- Distance from Philadelphia: 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
Harpers Ferry Cheat Sheet
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1Make your history a little more haunting with an authentic Harpers Ferry Ghost Tour. Be sure to get there by 8 p.m. or you'll miss some of the local lore about the supernatural phenomena that have popped up in the area over the decades.
2Hang 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 (173 Potomac St.; 304-535-6654), where cookies and apple cider are available, in addition to homemade frosty treats.
1Get fueled up for a full day of exploring at The Country Cafe, where a "hearty breakfast" tops the menu of morning classics.
2The 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.
3Stop by the Canal House Café, in a nineteenth-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.
4There'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.
5Less than eight 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.
6Get 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 7:15 p.m. For dinner, choose from one of the casino's reliable in-house restaurants like Final Cut steakhouse or Zen Noodle for Asian options.
7Cut your losses and try a friendlier game of pool at Longshots Billiards (76 Wolfcraft Way; 304-724-1975), just down the street from the casino. Live music is frequently found here on weekend nights.
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 Zip Line Canopy Tour at 11 a.m., and you won't want to miss any of the action. Seven zip trails among thirteen 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, Maryland, where you can taste the flavor of Andalusia on the other side of the Atlantic. Isabella's offers brunch with a Spanish flair until 3 p.m. and then dishes out its tantalizing tapas, such as saffron-infused buttered artichokes stuffed with lumps of crab.
Where to Stay
Locals Debbi and Bryan Kelly work hard to maintain the homey atmosphere at The Angler's Inn (rates from $135/night) in the center of Harpers 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 fifteen to twenty 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. June Harpers Ferry Outdoor Festival brings live music and a whitewater race held in honor of the late local kayaker Tim Gavin.
How to Get There
By car from Washington, D.C.: Harpers Ferry is about an hour and a half from Washington, D.C. 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.