In 1783, Thomas Jefferson wrote about the view of the Potomac River through the Blue Ridge Mountains, saying it was one of the “most stupendous scenes in Nature… worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
The scene he was referencing sits above the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, viewed from a rock formation that now bears Jefferson’s name. Hikers who visit this spot more than two centuries later would agree with Jefferson’s sentiments.
Harpers Ferry represents the epitome of the scenic beauty and rich history for which Jefferson County – also named for the former president – is known. Visiting the historic city, situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, is like stepping back in time and allows for the unique experience of visiting both a national park and a historic small town.
Visitors’ first stop should be Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Here, you can explore the ruins of the early industrial complex that brought prosperity to the town and the country. Park rangers share educational programming highlighting the important role the town has played in our nation’s history. Learn about John Brown’s raid on the U.S. arsenal here – an attempt to end slavery. A Civil War battle took place a few years later.
Harpers Ferry is also an active town, complete with boutique shops, ice cream and candy stores, and places to dine. A favorite for locals and tourists alike is The Rabbit Hole. This charming gastropub has an eclectic mix of national park and conservationist signage that are great conversation starters.
Indoor seating includes a view of a natural spring inside the building while the patio outside allows you a view of Maryland Heights or the flowing river below. The Rabbit Hole has some great adult beverages, including fantastic options in the craft beer cave. On the food menu, the Appalachia BBQ Sandwich comes highly recommended. The pecan wood-smoked hand-pulled craft pork is served on a brioche bun topped with barbecue sauce, Alabama White Sauce and fries and coleslaw on the side. Another unique menu item is the Braised Short Rib Poutine, a 4-ounce braised short rib served over sweet potato fries with chèvre and drizzled with a beef demi-glace.
Although Jefferson County is named after President Thomas Jefferson, the county probably has more connection to the family of President George Washington. Just 8 miles down the road from Harpers Ferry is the county seat of Charles Town, founded by and named after the youngest brother of the country’s first POTUS. In fact, the town has about a half-dozen Washington family homes.
One of the biggest attractions in Charles Town is the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. This complex has everything you’d expect from a casino, including 2,500 slot machines, 87 table games, 24 poker tables and live and simulcast horse racing.
The Event Center, with a 1,206 seated capacity & 1,475 standing room only capacity, hosts some of the biggest live acts and stage shows in the area in a space that allows for a more intimate experience. Comedians such as Dana Carvey and Tracy Morgan and musicians such as Ludacris, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Ted Nugent have all performed there.
Also onsite is the Final Cut Steakhouse, where you can’t go wrong with the 14-ounce prime New York strip. Another great option is the Short Rib Pappardelle, with sugar snap peas and mushrooms. For sides, the truffle mac and cheese and heirloom carrots with Calabria pepper, mint and parsley, are very good choices. Carrying on the Hollywood theme, movie buffs will also enjoy the restaurant’s collection of props and costumes from various films.
For an overnight stay, the Inn at Charles Town provides comfortable lodging on the property. Some rooms even have views of the thoroughbred racetrack. And they even provide complimentary shuttle service to the casino.
If you are looking for one more place to eat in Charles Town, try dinner at the Hillbrook Inn, a best-kept secret in the region. You would never know this place existed when you pull up to the unassuming entrance. This wonderful oasis sits on 30 acres of open fields and woodland. Build in some time to stroll the grounds, where you might find a nice campfire burning or hear bullfrogs in the pond serenading you.
Inside the Tudor-style inn, there are various quaint dining rooms, decorated as if they came right out of Architectural Digest, providing a romantic setting for your meal. In actuality, it is more than a meal. The food and service is really an experience. The Spring Salad is prepared with the freshest ingredients, the Prime Beef Tenderloin and Polenta Cake are not-to-miss entrees. Top the experience off with a Chocolate Bomb for dessert. They also offer luxurious accommodations and rejuvenating spa services.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in Jefferson County as well. Hikers can experience one of the most recognized hikes in the world, as the Appalachian Trail goes right through the town. Another exhilarating excursion is a one- to two-hour whitewater tubing trip with River & Trail Outfitters.
Prepared to get wet as you pass through whitewater waves and ripples and take time to fully enjoy the scenery you pass by. On your trip, you will go right by Harpers Ferry and be able to see where the states of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia come together.
If you love to kayak and cycle, take a short drive to Shepherdstown for a unique opportunity provided by Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle. The pedal & paddle experience allows you to bike 5 miles along the C&O Canal towpath and then paddle down the Potomac River back to town. The bike ride is pretty flat and you can take in some beautiful natural scenery as well as history along the way. Watch some wildlife, see remnants of historic locks, read Civil War Trails markers and more. When you reach Snyder’s Landing, a canoe or kayak is waiting on the riverbank for you. A typical trip takes three to four hours total.
Needless to say, there is plenty to enjoy during a weekend stay in Jefferson County, West Virginia. After all, it is where “Almost Heaven” begins!
FOR MORE INFORMATION
171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry
186 High Street, Harpers Ferry
751 Hollywood Drive, Charles Town
4490 Summit Point Road, Charles Town
604 Valley Road, Knoxville, Maryland
115 W. German Street, Shepherdstown
by Shuan Butcher