With sweeping views, sweet shops, and outdoorsy appeal, modern-day Harpers Ferry has much more than its impressive history to offer to visitors.
written by TARA WINE-QUEEN
photographed by CARLA WITT FORD
KNOWN FOR ITS HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND SPECTACULAR VIEWS, Harpers Ferry has long attracted history buffs hoping to engage with artifacts left over from the time of storied abolitionist John Brown and his renowned raid. It also sees its fair share of outdoor enthusiasts who are eager to take advantage of the area’s stunning vistas and numerous trails. While many of its attractions may be straight out of the 19th century, downtown Harpers Ferry is anything but dated. It offers a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere for Civil War enthusiasts, nature lovers, families, and trendy day-trippers alike. In this delightfully walkable place, shopping, eating, and learning are all easily managed on foot. Visitors can stroll lazily alongside cobblestone streets lined with charming shops and eateries, verdant hills and soothing waters rolling in the background. Visit the grounds of Storer College, once a groundbreaking school for formerly enslaved education seekers. Guided walking tours highlighting both the historical and the natural world are available, as well as seasonal ghost tours for those looking for a spookier experience. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park offers a free downloadable map highlighting interesting stops for those who prefer to explore independently.
Begin your day at Battle Grounds Bakery and Coffee, where you can grab a s’mores iced latte and a cinnamon bun for breakfast. At dinnertime, wander to The Rabbit Hole gastropub for a Blue Ridge Burger and a drink from its impressive craft beer selection, all enjoyed with a gorgeous view at one of its outdoor tables overlooking the river. Enjoy a scoop of ice cream at one of the many walk-up stands.
Take in the legacy of John Brown with a visit to John Brown’s Fort, where he and his followers made their stand. The structure itself has a surprising history following the raid: It was moved to Chicago, then back to the local area, and only returned to its current site in the late 1960s. Drop by St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church—the elaborate Victorian Gothic edifice was originally built in 1833. Cross the railroad trestle to hike the C&O Canal or stretch your legs on the Appalachian Trail where it passes through town.
No trip to Harpers Ferry is complete without visiting the plethora of shops that line the descent into town. Stop at True Treats Historic Candy, where you can experience authentically made candies, teas, and other goodies from throughout time—from 2nd century Roman spices to candied violet petals popular in the 1700s. For unique, locally made gifts, The Vintage Lady has you covered with whimsical handcrafted jewelry, stunning prints of scenic photography, and West Virginia jams, honey, and ciders. Down the steps from Battle Grounds Bakery is Tenfold Fair Trade Collection, a darling shop filled with handcrafted and eco-friendly products.