Harpers Ferry is a traveler’s dream. Whether your interests are rooted in history, you have a deep sense of adventure, or you appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors, you’re certain to find something special when you stay a few nights in the Shenandoah Valley town known for its magnificent views. Situated in West Virginia, it meets at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Just over the banks are Maryland and Virginia, putting you within easy reach of three states at any given time. You’re also never too far from Washington DC and Baltimore, making it a wonderful spot to visit if you want to soak up serious history and natural beauty in one trip.
The beauty of Harpers Ferry is obvious at a single glance—and it’s fitting that the namesake of the historic town is Robert Harper, who helmed an 18th-century ferry that transported both people and goods across the river.
The pride and joy here are, after all, those marvelous bodies of water. There’s a lot to appreciate even if you spend a single day traveling the area on foot, from the preserved buildings to the iconic landmarks to the fascinating district that evokes the feeling of a bygone era.
The historic town is charming, with plenty to see and do even if you aren’t an adventurer or a thrillseeker. Glimpse the iconic John Brown’s Fort dating from 1848—this is where Brown and the abolitionists held dozens hostage and where Robert E. Lee came to the rescue.
Other interesting sites include the Harpers Ferry Station, the True Treats Historic Candy shop dating from the early 20th century, and the humbling 19th-century Lockwood House. Go on a foodie expedition and discover the many enticing restaurants in the area.
If traveling by foot is what you enjoy, you’ll find more than a few hiking trails to explore, too. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park alone offers a huge majority of them, all of which provide flawless views—some of Mother Nature’s awe-inspiring gifts and others of Civil War sites that are deeply ensconced in history and well worth a stop.
As among the most impressive additions to the National Park Service, this site brims with a combination of beauty and adventure. Here’s where to enjoy some of the most impressive Harpers Ferry hiking experiences of all.
Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail
Travel anywhere from 1 to 3 miles along the Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail. You’ll experience a little bit of everything during your trek, from lush fields to ravines. There are spectacular mountain views at every turn and plenty of glimpses of the roaring river waters below.
Don’t miss the historic buildings and sites during your hike, too, including various Civil War earthworks and cannons. For true history buffs, there’s the early 19th-century location of the John Brown Fort situated near the Shenandoah River overlook. Drinking water is available at the visitor’s center.
Bolivar Heights Trail
If it’s the epic views you crave, you won’t have to look far on the Bolivar Heights Trail. Ranging from 0.3 miles to just shy of 2.5 miles, this trail provides unfettered views of the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the water gap at the Potomac River.
Stop at the parking lot where the trail begins to observe the terrain—this is where many Civil War strategies were devised. You’ll find cannons and earthworks here, too. Wooded trails abound as you venture forward, providing a straightforward and lightly challenging walk. Note that there’s no drinking water available here.
Virginius Island and Hall’s Island Trails
For a truly easy exploration that will satisfy any newbie hiker’s needs, try the Virginius Island and Hall’s Island Trails. On your nearly 2-mile journey, you’ll find the ruins of everything from turbines and riparian forests to waterworks and mills. What’s nice about this trail is that it’s steady from beginning to end, with no elevation changes and plenty of solid earth and gravel on which to travel.
Avoid walking along the Winchester and Potomac Railroad tracks, as these elevated tracks are actively in use. You’ll find drinking water at a variety of establishments along the way.
Maryland Heights Trail
Take it all in as you journey the Maryland Heights Trail, which offers both moderate and difficult options. If you’re in the former camp, take the Overlook Trail and enjoy every minute of the 3-mile hike. You’ll take in a significant portion of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in a single go.
There’s plenty to see, from its rich industrial history to its marvelous geologic wonders to its Civil War sites—plus plenty of photograph-worthy scenery, of course. If you’re feeling adventurous, tack on another couple of miles by adding the Stone Fort Loop Trail to your trek. Note that there is no drinking water available on this trail, and that during busy seasons it can be extremely crowded.
Visitor Center to Lower Town Trail
The wonderfully scenic journey from the Visitor Center to the Lower Town Trail will take you about 1.6 miles in one direction. It’s a dog-friendly hike, but keep in mind that traveling back you’ll encounter a fairly tricky and strenuous trip up some stone steps. Along the way, enjoy some lovely waterfall views.
Note that you’ll cross Shoreline Drive near the ravine—because it’s still in use, keep any pets and kids away from the pavement. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, too, as you may spot wood ducks, turtles, beavers, herons, or Canada geese as you pass by the wetlands. You can purchase drinking water in Lower Town and at the Visitor Center.
Schoolhouse Ridge North Trail at Bolivar Heights Battlefield
Don’t be surprised if you keep stopping while you journey the Schoolhouse Ridge North Trail at Bolivar Heights Battlefield. It’s worth it for the history alone: this is where you’ll observe the terrain as the confederates did in 1862.
It’s also where you’ll find a slew of Civil War cannons, plus fantastic views of Maryland Heights and Bolivar Heights. Note that it’s incredibly sunny, so be prepared if you’re hiking during summertime. It’s worth noting that there is no drinking water available during this hike.
Loudoun Heights Trail
You are unlikely to find a hike as challenging as the Loudoun Heights Trail. For 7.5 miles, experience challenges aplenty while you enjoy exquisite views of Harpers Ferry, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and the marvelous Appalachian Trail which is home to the wonderful Jefferson Rock formation.
Bring along your leashed dog if you want to make it a family affair—and why not? This iconic trail is shrouded in forest and provides absolutely stunning mountain views. Note that there’s a parking fee at the Shenandoah Street Parking Area. One portion—the old Loudoun Heights Trail—is no longer operational.
Maryland Heights Loop
Leashed dogs are permitted on the 6.8-mile hike through the Maryland Heights Loop. You’ll be rewarded with quite a few of the treasures that make Harpers Ferry so worth the visit: wonderful glimpses of its geologic finds, plenty of views of Civil War sites, and breathtaking scenery.
For delightful water views, head for the Overlook Cliff Trail, where you can also venture off an intersection to glimpse the 1862 Naval Battery and the Stone Fort Trail. Travel north and walk a mile to find a range of Civil War artillery batteries. Note this is one of the most difficult hikes Harpers Ferry has to offer—so it’s a fantastic choice for a true adventurer.
Visitor Center to Split Rock to Lower Town Loop
Challenges galore await as you travel the Visitor Center to Split Rock to Lower Town Loop. At about 9.4 miles, it calls for some serious energy. Leashed dogs are permitted. What’s nice about this admittedly tricky trail is that it’s not very heavily traversed, so if you prefer a quieter and more peaceful visit this may be the right option.
At the same time, it’s certainly not for the inexperienced hiker. You’ll find pure, exquisite views of Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah River. Late fall is an optimal time to visit, since there are both hills to exhaust you and dreamy views to entrance you.
You’ll never want for adventure when you visit Harpers Ferry. Just shy of two hours away from both Baltimore and Washington DC, it’s a must for Civil War history buffs, hiking enthusiasts, and nature lovers. These trails for all skill levels impress from every vantage point.