How does this work?
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, United States

Harpers Ferry Family Trails

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Viewed 6782 times
    This guide contains photos
 (1 vote)
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 4.8 miles / 7.7 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: This guide consists of family/dog friendly trails. For a shorter hike, you may start at the parking lot under the Route 340 bridge. There is a public restroom located next to the book store and places to sit throughout Shenandoah Street. Enjoy a fun and educational day at Harpers Ferry!

The history of Harpers Ferry has few parallels in the American drama. It is more than one event, one date, or one individual. It is multi-layered – involving a diverse number of people and events that influenced the course of our nation's history. Harpers Ferry witnessed the first successful application of interchangeable manufacture, the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown's attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.

Tips: Make sure to bring a trail map with you. Trail maps are free and located at the Visitor Center. Bring plenty of fluids and snacks. Feel free to picnic along Harpers Ferry Market area.

Points of Interest


Visitor Center

The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Park passes may be purchased at the fee collection entrance station daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The inscription at the center reads (First Panel):
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is the story of...

Industrial Development and the production of weapons at the Harpers Ferry armory.

John Brown's Raid and his attempt to end slavery.

The Civil War with Union and Confederate armies fighting over this border area for four years.

Black History from slavery to Storer College - chartered to educate men and women of all races, it became one of the first institutions of higher learning for Black Americans.

Explore Harpers Ferry's past!

Lower Town Trail

The start of the lower town trail is located towards the rear of the parking lot. The trail path is one of the best looking trails within Harpers Ferry consisting of stone stairs and spring water flowing down the hill. The trail also overlooks the Shenandoah River.

Lower Town Road Trail

Wide life may be seen along the trail towards Harpers Ferry Lower Town. Over 170 bird species have been identified within the park. Visitors may find different species when exploring the park depending on the habitat encountered. Within the lower historical district, visitors have the opportunity to view great blue herons (Ardea herodias) and Canada geese (Branta canadensis) along the banks of the Shenandoah Canal.

Halls Island Mills

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Sounds of turning mill wheels and workers filling bags with freshly ground flour once filled the air here.

The foundation of Island Mills, one of the earliest (1824) industries on the island, lies before you. Each fall the railroad brought wheat here from the Potomac and Shenandoah valleys to be ground into flour, packed into barrels, and shipped east to Baltimore.

Fire destroyed the original mill in 1839. Construction of a larger 3 1/2-story stone building followed the next year on the same site. Over the next 5 years ownership changed several times until Abraham Herr acquired the mill in 1844. Then known as Herr's Mill, it dwarfed the surrounding factories in Virginia and could produce $233,400 in flour annually, thirteen times the amount produced by the average flour mill in the United States in 1860.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Herr owned all of Virginius Island. As a Northern supporter, he donated a large quantity of grain to Union soldiers stationed in the area in October 1861. A few days later, Confederates seized Harpers Ferry and torched Herr's flour mill. The flames completely gutted the building, but Herr escaped to the North.

Shenandoah Canal Bridge

The nearby marker inscriptions reads:
Bridges spanning the canal, like the one to your left, provided access from the island to the mainland for residents and factory workers. During floods, they were paths to safety. To delay departure could spell disaster, as in 1870, when swiftly rising water swept away all avenues to higher ground.

In 1806, workmen with hand tools widened and deepened this channel for cargo boats to bypass, or "skirt," the rapids in the Shenandoah River. Linked with many other skirting canals" en route to Washington, D.C., this passage became part of the Potowmack Canal system founded by George Washington. He envisioned these bypasses as the way to improve navigation on the Potomac River for trade with the western frontier.

Within thirty years, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (a continuous canal), the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and the Winchester & Potomac Railroad replaced this outdated transportation system. The obsolete canal became part of the waterpower system for the island's growing number of industries. Waste water from mill and foundry tailraces emptied into this former canal bed, which rejoined the Shenandoah downstream.

Black Smith

The sounds of hammers clanking on steel rods could be heard in the blacksmith shop in historic downtown Harpers Ferry on Saturday afternoon.

Harpers Ferry Black Smith History:
In 1824, Lewis Wernwag purchased a piece of Virginius Island. Within Virginius Island, Wernwag built a large machine shop and two small blacksmith shops near the town sawmills. In these shops, the Wernwags and their associates offered turnings in wood, brass, iron, and steel, as well as turning lathes, screw plates, taps and dies, and bench and mill screws.30. This expansion enabled the Wernwag family to maintain a business relationship with the armory on a mutually beneficial basis.

Shenandoah Street

Living history museums on Shenandoah Street bring the past alive. The Harpers Ferry Historical Association's Bookshop has a great supply of books, artwork, postcards and items for kids of all ages. The Appalachian Trail runs through Harpers Ferry from the lower town in west Virginia to the C&O Canal in Maryland. The Harpers Ferry National Historic Park surrounds the original town of Harpers Ferry, providing visitors with tours, museums, hiking and biking trails, shopping, galleries, dining and restored 19th century streetscapes --- all within easy walking distance of the living village.

John Brown Monument

The nearby marker reads:
You are in the line of fire. The stone marker in front of you identifies the original site of the armory fire engine house - now known as John Brown's Fort. Barricaded inside the fort, abolitionist John Brown and his men held off local militia and U.S. Marines for three days in October 1859. Brown's men fired from inside the fort at militiamen and townspeople who shot back from positions around you. Finally, U.S. Marines stormed past where you stand, battered down the door, and captured Brown and his few remaining men. Famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass later proclaimed that Brown's fight here began "the war the ended slavery."

Maryland Heights Vista

You can view the Potomac River and Maryland Heights from this location. Rock climbers and people standing on the Maryland Heights overlook may be seen from here.

Armory Grounds

The ground around you hides the remains of the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry. Beneath the surface archeologists discovered walls, floors, pipes, and the base of a massive 90-foot chimney. As the team slowly and painstakingly excavated small pits throughout the site, they uncovered over 28,000 artifacts - some in almost pristine condition - providing a glimpse into the past.

Artifacts found her include (clockwise): a bone-handled toothbrush, and apothecary's weight, a carved pipe bowl, a file modified into a wrench, printer type, and a lice comb.

National Park Service archeologists began their excavation in 2005, exposing corners, floors and doorways of the Warehouse and the Smith Forging Shop. They later refilled the pits to preserve the site.

Archeologists found this fragment of ceramic (above). It is identified by its maker's mark, which matches an 1827 English plate commemorating the founding of the B&O Railroad

White Hall Tavern

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Located directly across from the U.S. Armory, the White Hall Tavern was an 1850's community gathering place, where white males debated politics; discussed local events; and protested armory management, wages and layoffs. The tavern's close proximity easily tempted armory workers to raise a glass, or two... or three, before and during work. As a result, Armory officials took a stand that public houses, such as White Hall Tavern, ruined morals, work ethics, and even threatened armory production. Crowded building conditions posed another threat - fire. In 1856 the U.S. Government purchased and removed the front section of the building. They subsequently widened the street, creating the needed safety buffer around the Armory.


The nearby marker inscription reads:
The enticing smell of bread, cakes, candies, and pies undoubtedly attracted many customers to Frederick Roeder's Confectionery, making it a prosperous business from 1845 to 1861. In addition to his store, it is reported that he carried small pies to the train station to sell to hungry passengers before the days of dining cars. By 1856, Roeder was so successful that he enlarged this structure by one and a half stories, creating much needed space for his business and family of 7 children. Thriving in his adopted homeland, this German baker turned skills from his native country into sumptuous treats for his friends, neighbors, and community. Caption for the pencil sketch of the interior of the Confectionery: By Artist, Steven N. Patricia.

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church

The church marker inscription reads:
Construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad produced an influx of Irish laborers into the Harpers Ferry area during the early 1830's. St. Peter's Catholic Church, completed in 1833, symbolizes America's melting pot tradition and the customs, habits, and religion of the early Irish immigrants.

During the Civil War, to protect the church from Union and Confederate shells, Father Costello flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church's neutrality. St. Peter's escaped the war relatively unscathed.

St. Peter's was remodeled to its present appearance in 1896, and Mass is offered here every Sunday.

St. John's Episcopal Church

The church marker inscription reads:
These weathered ruins are all that remain of St. John's Episcopal Church - one of Harpers Ferry's five earliest churches.

Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John's served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt afterward, but was abandoned in 1895 when a new Episcopal church was built in the upper town.

Jefferson Rock

The marker inscription near Jefferson Rock reads:
"On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea....This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."

This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view from here during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783. Around 1860, the U.S. armory superintendent ordered red sandstone supports placed under "Jefferson Rock" because it was "endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below."

Harper Cemetery

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Passing through this region in 1747, Robert Harper — a Pennsylvania architect contracted to build a Quaker church in the Shenandoah Valley — was so impressed by the beauty of this place and the water-power potential of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers that he settled here and founded Harpers Ferry.

When Harper died in 1782, there were only three houses in the town. Optimistic about the community's potential for growth, however, Harper had set aside this 4-acre cemetery. Childless, Harper left most of his estate to his niece, Sarah, who subsequently married a Wager. As you wander around the cemetery, you'll find the grave markers of some of Sarah Wager's descendants as well as stones of Irish and German immigrants who settled in this area during the 1830's.

Harper House

The nearby inscription marker reads:
From this vantage point, a succession of early residents watched Harpers Ferry grow from a tiny village into a thriving industrial community.

In 1775, town founder Robert Harper chose this hillside for his family home because it lay safely above the flood line, commanded a spectacular view, and offered unlimited native stone for building. Harper never resided here, however, because he died before the building's completion.

The Harper House is the oldest surviving structure in Harpers Ferry. Now restored as an 1850's tenant house, it represents crowded conditions and lack of housing here during the town's industrial heyday.

John Brown Fort

This is not the original location of the John Brown building, but it is in a busy location where guests may see it.

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Here is a building with a curious past. Since its construction in 1848, it has been vandalized, dismantled, and moved four times - all because of its fame as John Brown's stronghold.

The Fort's "Movements"

1848 Built as fire-engine house for U.S. Armory.
1859 Serves as stronghold for John Brown and his raiders.
1861-1865 Escapes destruction during the Civil War (only armory building to do so), but it is vandalized by souvenir-hunting Union and Confederate soldiers and later travelers.
1891 Dismantled and transported to Chicago Exposition.
1895 Rescued from conversion to stable and brought back to Harpers Ferry area to be exhibited on a farm.
1909 Purchased by Storer College and moved to campus.
1968 Moved by National Park Service to within 150 feet of its original location.

On the right side is a portrait of John Brown: "On October 16, 1859, the abolitionist John Brown and his men attacked Harpers Ferry. By the following afternoon the local militia had penned the raiders in this building at dawn on the 18th and captured Brown. Convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion, he was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859".

Early Travel

The Shenandoah and Potomac River collide at this location. This spot is great for pictures.

The nearby marker reads:
Situated in a gap of the Blue Ridge Mountains and at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Harpers Ferry, from its beginning, functioned as a natural avenue of transportation.

The first mode of travel consisted of a primitive ferry established in 1733 by Peter Stephens. Stephens sold his business to Robert Harper in 1747, and Harper and others carried settlers and supplies across the waters until 1824 when a bridge constructed across the Potomac made ferryboat operations unnecessary. In less than a decade after the completion of the bridge, the iron horse and the mule brought the transportation revolution to Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry Market

This was once a busy path. The nearby marker reads:
Armory workers purchased fresh vegetables, meat, and fish every Wednesday and Saturday here at the Market House. Constructed by the government near mid-century, the building that once stood here architecturally resembled the refurbished armory buildings along the Potomac.

The Sons of Temperance, a 19th-century organization campaigning for the prohibition of liquor, financed construction of the second floor for their meeting hall.

Virginius Island Trail

The marker inscription at the bridge reads:
In the shadow of the United States Armory at Harpers Ferry, private industry thrived. Across this canal is Virginius Island, site of a town that once bustled with pre-Civil War businesses and the activities of 200 people. Built along the banks of the Shenandoah, the town's thriving factories were powered by the same river that later destroyed them.

Virginius Island today has returned to nature, but a stroll along this trail offers a glimpse into its colorful past. As you explore, search for ruins of canals, dams, tunnels, homes, and mills - all built by optimistic businessmen who harnessed the power of the Shenandoah River.

Halls Island Trail

The marker inscription near the railroad tracks reads:
Trains clanking along iron rails have echoed through Virginius Island since the Winchester & Potomac Railroad arrived here in 1836. It extended from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad junction at Harpers Ferry 32 miles southward to Winchester. The W&P line enabled local industrialists to import raw materials and export finished products to the port of Baltimore and into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate forces damaged the railroad. By late fall, 1864, however, Union General Sheridan had rebuilt the W&P to supply over 30,000 U.S. troops in the valley.

This railroad still operates today. It stands as the only "living" remnant of the island's industrial past.

Just ahead is the railroad. Please use caution as you cross the tracks
Pictures in this guide taken by: Lucky_Dog


Harpers Ferry Family Trails Trail Map

POIs: numbers | icons View large Trail Map

Have an iPhone or Android?

  • Map your route while you move
  • Add trip photos to your map instantly
  • Share trips right from your phone
  • Find and follow trips from other travelers

Available For:
iPhone | Android

About the Author

10 guides
view Lucky_Dog's profile
My paws may be short, but I can hike like the big dogs.

Harpers Ferry Family Trails 3 Day Forecast

Extended Forecast
How To Get There
Get directions from: