7 things you didn’t know you could uncover in Harpers Ferry

The historic town of Harpers Ferry is perhaps best known as the site of John Brown’s famous raid on the arsenal– “the spark that ignited the Civil War.”

Today, the charming Jefferson County town, part of which is located within Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, boasts a variety of unique entertainment, from history to outdoor recreation to arts and crafts.

Here are just a few of the fascinating things you didn’t know you could uncover in Harpers Ferry:

1. The Appalachian Trail

Not only does the 2,185-mile-long Appalachian Trail (AT) pass through Harpers Ferry, its trail headquarters are located here as well. The Appalachian Trail Visitors Center provides information about the AT and local day hikes.

Shop for souvenirs in the gift shop, study a 3-D map of the AT or chat with the thru-hikers who pass through the area on their trek from Georgia to Maine. Youngsters can explore a kid-sized replica shelter or complete an AT activity booklet to earn a patch as a National Park Service Junior Ranger.

Harpers Ferry Hikes

2. Historic Hikes

The annual Hike Through History takes place in September, beginning at Bolivar Heights Battlefield and follows a 3-mile downhill path through town to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Guides give brief presentations along the way at historic homes and sites.

You’ll have the opportunity to learn about the area’s rich history and hear colorful anecdotes about the twin towns of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry. If walking’s not your speed, Pedal Through the Past lets you explore this rich heritage from your bike.

3. An Old-Fashioned Christmas

One weekend every December, the cobblestone streets of Harpers Ferry come alive with the sounds of carolers and the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages. Harpers Ferry Old Tyme Christmas hearkens back to the town’s Civil War era. Event highlights include the lighting of the traditional yule log, puppet shows, musical performances and a living history program. Meet merchants and characters from the period— including Santa and Mrs. Claus!

4. A Race Through 2 States

Freedom’s Run Marathon begins in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, passing John Brown’s famous fort, then crosses into Maryland, where it passes through C&O Canal National Historical Park and Antietam National Battlefield before crossing back to West Virginia to the finish line in historic Shepherdstown.

Much of this October race winds through national parks, where the land and farms appear the same today as they did in 1862. Runner’s World magazine lauded the scenic course as a highlight race.

5. A Historic Canal

The 184-mile-long C&O Canal Towpath follows the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal along the Potomac River from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, passing by Harpers Ferry, where it can be accessed by a bridge across the Potomac. Nicknamed the “Grand Old Ditch,” the C&O Canal operated from 1831 to 1924, transporting coal, lumber and agricultural products to market.

Today, much of the unused canal is empty, but its locks and houses remain as a reminder of the industrial age. The towpath’s crushed-gravel, flat surface makes for an easy ride for bicyclists of all ages, while the area’s scenery, wildlife and historic sites add color to the experience.

6. Ghost Tours

Some of the town’s most interesting historical figures may still be there in spirit. Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry by O’ Be Joyful is a walking tour through the historic Lower Town section. Visit a number of sites and buildings that have experienced reports of ghostly phenomenon and hear stories about the hauntings.

For those who are easily spooked, there’s O’ Be Joyful Historical Harpers Ferry Town Tour, which explores the town’s history from its first settlement and founding to its involvement in building the world’s first successful steamboat.

7. Historic Trades Workshops

Experience 19th century life firsthand through historic trade workshops. Learn a variety of skills, from cooking to crafts. Whip up old-fashioned treats like soda fountain beverages, apple pies or sugar plums or craft your own tinware. Visit the Harpers Ferry National Park Service website for details on upcoming workshops.

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This post was last updated on March 15, 2022