Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
From meditative retreats to heart-pounding outdoor adventures, West Virginia, aka the Mountain State, has many spots for travelers to consider road tripping to. An excellent example is Harper’s Ferry, a town not even 90 minutes from Washington, D.C. that has equal parts rich history and beguiling wildlife just waiting to be photographed and explored. The town is especially appealing to historians, as it’s best known for abolitionist John Brown’s raid in 1859, in which Brown used Harper’s Ferry a base for a revolt against slavery. A visit will help you gain insight into a pivotal time in history all the while providing a moment to breathe in and appreciate the scenery that you just can’t get in the nation’s capital.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
If you’re taking an Amtrak train, expect to pay less than $20 for a ticket. If you’re driving, start by taking the George Memorial Parkway, I-270 N, and US-340 W. Either option should take you around one hour and 20 minutes.
If you’re leaving D.C. Friday at 10 a.m., expect to arrive in Harper’s Ferry around 11:20 a.m. (give or take a few due to infamous D.C. traffic). Stop for lunch at the quaint, plant-based Kelley Farm Kitchen (vegans, take note!), which prides itself on fresh produce; you can additionally purchase local soaps and candles from their market. If seating is limited or you find service temporarily suspended, check out Cannonball Deli, which offers subs and hand-dipped ice cream.
After lunch, get acquainted with the town’s rich history with a tour of Harper’s Ferry Historical National Park, which, technically, houses the town of Harper’s Ferry itself. See the John Brown Fort, the John Brown Wax Museum, and snag some stunning photos on the CSX railroad bridge that crosses the Potomac River. This activity is doable throughout any season, though you will want to plan your outfits according to temperatures. Additionally, Harper’s Ferry Park Association offers certified guided tours for those looking to delve even further into the area’s history.
Following your outdoor excursions, cool off (or warm up!) with a beverage at The Rabbit Hole. As for dinner, feel free to stay there or head to The Anvil Restaurant, a cozy seafood eatery known for its crab cakes.
Get up (early) and at ‘em with some French Toast and a cup of joe from Battle Grounds Bakery and Coffee; also pick up one of their handmade jams and/or crafts to take home as a souvenir! Alternately, while it’s about 10 minutes outside of town (in Charles Town), Mountain View Diner has freshly-baked biscuits daily.
Now that you have your fuel for the day, grab your running shoes because you can’t go to West Virginia—especially to a beautiful place like Harper’s Ferry—and not expect to explore the outdoors. One hike in particular—Split Rock Overlook via the Loudoun Heights Trail—is about six miles and is accessible year-round. Your reward for all those steps is stunning views of the town, and the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Another trail to consider (that’s also open year-round) is the Maryland Heights Loop—a five-mile trek that gazes down upon Harper’s Ferry.
INSIDER TIPDogs are welcome on both trails, but must be leashed.
If you didn’t pack sandwiches for your hike, head to the casual The Canal House Café. Their menu—complete with locally-sourced ingredients and gluten-free options—includes create-your-own salads and freshly-caught seafood.
If you missed anything from the Harper’s Ferry Historical National Park, like Camp Hill, for example, circle back after lunch. If you’re open to being mobile (even post-hike), Antietam is about 20 minutes outside of Harper’s Ferry and is a must-visit site for history lovers. The Battle of Antietam saw Robert E. Lee’s army pitted against Union General George McClellan in what would become the bloodiest single-day battle in American history and ultimately resulted in what is widely considered a win for the Union.
For dinner, head to the intimate, rather decadent Hamilton’s Tavern 1840, whose menu contains offerings that are inspired by dishes around the globe. Reservations are recommended.
Rise and shine with an omelet and coffee at The Country Café. Harper’s Ferry is also home to a slew of B&Bs, so you should indulge in breakfast (or any meal, for that matter) at the one you’re staying at; the Lily Garden Inn, for example, offers a hearty breakfast daily. If the weather permits, hang out on the water with a tube. If tubing down the river is your thing, odds are that lunch will likely be included in the package if done through a local tour company; the same goes for whitewater rafting—both take up a big chunk of time. Inquire, and if lunch isn’t included, you should be able to pack your own. Otherwise, grab a sandwich at Almost Heaven Pub when you’re back on the streets.
After you’ve had a minute to breathe, get some final snapshots (whether you drive or walk depends on if you’re comfortable with the temperature) of the town’s memorable architecture. St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church is one of the most beautiful churches in the region—and the Hilltop House Hotel will fit right in on your timeline. Who doesn’t love an evening stroll?
If you decide to indulge in dinner on your way out, make it a memorable one: Glendale Vintner’s Table is upscale and its position on a working farm means your meal is pasture-to-table-fresh.
WHERE TO STAY
You’d truly be missing out if you didn’t stay in one of the area’s B&Bs. The Cantuta Inn Bed and Breakfast is known for its home-cooked breakfasts, and The Town’s Inn is incredibly close to trails, the train station, the shops, restaurants, and more. Also, The Ledge House Bed and Breakfast has a charming garden and sun terrace.
WHEN TO GO
An escape to this mountain town can (and should) be considered any weekend, but June to August is the best time to visit if you plan of doing outdoor activities (especially if they’re water-related). Also, consider this: there’s no leaf-peeping quite like West Virginia leaf-peeping when fall rolls around. The landscape in October is stunning.