Mountain Mama Vacation Homes

A Visitor’s Guide to Harpers Ferry in the Fall

With autumn just around the corner, Harpers Ferry needs to be on the radar of every traveler who loves fall foliage, history, and charming small towns. A short drive from your West Virginia cabin rental, Harpers Ferry is a fantastic location for a day trip filled with natural beauty and important American history.

About Harpers Ferry

Photo Credit: Fred Schroeder via Flickr CC2.0

Harpers Ferry is a small, charming town located at the northeastern edge of West Virginia. Only an hour from Washington D.C., Harpers Ferry is known for its rich history, stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and quaint small-town feel.

This corner of West Virginia is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, providing incredible views of untouched natural beauty. Harpers Ferry is the “psychological” halfway mark on the famous Appalachian Trail, which spans over 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine (the true geographic halfway point is about 60 mi north in rural PA). The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization entrusted with maintaining the entire trail, maintains its headquarters and visitor center right in Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry has become a historic place for many reasons but is perhaps best known for being the site of John Brown’s Raid in 1859. Brown, an abolitionist, gathered a small army and stormed the armory in Harpers Ferry, hoping to redistribute the arms and stir up a rebellion. Ultimately, the raid failed and resulted in Brown being hanged, but the revolt is considered one of the major tipping points that sent the United States into the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry was a critically important site and considered by Confederate forces to be the “best strategic point in the South.” Switching hands between the Union and Conservative armies eight times, Harpers Ferry was all but destroyed in the numerous battles and skirmishes. Today, the battlefields and forts are an excellent spot for an educational visit.

Fall in Harpers Ferry

Photo Credit: David Brossard via Flickr CC2.0

It is hard to beat autumn in the Appalachian Mountains. Combining the awe-inspiring show of colors when the leaves change with the charming small-town of Harpers Ferry is a recipe for perfection. You’ll love soaking up this beautiful place in the cool mountain air.

While Harpers Ferry is a fantastic spot in any season, fall is truly a magical time. With the town being located at the confluence of two major rivers, the Potomac and Shenandoah, the views are hard to beat. Colorful trees light up the surrounding mountains in vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows, and there is a crisp chill in the air to really get you in that autumn spirit.

For those who love Halloween and all things spooky, Harpers Ferry is a mecca for fans of the paranormal. Considered a hotspot for ghosts, it is possible to take a tour or hunt for the spirits yourself.

What to Pack

The weather in autumn makes it the perfect time for a getaway. The hot, humid summer has passed, and the damp cold winter has not yet arrived. The weather can be chilly, but generally, autumn travelers get to enjoy mild, crisp days with plenty of sunshine. Outside of our general packing guide, you’ll want to make sure you bring:

  • Comfortable walking shoes and wear layers.
  • A rain jacket/windbreaker. Even if it doesn’t rain (fall is the driest season), a jacket will help fend off the cool air if winds pick up.
  • A camera. Harpers Ferry is truly picturesque in the fall, so a camera is a must-have! You will want to capture the priceless memories of your Harpers Ferry vacation.
  • A warm coat, hat, and gloves. If planning to stay past dark, remember that temperatures in the West Virginia mountains can drop considerably after the sun goes down. Warm clothes are advisable to ensure comfort once the sun sets.

What to Do in Harpers Ferry in the Fall

Hiking

Photo Credit: KhanIM

There are a multitude of hiking trails in the Harpers Ferry area, and it’s possible to find hikes suitable for all experience levels. The town itself is encompassed by the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which has 22 miles of trails, and the Appalachian Trail itself cuts right through the area.

There are nine trails available in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Any of these trails will offer visitors great views, beautiful fall foliage, and a great way to take in the natural beauty of West Virginia.

While hiking along the Harpers Ferry section of the AT, you can find the famous Jefferson Rock. This landmark gets its name from Thomas Jefferson himself, who wrote in his notebook that he stood upon this rock and admired the beauty of the Harpers Ferry area as he passed through in 1783. “This scene,” he said, “is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” It’s hard to think of a better recommendation than that!

Leaf Peeping

Photo Credit: Ryan Taylor via Flickr CC2.0

Leaf peeping is a top activity for fall in Harpers Ferry. The surrounding mountains light up in bright shades of orange, red, and yellow and provide a magical sight. It is possible to visit numerous locations for fall foliage with no hiking required.

A few of our favorite places to ogle at the beautiful fall colors are:

  • Turn off I-68 east at Cumberland and take the Maryland State Route 51 southbound for a lovely mini road trip with plenty of colorful leaves. Once in town, simply walking through the historical streets provides endless views of changing foliage.
  • For a truly memorable view, take a short walk up the gravel path near John Brown’s Fort and head up to The Point. The Point is an overlook providing a breathtaking vista of the confluence of the Potomac river and Shenandoah river, as well as allowing you to see Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Do note that the stupendous view draws many admirers. To see it with less of a crowd, try to visit during the week or in the mornings/evenings on a weekend.

Peak fall foliage in Harpers Ferry is generally mid-October through the first week of November. Many factors go into the vibrancy of the colors from year to year, but guests can usually expect great autumnal views in Harpers Ferry.

Ghost Tour

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Harpers Ferry is reportedly one of the most haunted towns in America, due in large part to the way the turmoil of the Civil War left its mark on the town. Ghost tours are a popular activity that is not to be missed! Join the O’ Be Joyfull ghost tour, the oldest ghost tour in America, to learn about the history and legends of Harpers Ferry. Your guide will talk about numerous commonly-spotted ghosts, including Dangerfield Newby, the Phantom Army, and Screaming Jenny.

The Harpers Ferry ghost tour is great for people who love to learn about supernatural legends as well as those who just enjoy history.

Historical Tour

Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr CC2.0

The Harpers Ferry Park Association puts on historical walking tours through the Harpers Ferry Lower Town, allowing visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of the town and its history. The tour guide educates guests on significant historical landmarks and events, such as the John Brown Raid, the Civil War, Storer College, and the Niagara Movement.

In addition to the classic Harpers Ferry historical tour, the park association also puts on a special 19th Century Virginius Island tour. This is ideal for those who are intrigued by the industrial and waterpower history of Virginius Island and want to learn more about the impact it had on Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry Battlefield

Photo Credit: newole via Instagram

The Harpers Ferry Battlefield, the location of the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry, is well-preserved and is a must-see for further insight into the role Harpers Ferry played in the Civil War.

The battle saw the clash of Union and Confederate troops, with the Union army eventually surrendering. Over 12,000 Union troops were captured, making it the largest single capture of Federal troops in the entire war.

Train Museum

Photo Credit: chrisbudde via Instagram

Harpers Ferry’s importance in the Civil War was primarily due to its location and ease of access to the railroad to transport goods. The historic Harpers Ferry Station, which is still used daily by commuters to and from Washington, D.C., made the town a highly desirable location for both the Confederate and Union army, resulting in the many skirmishes over the course of the war.

After visiting the train station, take a short drive outside town to the Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum and Joy Line Railroad. The museum is a special treat for children but also fun for guests of all ages and features an antique toy train collection and railroad memorabilia. There is even an outdoor miniature train that can take guests on a ride through the valley.

What to Eat

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Harpers Ferry may be a small town, but it has no shortage of great restaurants, bars, and cafes to enjoy after a long day of hiking and exploring.

  • Warm up with a visit to Battle Grounds Bakery and Coffee, a charming café with great views from the terrace patio. A steaming cup of coffee and decadent pastry will be welcome on chilly days.
  • The Anvil Restaurant is one of the most popular in Harpers Ferry and is a great option for comforting, hearty food in a cozy environment. Serving up delicious meals since 1985, The Anvil Restaurant is a reliable favorite.
  • Kelley Farm Kitchen is Harpers Ferry’s first vegan restaurant and provides mouth-watering meals that will be appreciated by vegans and non-vegans alike.

You’re Ready for Fall in Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is a must-visit location for a fall vacation. The surrounding Appalachian Mountains light up in vibrant splashes of red, orange, and yellow, and the crisp air makes hiking and exploring historic locations pleasant.

A trip to Harpers Ferry, staying in a peaceful cabin rental, will provide you with lifelong memories of a beautiful autumn day.

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