5 most history-rich hikes in Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is one of the most history-rich places in the country. Get fresh air and a fresh perspective on its past along the trails of the National Historical Park.

From the first American presidents to abolitionist heroes to monumental Civil War battles, Harpers Ferry has always been an outpost for freedom, enterprise and the adventurous American spirit.

With so much to do in Harpers Ferry, you can start your days exploring the museums and historical buildings. But the history lessons don’t end there.
Uncover more along these 5 trails:

1. Lower Town Trail

Stay close to town on the Lower Town Trail loop for a walking tour of the historic buildings, placards and monuments. Literally walk in the footsteps of men like abolitionist John Brown, writer W.E.B. Du Bois, discoverer Second Lieutenant William Clark, or former presidents Washington and Jefferson.

This kid-friendly 5-mile lollipop hike sweeps along the Shenandoah River at its confluence with the Upper Potomac River. Look for historical markers along the way about the butcher shop and boarding house, Shenandoah Street, Shenandoah Canal Bridge and economic development of the town.

Ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church, Harpers Ferry, WV

2. Loudoun Heights

While this trail gets less traffic than the other hikes on this list, it starts with flights of 19th-century stone stairs and passes the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Harper Cemetery, and the austere St. Peter’s Church. Keep a keen eye out for less visible artifacts, like a stone fort or property markers that can appear to be a coincidental placement of rocks by Mother Nature.

Harpers Ferry historic town, only a few hours from DC

3. Maryland Heights Trail

Take the Maryland Heights Trail for phenomenal views of the historic town, and get up close and personal with Civil War remnants. Climb more than 1,400 feet in less than 5 miles, and look for powder magazines, gun batteries, ammunition pits, and Union fortification remnants along the trail. Also keep an eye out for wildflowers, birds and wildlife. Explore the Civil War Stone Fort at the top before heading back down.

Appalachian Trail, West Virginia

4. Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail (AT) stretches far beyond Harpers Ferry in both directions, although thru-hikers (people who hike the entire trail) consider Harpers Ferry to be the “psychological midpoint.” Visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Visitor Center in downtown to pick up a map and more information before you head out.

Here, take the trail to see Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson stood in 1783 and proclaimed, “On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Potomac, in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea.”

Continue on north past the rock into Maryland for about 4 miles until you get to Weverton Cliffs. Take in the view for as long as you want, then turn around and head back to town.

5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath

Follow the same starting route as the Lower Town Trail, but instead of looping around the confluence, cross the fenced-in Harpers Ferry walking bridge. From here, go north or south along the C&O Canal, which was used to transport people and goods for nearly 100 years as an aquatic superhighway.

With such rocky terrain, disease, legal battles and high ambition, “The Great National Project” was an expensive feat of human engineering. It brought together Americans and European immigrants during both its construction and implementation, and gave women in the area income and community.

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This post was last updated on March 1, 2022