The views and history are what drew me to Harper’s Ferry for the weekend. It was one of the locations where John Brown, an American abolitionist, advocated the use of an armed uprising to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States around the early part of the 1800’s . It was also the home of the first railroad bridge over the Potomac, and where the campus of Storer College, a historically black college, operated from 1865-1955. Being surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers separating you from MD and VA, it is also a place of great beauty.
Since it is a National Park, you have the option of driving to the park entrance, paying for the $15/per car pass, and either walking down the mountain into Lower Town or taking the free shuttle bus. The pass is good for two days at the park entrance, but there is free parking at a very small lot halfway to town that you must walk in from…plus normal parking in Lower Town, but is discouraged because it is very limited. We decided to pay for a pass but walk into town the first day, and were delighted to see a small waterfall and the ruins of the Shenandoah Pulp Mill. The walk is about 45 min. and brings you right into a strip of historic buildings that now houses various exhibits . Every single street is uphill from this location as well, so be prepared for lots of steps and steep inclines.
Since we were warmed up from the hike into town, I thought it best to check out Jefferson Rock first. Situated along a part of the Appalachian Trail, the route leads you past a beautiful church, some cool ruins, and a ton of steps before coming to the shale rock slabs piled on top of each other that Thomas Jefferson once stood upon in October of 1783. Views of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge Mountains is the greatest motivation for the hike, but it’s cool to see a part of history come to life in front of you. Imagining how it was centuries ago isn’t hard, and it can be made easier to grasp with a visit farther uphill to a cemetery where Robert Harper, founder of Harper’s Ferry, is buried along with his family.
Once we came down from that adventure, I decided to cross over the railroad tracks for the Maryland Heights hike that allows an elevated view of Harper’s Ferry. It is a very steep, rocky trail. Absolutely. Never. Ending. So make sure you have lots of water. Toward the last third of the hike, you actually go downhill which means you have that to look forward to climbing back up. The view at the top though…gorgeous. To the right and left is a river view surrounded by lush greenery, but directly in front of you is the money shot, and I’m sure breathtaking in the fall. There isn’t exactly anywhere to rest, so you just have to find a rock to sit on, along with the surprisingly large crowd that doesn’t ever really go away. Once one group leaves, it is replaced by another weary crowd looking for the perfect shot.
After coming back into town I was on empty, so we caught the shuttle back to the car and made the short drive to the Quality Inn. For $125, we were only a few minutes drive to the park, as well as the local eateries and shopping. I am a fan of Google and looking up things to do in any area, so when I came across Charles Town being close by we left to check it out. All I can say is it is absolutely worth making the 20 min. drive for the Abolitionist Ale Works. We had the best pizza of our lives there and I sampled some of the tastiest beer from their craft brewery…one of them even made into a growler to bring home with me, in the cooler I was so happy I had brought.
The next day we took the shuttle back into town because walking anywhere was painful at this point. For $7 you can check out the John Brown Wax Museum, set in a three story house with more steps of course, and a small African American Museum that only took up one room, but is free. We stopped in a candy store called True Treats Historic Candy that recreated candy from biblical times all the way through to today’s choice of diabetes, and grabbed burgers from the Coach House Bar and Grill, which might have been having an off day when we stopped in, but I can’t say I would recommend. The most fascinating place to me was the Lewis and Clark Expedition Museum, also free. It had lots of added information I never knew they encountered for their trip, and I love learning something new about a historic story I heard a million times as a kid in school. The town was cute, and full of history, but you really only need two days to get through everything.