Outdoor Weekend Getaway in Harpers Ferry

  • Distance from New York City: 122 miles
  • Best time: April to October
  • Best for: FamilyBudgetOutdoor

Sitting behind a desk all day makes even the fiercest political animals long to let off steam. So it's a good thing that less than two hours away from Capitol Hill lies a playground the likes of which are unrivaled in the mid-Atlantic: Harpers Ferry, an unassuming town where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet at the confluence of two rivers and a national park. A trip to Harpers Ferry will certainly bring a high heart rate to anyone who loves playing outside. –By Elana Schor

Friday

Harpers Ferry Cheat Sheet

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1.Harpers Ferry is not just a place to conquer two rivers in one weekend—it's also the site of abolitionist John Brown's famous Civil War rebellion against the South. Toast to his legacy with a bite to eat at the Secret Six Tavern, a tucked-away taste of classic West Virginia named for the anonymous men who supported Brown.

2.Make your history a little more haunting with an authentic Harpers Ferry Ghost Tour. Be sure to get there by 8 pm or you'll miss some of the local lore about the supernatural phenomena that have popped up in the area over the decades.

3.Hang onto that flashlight and tell some spooky tales of your own over a pint at The Anvil, a local favorite with outdoor seating where some beers still cost $1. Looking for something sweeter? Stop for a cone at Scoops, where cookies and apple cider are available in addition to homemade frosty treats.

Saturday

1.Get fueled up for a full day of exploring at The Country Cafe, where a "hearty breakfast" tops the menu of morning classics.

2.The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers that converge at Harpers Ferry offer majestic views unmatched in the region. See them from a 14-foot raft with River Riders, one of the area's best-reviewed whitewater guiding companies. Reserve ahead and choose from options that range from mild to wild.

3.Stop by the Canal House Café, in a 19th-century home just off the river, for a welcome bright spot of vegetarian options like tabbouli salad come lunchtime. Carnivores are still well taken care of.

4.There's no better way than by bicycle to explore the natural beauty of the C&O Canal trails that run alongside the town's two rivers. Head back to River Riders for a rental and tool around the canal path or local hills.

5.Less than 8 miles away (by car or bicycle), in the riverside town of Brunswick, Beans in the Belfry offers hearty bagel sandwiches. Pick up a couple for breakfast tomorrow as you head back to town, and pop into the gift shop on your way out for a souvenir.

6.Get your heart pounding while indoors by sidling up to the blackjack tables at Hollywood Casino, a short drive away in Charles Town. If the table games or eye-popping slot machines prove too intense, check out the thoroughbreds who charge around the track starting at 7:15pm. For dinner, choose from one of the casino's reliable in-house restaurants like The Final Cut steakhouse or Zen Noodle for Asian options.

7.Cut your losses and try a friendlier game of pool at Longshots Billiards, just down the street from the casino. Live music is frequently found here on weekend nights.

Sunday

1. Early morning is the best time for a hike in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where the 20 miles of trails include several short loops to take in the beauty of the watershed.

2. The multitalented organizers at River Riders start their Harpers Ferry Canopy Tour at 11, and you won't want to miss any of the action. Seven zip trails among 13 tree houses and a final rappel from 25 feet in the air help this experience rival a day on the river.

3. On your way out of town, stop in the burgeoning foodie town of Frederick, MD, where young super-chef Bryan Voltaggio of TV's "Top Chef" makes a pitch-perfect sandwich or six at Lunchbox.

Where to Stay

Locals Debbi and Bryan Kelly work hard to maintain the homey atmosphere at the Angler's Inn (rates from $125/night) in the center of Harper's Ferry, from the homemade cookies they place in the parlor each afternoon to the fishing trips they'll be happy to organize for you.

For a higher-end retreat following a day of adventure, try the Bavarian Inn (luxury rooms from $179/night) in Shepherdstown, a 15-20 minute drive from Harpers Ferry. Most of their rooms include private balconies that overlook the sweeping grounds, and suites add whirlpool baths to the mix.

When to Go

Cold weather shuts down river activities between November and March, making it a quiet time to visit Harpers Ferry. Unless you're a hardy water lover, it's best to wait until late April and think twice before stopping by after early October.

But during high season, there's plenty to keep the town hopping. The mid-June Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival brings live music and a whitewater race held in honor of the late local kayaker Tim Gavin. Come September, the Chalk Art Festival in nearby Shepherdstown brings paddlers and craft lovers together for an outdoor party.

How to Get There

By car from Washington DC: Harpers Ferry is about 1 hour, 30 minutes from Washington DC. Take the Beltway, I-495, to 270 North until you reach 70 West. Take Exit 52 to 340 West, which will bring you into town.

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