Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

A guide to visiting this charming & historical small town

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Years visited: 2014 & 2021

Time of year: May & March

Harpers Ferry, WV

Harpers Ferry is a small town in West Virginia, right in between where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia all meet. It is famous as the sight of John Brown’s Raid in 1859, a few years before the start of the Civil War.

In addition to its important role in history, Harpers Ferry is also a charming small town surrounded by scenic mountains. The Appalachian Trail runs through the town and along the Potomac River.



How to Get to Harpers Ferry

Your first view of Harpers Ferry after being dropped off by the shuttle bus.

You can drive directly into the town of Harpers Ferry and park downtown, although parking is limited (more info below).

The easiest way to get there is to park at the national park visitor’s center and either walk or take the shuttle down into the town.

Take the shuttle:

There are several shuttle buses that run every 15 minutes from the visitor’s center down into Harpers Ferry. There is an audio track that gives you some background information about the town as you ride down. The shuttle is free.

  • Currently (2021) buses are running at 50% capacity and face masks are required.

Walk:

You can hike down from the visitor’s center into town. It’s about a 45 min. walk, but when the buses are running at limited capacity, you might get there faster.

If you’re traveling with your dog, you can bring them along on the trail.

Look for the brown trail signs with the image of a hiker. You can follow them across the parking lot and down the trail to the lower town.

  • For more information about the hiking trail, click here.

Signs for the hiking trail from the visitor’s center to the lower town.


Where to Park for Harpers Ferry

At the visitor’s center:

As mentioned above, the easiest place to park for Harpers Ferry is at the visitor’s center. There is a $20 fee to park here. The shuttles from here into town and back are free.

  • You can pay at the gate or you can pay for parking online before you arrive. Click here to purchase your parking pass ahead of time.

In the lower town:

You can park in the town of Harpers Ferry. There is parking available at the train station on Potomac Street. However, parking is limited, so you want to arrive early to find a space.


Harpers Ferry Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Harpers Ferry famous?

Harpers Ferry is most famous as the site of John Brown’s Raid in 1859. It also played a major role in the American Civil War, passing hands back and forth between the Union and Confederate armies multiple times.

Is Harpers Ferry in Virginia?

No, Harpers Ferry is in West Virginia. But it is right at the point where the three states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet.

Do people live in Harpers Ferry?

Yes, Harpers Ferry has a population of approximately 300 people.

Does a real train still run through Harpers Ferry?

Yes, a real Amtrak Train runs through Harpers Ferry. We saw it come through while we were on the bridge (felt like we were going to blow off!) last time we were there.

Can you drive in Harpers Ferry?

Yes, you can drive into Harpers Ferry. However, you will have to watch out for the pedestrians walking everywhere. There is limited parking available at the train station.

Can you use credit cards in Harpers Ferry?

Yes, you can use credit cards in Harpers Ferry.

Is Harpers Ferry open all year long?

Yes, the national park of Harpers Ferry is open all year long, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. However, not all of the sites and shops in Harpers Ferry will be open all year.

When is the best time of year to visit?

In my opinion, the best time of year to visit Harpers Ferry is the beginning of May. The weather will be beautiful and all the trees are in full bloom, but most schools are still open, so it will be less crowded (and you might spot the cherry blossoms if you visit Washington DC!).

My second choice would be in the fall, as the leaves start to turn, but the weather is still warm, and once again, schools are open.

Why is there no apostrophe in Harpers Ferry?

Is it just me that’s wondering that??

The quick answer, according to Google, is that Harpers Ferry, named after Robert Harper, is not owned by Harper. Ergo it is not Robert Harper’s ferry.


Things to Do in Harpers Ferry

There are so many things to do in Harpers Ferry! From the local shops to the museums, the hiking trails to the old factory ruins, there is something for everyone.

Visit the shops:

There are a lot of local shops to visit in Harpers Ferry. My favorite is True Treats Historic Candy, a candy shop that has sweets dating back to Bible times all the way up through the present. It’s like a mini candy museum, except it’s all for sale! There are also lots of boutique-y shops, and plenty of places to spend money!

Get something to eat:

Of course there are several cute cafes to visit for lunch, or maybe just an ice cream! The last time we were there, it happened to be Pi Day (3/14). So we found ourselves some slices of maple apple pie to celebrate! *Happy sigh.

Visit the museums:

Harpers Ferry is full of history. All along the town you will found museum buildings to wander into and explore. They are all open and free.

Enjoy the scenery:

Thomas Jefferson described the view overlooking the two rivers as “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature…Worth a voyage across the Atlantic” (that being said, it’s going to be a lot prettier in summer and fall than in winter and early spring).

You can look out at “the point” across the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and see the mountains looming up behind them. Or you could even cross the railroad bridge and take a short hike along the Appalachian Trail (just to say you did!).

Hiking:

The pedestrian walkway along the railroad bridge.

There are hiking trails for all levels of hikers around the area. As mentioned above, you can walk across the railroad bridge and take a stroll along the river. Or you can hike from the visitor’s center into town.

You can also hike from the visitor’s center along the Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail (start of the trail is to the left of the bathrooms).

  • For more information on all the available hiking trails, click here.


Things to Do Near Harpers Ferry

Antietam National Battlefield

This is the site of the bloodiest single day battle in American history, fought during the Civil War. It is a somber, but beautiful place to visit.

Washington, D.C.

This city needs no introduction, as it is the capital of the US! This is the best place to go for museums. There is a museum for everything you could think of, and they are all free!

My favorites are the Museum of Natural History, and the Air and Space Museum.


Where to Stay

On our most recent trip to Harpers Ferry, we stayed with family, but the first time I went with my parents, we stayed at a fantastic B&B: The Carriage Inn in Charles Town, WV.

I highly recommend this place. It’s reasonably priced, the food was delicious, and it’s less than a 15 minute drive from Harpers Ferry.

And on top of all that, it is in itself a historical landmark!

It’s also conveniently located for visiting other places of interest, such as Antietam or Washington D.C.


Any more questions?

If you have any more questions about visiting Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, don’t hesitate to email me.

Want to plan a trip to Harpers Ferry in the future?

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