Living so close to Harper’s Ferry, this visit has been on my list for years. It is about an hour away from Washington, DC and makes for the perfect day trip.
This year, on Memorial Day, we finally drove over to the historic town. It was also my first time in beautiful and mountainous West Virginia! (yay!)
… Although… our guide did made sure we would not confuse these “hills” with the mountains of the west coast.
At the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, Harpers Ferry is the easternmost town in West Virginia and the northernmost point of the Shenandoah Valley. As seen in the photo above, you can stand in West Virginia and look out to see both Maryland (left) and Virginia (right) across the water.
Harpers Ferry was named for Robert Harper, a man who ran a ferry across the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.
The town is in a pivotal point geographically and has had significant history. In addition to all the famous figures that passed through the town (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, Robert E. Lee, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell and Abraham Lincoln), it is most famous for John Brown’s Raid and for its role in the Civil War.
While you can drive through and park in Harper’s Ferry itself… but that is not advisable. There is a parking area at 171 Shoreline Drive that can accommodate a few hundred cars and offers a free shuttle to lower town. The shuttle is about 5 minutes or less and runs all day until 6:45pm. We never had to wait a long time for it and it was really convenient. As it is a National Historic Park, the cost to enter Harpers Ferry is $10 per car.
The town itself is rather small.
There are three main streets: Potomac, High, and Church. We lazed around these streets, leisurely walking through shops and restaurants.
We ate at the Cannonball deli,
had beers at Almost heaven,
and finished with ice cream at the Coffee Mill.
While the food was satisfying, this was not a culinary experience to write home about.
The shops were very cutesy.
The highlight store of the trip was the candy shop, True Treats. It was a mix between a museum and a candy shop – it was candy from all throughout history – as far as from the 1500s… made fresh, of course. If you are interested, they have an online shop as well.
There are many more shops and museums in the town, I did not get to visit all of them. If you have a different highlight, let me know!
Jefferson Rock is a rock named after Thomas Jefferson. He is said to have stood there and looked out onto the Potomac. The rock itself was eventually deemed a hazard and then put up on four stilts to ensure it did not fall onto the inhabitants below.
Sitting by the rock was a very peaceful experience. I did not 100 percent understand the significance of the rock itself (even though I did know the story), but I still enjoyed the view and the surroundings.
Many trails connect to Harpers Ferry, most notably the Appalachian trail. During our visit, we saw many hikers passing through the “psychological” midpoint of the trail and relaxing in the town. The physical midpoint of the trail is a little north of the town in Pennsylvania, but not as exciting an area. We heard some hikers talking about it while we were having beers and my dreams of walking the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails were re-awakened (thanks Cheryl Strayed!)
On the way back down, we passed Saint Peter’s Catholic Church where the famous ghost tours start. We weren’t going to be there late enough to embark on one, but they are highly recommended.
We had planned on participating in the daily ranger tour at 2pm, yet by the time we finished exploring the town, it was still too early so we had dessert and watched long train cars go over the B&O railroad (same one as in Monopoly!)
Daily ranger tours at 2pm.
The tour was centered on the civil war history of the area. There were only three stops, but the ranger was so enthusiastic about his stories that it was an interesting experience.
Harpers Ferry is a great, relaxing, and romantic place to come for day hikes and historic town exploration. We did miss out on a lot of the museums, and that is something I will rectify next time. There is also whitewater rafting and other outdoor activities which we will probably also try out next time when it is warmer.
Bonus Trip – Bloomery Plantation Distillery
The first spirit even produced at this distillery was limoncello. The story goes that some Australians living in the United States were personally invited to Vatican as their Australian aunt was being canonized as the first saint of Australia. While they were in Italy, they tried limoncello, fell in love, and got a recipe to make it. And friends, I have been to Positano (the hometown of limoncello) and let me tell you, this was the real darn thing.
We immediately knew our trip to the Bloomery Plantation Distillery was a good idea based on the cheeky signs all up the long gravel driveway.
When we parked up the hill, we were met with an adorable building and a field of butterflies.
Inside the main building felt like a speakeasy… even though I have never been in one. The salesman / bartender was doing the tasting (which was free) and everyone was having a great time. The ambiance was very relaxed and everyone was laughing and joking.
The drinks were all moonshine based and pretty good. The bartender / salesman was even making mixed drinks and drinking with us.
To top it all off, the patrons started yelling “Go Bills” and my husband had a great time finding out there were three bills fans in one place in West Virginia!