Harpers Ferry — What to Do, See, & Where to Eat!
Our trip to Harpers Ferry was pretty last minute. I had no idea how many attractions Harpers Ferry offered or really anything about the history. We decided, this particular morning, to visit Harpers Ferry with kids over going to Gettysburg. It was a last minute decision and I wasn't convinced it would even be worth the visit. My step-dad described it to me as "a historical park with a city on a hill" -- and now we all know he is the WORST ever at describing awesome places. Our time at Harpers Ferry was better than I could have ever hoped. So much history, unbeatable nature & the weather could not have been more pleasant.
I’ve put together all the best things to do and see touring Harpers Ferry with Kids. Because of it’s location, Harpers Ferry makes for a perfect day trip or an overnight trip. If you’re planning a trip to visit Harpers Ferry, be sure to check out the hiking trails. Since we were only doing a day trip, we did not do any of the strenuous hiking trails. Instead we stuck to the main Harpers Ferry attractions. Below you will find my version of a Harpers Ferry visitors guide!
We drove the 45-minutes out to the National Park and entered by the Harpers Ferry visitors center. Once we arrived we made our way over to the Center and found clean bathrooms, benches, and the bus stop. We changed diapers and then headed over to stamp our National Park Passport. Harpers Ferry shuttles run from the Visitor's Center up to the town every 10-15 minutes. The buses were very clean & we never waited for one; definitely easy to use. (More about the buses HERE) **One thing to note is that you have to fold your stroller to get on the bus, so be ready for that.
After taking the Harpers Ferry shuttle ride up to town, we decided to find food first and then tour. We stopped at the very first restaurant on the hill; The Coffee Mill. (yes, we were that hungry) The food was surprisingly delicious; we each got the MacNCheese Burger - YUMMMMM. After we left, we realized the entire hill is ALL restaurants with only a couple stores mixed in. Definitely walk the hill before deciding on a place to be sure you're getting the food you want!
After we were full we walked the hill popping in and out of the shops and definitely made a stop at the historic candy store. We walked from there down to where the Potomac River meets the Shenandoah River. It is also where three states meet; Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. The views are outstanding.
We were lucky enough to have a train go over the bridge while we were walking over from West Virginia to Maryland. Once across, we went down and saw the "Lock 33" which was once a point of commerce and allowed boats to bring coal from the mountains down into urban areas.
From Lock 33, we made our way back over to the West Virginia side of Harpers Ferry and headed towards St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. "The original church was built in 1833 in a pseudo-Gothic style which it kept through the Civil War, in which it was the only church in Harpers Ferry to escape destruction. The church was extensively altered in 1896 in the then-popular Neo-Gothic style to produce the church seen today. The church commands a sweeping vista across the gorge of the Shenandoah River above its confluence with the Potomac River." One thing to note is there are A LOT of stairs to get up to the church. Many of the stairs are the original rugged rocks; ranging from easy steps to steep, deep steps. However, the view is 100% worth it, so climb on!
Leaving St Peters we made our way past the ruins of St Johns Episcopal Church and up to Jefferson rock. This rock is "famous" after Thomas Jefferson himself said the views from this vantage point are "Worth crossing the Atlantic for" -- I have to say, they were pretty breathtaking. We stopped here for a long time to take lots of pictures and see the Potomac from both sides of the rock.
We decided to climb even higher to see Harpers Ferry Cemetery. More stairs lead you up to an open, but very well kept field of old headstones. Afterwards we made our way back down to the town and headed over to the water's edge. The Potomac is fast moving and can be dangerous, so we didn't get in, but the views from the shoreline are pretty incredible. It was a good, relaxing place to end a day full of climbing and carrying babies.
It is worth noting that Harpers Ferry is almost directly in the middle of the Appalachian Trail hike. If someone were to hike from Georgia to Maine, this would be the middle of their hike. While at Harpers Ferry we were actually ON the AT. The walk from the bridge up to the cemetery is part of this 2,200 mile journey.
Hiking is one of the biggest reasons visitors come to Harpers Ferry. There are 10 different hikes ranging in difficulty and length. Harpers Ferry hiking trails are a great place to start or end an overnight hiking trip. Be sure to check out our blog on Camping with Toddlers before your overnight trip!
10 Tips for making a day at Harper's Ferry easier with kids:
1) Bring an easy to carry/fold lightweight stroller. You will have to carry it many times through the day.
2) Bring an Ergo/Tula/Soft Carrier for babies/toddlers so that you can easily maneuver around the stairs and hills while carrying them. We absolutely love our Toddler Tula.
3) They have very clean bathrooms WITH changing tables at the Visitor's Center and at the bottom of the hill (in town)
4) The park cost $10 to enter unless you have a National Park Annual pass (or an active military ID). You can pay with cash or card, but cash will be fastest.
5) Bring a picnic or stop to rest. There are plenty of benches and an entire green space located just off the Potomac and behind the lower part of town.
6) Be sure to pack sun screen and weather appropriate clothing. We spent the entire day outside, including when we stopped to eat.
7) Snacks + Water - there are plenty of shops that sell water bottles and food, but you aren't going to find baby snacks, food pouches or anything like that in the Harpers Ferry stores. Bring what the kids need, so you aren't struggling. (Also, there aren't any places that I saw that sell diapers or wipes either, so keep that in mind when planning for an entire day.)
Check out our blog 25 Must Have Travel Items for Babies and Toddlers
8) If you are traveling with older kids and adults, try out this zip lining & canopy tour HERE
9) Before your time at Harpers Ferry, check the park hours and Harpers Ferry visitor center information HERE
10) Ghost Tours: For the extra Brave parents & tourists out there, HERE is info on Harpers Ferry Ghost Tours.
Overall, Harpers Ferry is kid & baby friendly. The Harpers Ferry shuttle is easy to use, the main hiking trails are easy to navigate and there is plenty to keep both parents and kids entertained all day long. Also, for anyone who wants to day or overnight hike at Harpers Ferry, there are 10 trails and you can see more about them HERE.
Have you been to Harpers Ferry? Tell us what you thought! See below for all of our photos from our time in Harpers Ferry!
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