Thomas Jefferson was one of the earliest tourists to promote Harpers Ferry. In 1783, he stood on the cliffs that now bear his name, overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. He later wrote: “The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous in nature. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Tourists today still marvel at the beauty of Harpers Ferry, but are also drawn by adventurous river sports, the Appalachian Trail, Civil War historical sites, and a multitude of contemporary restaurants, shops and special events.
We asked Annette Gavin Bates, CEO of the Jefferson County CVB, for a capsule description of Harpers Ferry right now: “USA Today ranked Harpers Ferry Number 2 as “The Best Historic Southern Attraction,” she said, “and we’ve earned multiple accolades as the best fall trip and cool small town.
“Harpers Ferry immerses you in history and nature,” Bates continued, “in complete harmony with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail and the C & O Canal right at your footsteps. Whether your love is history, shopping, dining or just taking a walk along the river, Harpers Ferry is your playground.”
Harpers Ferry is very much an outdoorsman’s town; fishermen, tubers, kayakers and rafters may be seen on the water almost anytime. Appalachian Trail hikers divert into town to re-supply, and stop in at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. It’s not uncommon for “aqua-blazers,” (AT hikers who paddle instead of hike for a few days) to rent a canoe in Front Royal and float to Harpers Ferry. You can find a zip line, too.
But there is plenty of less arduous fun as well. Take a guided tour of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and see the U.S. Armory and Arsenal held by John Brown and his men in 1859. Walk the downtown area and enjoy a meal at the Potomac Grille, the Bisou Bistro at the Canal House or the Cannonball Deli. Visit nearby Shepherdstown for a stay at the lovely Bavarian Inn.
Just outside Harpers Ferry, tourists can find exciting thoroughbred racing or play poker, blackjack, roulette, etc., at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
Bates also pointed out a number of special events coming up, especially the “Freedom’s Run, an Event for Health and Heritage.”
“The Freedom’s Run is huge,” Bates said. “Last year there were about 2,300 participants, and it would not be surprising to see more this year. It’s a true partnership with multiple towns and two states.” Hospitals, universities, national parks, and corporate sponsors are all involved. There is a marathon, a half marathon, a 10K a 5K and a Kids Run. The event is scheduled for September 30th this year. With course segments crossing bridges and along the C&O Canal Path, a more scenic route would be hard to find.
Other coming events include the following. (Click here for more information.)
September 2: Charles Town Car Show
September 9: Happy Retreat Craft Beer & Music Festival
September 17: Oktoberfest at Bavarian Inn
September 22-24: Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival
At Hollywood Event Center: September 2: The Oak Ridge Boys; September 15: Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo; October 14: Three Dog Night: Saturday, October 14 at 8 p.m.