Get off the beaten path and do something a little different during your visit with these 5 Unique Things to Do In & Around Harpers Ferry.
And bonus? Most of these are free to do!
The first time I visited Harpers Ferry, West Virginia was in May 2011. My husband & I had just got married, and we decided that a weekend getaway to this quaint, historical town would make the perfect little honeymoon. From our very first visit there almost 5 years ago, I think it is safe to say that I fell in love with the town, the breathtaking scenery, and the historical charm of Harpers Ferry. I have been back three times since, and I have two more trips to the area planned for this coming summer. Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers making for breathtaking views and scenery from just about any viewpoint in the town. It is also conveniently located within walking/driving distance of three different states- Virginia, Maryland, & of course, West Virginia. The town is rich in American history serving as the site of the infamous John Brown's Raid in 1859 and playing a key role in the Civil War, changing hands between the Union & Confederate forces 8 times in 4 years.
If you have never been to Harpers Ferry before and are planning a visit soon, here are a few things you need to know about the town ahead of time:
- Parking is pretty much owned by the National Park Service since Harpers Ferry itself has been deemed a national park. If you park at the train depot or at the lot further down near the visitor center, you will have to pay $10 to park whether someone is there to collect the fee or not. Some free 2 hour parking is available near the train depot along the street, but those spots are hard to come by when the town is busy. Your best bet is to park uphill from the town along Washington Street and walk down. If you stay at a bed & breakfast nearby, off or on street parking is usually included with your stay.
- Everything closes early! Most restaurants and shops in the town close around 6:00 or 7:00. Do plan on having brunch, lunch, or an early dinner in Harpers Ferry, but a late dinner in the area is probably not happening.
- Be prepared to walk... a lot. The entire town is situated on a steep hillside, and if you are not walking downhill then you are walking uphill. Wear comfortable shoes.
Aside from the usual sightseeing and special tours and programs that the National Park Service offers, I have definitely discovered some rather unique things to see, do, and eat in and around Harpers Ferry in my four visits to the area. And bonus? Most of these are free to do! :)
1. Bistro 1840 (located inside The Town's Inn- 179 High Street
Bistro 1840 happened to have opened its doors the very same week that my husband & I visited Harpers Ferry earlier this month. Though I just love and adore Harpers Ferry for its historical quaintness and picturesque scenery, their local restaurant scene has been a bit lacking for me. The bistro made my list of 5 unique things to do in & around Harpers Ferry because it is the first time that I have dined at a restaurant in the town and actually raved about it. (Disclaimer: I haven't dined at every restaurant in Harpers Ferry yet, but I have had the chance to check out quite a few of them.) The menu is simple, yet refined much like how the bistro is decorated. The bistro is cleanly decked out in chalkboard black, chalk white, and hardwood.
And the food? Let's just say amazing, folks. ;)
I ordered one of their first course selections, the Tuna Nicoise. The sushi grade tuna was seasoned and cooked perfectly, the creamy quail egg was a nice touch, & I sort of fell in love with the lemon herb oil that this salad was served with. If you are looking for something a little more substantial, try the Soup & Sandwich. My husband ordered it, & the day's selection happened to be an artisan cheddar grilled cheese with a tomato bisque. Comfort food perfection! Everything that we saw come out from the kitchen looked delicious! I have plans to eat brunch there the next time we visit and order their french toast and a side of their apple wood smoked slab of bacon. ;)
Note: Hours are from 11AM to 7PM daily, so this is not the place to plan on having a late dinner at.
2. You can pretty much hike everywhere in and around Harpers Ferry. (Free, except for parking which can cost $10.)
And you don't have to be an avid hiker to take advantage of some of the trails in town. The stone steps above are actually part of the Appalachian Trail & will lead you to the ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church, Jefferson Rock (where Thomas Jefferson once stood and declared, "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic"), and eventually to the Harper Cemetery. Just walking around Harpers Ferry can be a work out in and of itself as it is situated on a hillside.
For the more advanced hikers who are looking for a challenge, I have heard that the Maryland Heights trail does not disappoint. This trail is actually located across the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry and winds up along the rock face you see pictured below. The trail ends at Overlook Cliff where you can take in panoramic scenes of Harpers Ferry from across the river. For my history buffs, you can also see the remains of batteries, breastworks, and a fort if you hike the entire length of the trail. I haven't personally hiked the Maryland Heights trail myself yet, but my son and I are planning to make the trek some time this coming summer.
3. True Treats Historic Candy (144 High Street)
The foodie and history buff in me may have geeked out just a little when we discovered the True Treats Historic Candy shop during our last visit to Harpers Ferry. ;) The shop itself is set up to take you on a historical tour of candy making in America from the early Native Americans clear through to the retro candies you remember enjoying as a kid. We were fortunate enough to have met Susan Benjamin, the founder of True Treats during our visit to the store (though truth be told, I didn't know it at the time!). Even though the store was quite busy at one point & she appeared to be the only one working, she took the time to greet each customer and give them a quick tour of the store's layout. She was also happy to offer little extra historical tidbits on any of the candies, including how sprinkles originated (be sure to ask her that one if you ever visit the shop!). :)
4. Hilltop House Hotel (400 East Ridge Street)- Free to visit, but don't climb over the fence- I have a feeling a trespassing charge may end up being pretty expensive. ;)
Though the Hilltop House Hotel stopped welcoming guests in 2008, it is rumored that some guests of the once swanky resort never did check out. The hotel itself was built in 1888, and then suffered through two different fires & was rebuilt both times- once in 1912 and then again in around 1917. Though my husband and I had already been to Harpers Ferry a handful of times before, we didn't know that the Hilltop House existed until seeing this haunting drone video of the property some time last fall. That piqued our interest, and we knew we were going to have to go take a look at the hotel on our next visit to the area. (And we happened to visit the property not once, but at three different times during our 2 1/2 day stay. Once being late at night in the pitch dark- I do not recommend this, lol!)
With a crumbling foundation and extensive water damage, the property itself is deemed unsafe for tours or visitors but you can snap photos from outside the fenced property. And even if you are not into the whole ghost hunting/paranormal thing, it is worth a visit to the Hilltop House just for the views from there alone. (CLICK HERE to see a live feed video that I took of the views from the Hilltop House property during one of our visits there.)
5. Bloomery Plantation Distillery (16357 Charles Town Road, Charles Town, WV)- Tastings are free, but be sure to bring along a little cash. You will want to tip those bartenders. ;)
Located just a short 15 minute drive from Harpers Ferry in Charles Town is a fun little gem called the Bloomery Plantation Distillery. The distillery itself is partially housed in a restored cabin that was originally built in the 1840's as quarters for slaves (the original part of the building is what you see there in the middle between the two yellow building fronts). The property the distillery sits on is just steeped in history, from once being an ironworks site to even being tied to illegal bootlegging and moonshining at one point (how appropriate, right? ;) ).
My husband & I have visited Bloomery twice now, and we had a fun experience both times. Complimentary tastings are offered (check here for hours- they may change seasonally) complete with colorful commentary from the bartenders (shinetenders?) and cocktail suggestions for each flavor of SweetShine you get to taste. You can also buy SweetShine cocktails (usually $5 a piece) & purchase bottles of their infused shines to take home and enjoy. Visit on a Saturday between 6-8pm, & enjoy free live music upstairs.
Where to Stay...
Harpers Ferry is dotted with various bed & breakfasts, inns, & hostels. My husband & I stayed at the Lighthorse Inn (pictured above) during our most recent visit to the town, but we have also stayed at The Angler's Inn on a previous weekend trip. Both bed & breakfasts are beautifully restored and offer complimentary multi-course breakfasts each morning of your stay. If you or someone in your party happens to be an angler or fly fisherman, The Angler Inn also offers guided fishing trips on the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.
Honorable Mentions...If happen to be a bargain shopper like myself, be sure to stop in at Wildflowers Consignment Boutique (1112 Washington Street, Harpers Ferry). But don't let the term, "boutique" throw you off- they keep the prices of their consignment items affordable! :) They offer a wide selection of women's clothing, jewelry, & purses as well as men's and children's clothing, and some toys and household items. This consignment boutique is definitely worth a stop if you are in the Harpers Ferry area.
If you are looking for a delicious and affordable meal (and at least one restaurant that stays open past 7pm), take a short drive out to Ortega's Taco Shop in Ranson, WV (211 South Mildred Street). We were fortunate that one of the bartenders at the Bloomery let us know about this little local gem because we had ended up staying at the plantation past 7:00 to listen to the live blue grass music upstairs. We were kind of stressing over where we were going to grab dinner (because again- most everything closes early in Harpers Ferry & Charles Town), and they suggested we go grab some street tacos at Ortega's. Can we say holy yum, you all?? For less than $7, we grabbed 3 street tacos (your choice of meat) with a bottle of real Coca-Cola. And their guacamole? Don't get me started on that! ;)
Have you visited the Harpers Ferry area of West Virginia before?
What are your favorite things to do, see, and eat there?
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