The Best Things To Do In Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Filled with history, natural beauty, and plenty of Appalachian charm, Harpers Ferry is a Mountain State gem.

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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 At the precipice of the 4.5-mile Maryland Heights Overlook Trail, the small town of Harpers Ferry appears as if from a 19th-century dream. One minute you’re trudging through dense deciduous forest, the next, the trees abruptly part to reveal a rocky cliff overlooking the tranquil mountain town.

From here you can make out the colorful rooftops of Harpers Ferry’s Lower Town, where Victorian homes and neat strips of 150-year-old row buildings house modern restaurants, specialty stores, and living history museums replicating life in the 1800s. Two bridges—one for people and another for trains—cross over the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and lead into town. Each swath of stone and steel creates a visible portal back in time.

Harpers Ferry encompasses two separate but impossibly intertwined places: the quaint 300-person municipal town and the National Historical Park that welcomes close to 400,000 visitors each year. Both are steeped in history with stories to be told at every turn.

St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harpers Ferry

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What to Do

Near the rivers sits the original armory guard house where in 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a legendary but ultimately unsuccessful slave revolt. Walk about 100 yards, and find yourself at the foot of an ancient moss-speckled staircase. Ascend and you’ll officially have walked part of the Appalachian Trail. At the top is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. The 1833 Victorian Gothic church—with its stained-glass windows, dramatic spire, and stone façade—is one of only a few buildings that was spared significant damage during the Civil War. From there, a footpath leads to Thomas Jefferson’s Rock, a scenic lookout where the former U.S. president famously declared the spectacular landscape “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Harpers Ferry can make a history buff out of even the staunchest modernist. A major battleground during the Civil War and the location of West Virginia’s first Black college, the town was built on the backbone of the federal armory and flourished thanks to its location near a main waterway. Walking among the cobblestone streets, you can almost hear the clip-clop of horse hooves and smell the billowing coal smoke.

Of course, no visit to Harpers Ferry would be complete without considerable time exploring the national park. Popular trails include the aforementioned Maryland Heights Trail, as well as the Loudon Heights Trail, Lower Town Loop Trail, and Murphy-Chambers Farm Loop Trail.

Snallygasters Cafe

Tara Massouleh McCay

Where to Eat

If you intend to properly explore Harpers Ferry, you'll want to start your day with plenty of fuel. At Bolivar Bread, choose from a selection of house-made baked goods like giant cinnamon rolls, scones, and West Virginia famous pepperoni rolls. If eggs and bacon are more your pace, Country Cafe offers nearly every breakfast food known to man in a homey environment.

For lunch, grab a sandwich at Lower Town's Cannonball Deli, or prepare to be amazed by the innovative flavors and ingredient combos at Kelley Farm Kitchen. The restaurant was voted the Best Vegan Restaurant in the U.S. by Yelpers in 2021, and is known for its ridiculously overstuffed sandwiches and burgers, and soul-warming ramen and chili. We guarantee you won't notice the lack of dairy or meat in the creamy mac and cheese or chili-cheese brat.

When evening rolls around, spend happy hour with an ice-cold brew and unparalleled view at The Rabbit Hole. This Lower Town staple is known for its expansive outdoor dining deck and delicious gastropub bites like bone-in fried pork shanks, short rib poutine, and fried pickles. If you want a quiet table and a great glass of wine, head to Snallygasters Cafe. There you'll find a well-stocked wine shop and small selection of seasonal dishes to accompany.

Harpers Ferry Lower Town

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Where to Shop

Even town candy shop True Treats pays homage to the past, selling sweets like anise that date back to Biblical times, in addition to modern nostalgic varieties that range from Sugar Daddies to Jaw Breakers. Find more unique shops in Lower Town, where treasures await at every turn. Tessoterica is a mother-daughter owned store selling an array of gifts and locally made candles, soaps, and bath goods. Vintage Lady has been around for almost 20 years. Owner Cindi Dunn's boutique specializes in West Virginia-made goods, from beer and jam to glass art and jewelry.

Rockhaven B&B

Tara Massouleh McCay

Where to Stay

Many visitors make their way to Harpers Ferry on a day trip from D.C. (just an hour and a half away), but if you wish to extend your stay (and you likely will), there are plenty of lovely places in town where you can find excellent hospitality and a restful night's sleep. Book one of three suites in the renovated 1927 Craftsmen known as Rockhaven B&B. The stone basement suite comes complete with a wood-burning stove, king bed, and spa-worthy bathtub. Other lodging options include the Stonehouse B&B and The Town's Inn, both conveniently located in the heart of Lower Town.

For all its history, one of Harpers Ferry’s best attributes is its timeless natural beauty. Stand at The Point (where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet) in Lower Town and see it all. The imposing Blue Ridge Mountains surround on three sides, casting long shadows over tree-covered foothills. Two rivers flow lazily toward one another. In certain places, the calm surface sparkles in the sun’s waning light. In others, it rushes anxiously over rocks becoming white water. Look to your left, there’s Maryland. Peek right and see Virginia. Spin around and you’re face-to-face with Harpers Ferry, the tiny town at the center of it all.

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