here, where staff can guide you on what events are taking place and can provide trail maps for you too. The park shuttle bus operates from here as well and can take visitors to activities and trailheads so you don’t have to try to find parking for your vehicle at all the stops and sites. The bus can also take you to the Lower Town area which is a must-see on your visit to West Virginia.
Lower Town is the most popular and most visited area in the park. The Lower Town area is situated along the banks of the Potomac River and has many historical buildings to see as guests walk around the scenic streets. The Industry Museum, African American History Museum, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, food and dining vendors and restaurants, shopping, the Civil War Museum are some of the things this area has to offer. You will also find a fine watch repair exhibit, John Brown’s Fort, 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry Museum, and many other points and buildings of interest are present in this area.
Hop on the shuttle to the Lower area for an easy and fun trip out and about. Make sure to stop at The Point for excellent photo opportunities of the river and hills surrounding it. Another beautiful vantage point is located atop of Jefferson Rock that towers above the town and river for some of the best photo opportunities in the area.
Dine and Sleep
The historic town is full of dining options from cute cafes to bars and grills. Most of these can be found in the Lower Town area which can easily be reached by the park shuttle or your own vehicle. Try out Mena’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant or the Potomac Grille for some delicious options. Stay a night or a few nights and choose from an inn, campground, hostel, or hotel. The Harpers Ferry Campground is an excellent place to stay during the warmer months, and for the colder months when snow may fall there are accommodations such as the Angler’s Inn Bed and Breakfast or the Light Horse Inn, as well as several others. The Lower Town area is small, and accommodations fill quickly so make sure to place your reservation in advance to claim your spot.
Beautiful Setting of a Historic Town
Harpers Ferry is a neat town in a beautiful setting, and there is a lot to experience here. Nearby, there is also the famous Appalachian Scenic Trail, Catoctin Mountain Park, the Monocacy National Battlefield, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park for more options during your stay. Enjoy almost 4,000 acres of fields, trees, and the views of two rivers meeting to surround the national park. Enjoy all the historical aspects and events of a place that helped change America’s future.