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Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trails

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 5.6 miles
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly

Overview :  This trail guide takes you on a history tour of Harpers Ferry Lower Town.

The history of Harpers Ferry has few parallels in the... more »

Tips:  Make sure to bring a trail map with you. Trail maps are free and located at the Visitor Center. Bring plenty of water and snacks.

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Points of Interest

1. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - 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... More

2. Confederate Victory

The inscription along the trail path reads:

"The Rebels were all around us and our only refuge was the open canopy of heaven."
Sgt. Charles E. Smith
32nd Ohio Infantry
September 14, 1862

Thousands of Federal soldiers huddled in ravines on Bolivar Heights to escape the Confederate shells of September 14, 1862. By evening, the Federals were... More

3. Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail

This section of the trail path leads to Harpers Ferry Lower Town and Murphy's Farm. The trail path is well maintained. Use caution when crossing the road.

4. Murphy-Chambers Farm Trail

Once the trail starts to turn towards Murphy's Farm, you will need to get off the trail and follow the road towards Harpers Ferry Lower Town. Murphy's Farm is the location where John Brown's Fort once stood.

5. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

This is a sign indicating the direction towards Harpers Ferry Lower Town and the Visitor Center.

6. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

The trail takes you along the Shenandoah Canal next to the railroad tracks. Wild life may be seen along the way.

7. Harpers Ferry Lower Town 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... More

8. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

The Harpers Ferry Rangers recently installed a road barrier to create a path for hikers.

9. Harpers Ferry Railroads

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... More

10. Halls Island Trail

The entrance to Halls Islands trail leads to the ruins of Herr's Mil that was once used for milling.

11. Halls Island Trail

The trail is not used often and may not be well maintained. A trail map may be needed to be acquainted with the trail path. Trail maps are free and may be obtained at the visitors center.

12. Halls Island Trail

The Halls Islands trail leads through the ruins of Herr's Mil. These ruins are one of the few ruins where you are allowed to explorer within them.

13. Halls Island Trail

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... More

14. Halls Island Trail

Follow the trail which leads towards Virginius Islands. This section of the Halls Island trail is well maintained.

15. Virginius Islands Trail

This is the starting path for Virginius Islands. The path starts under the railroad and leads to the Head Gates and Inner Basin.

16. Virginius Islands Trail - Head Gates

The nearby marker inscription reads:
These brick-lined archways, or "head gates," built around 1850, once controlled much of the island's waterpower. From here, a "wing dam" extended across the Shenandoah River, funneling water through the arches and into the inner basin. A gate at the opening of each arch controlled the flow.

After passing... More

17. Virginius Islands Trail - Water Tunnels

The marker inscription near the water tunnels reads:
Tunnels increased power. Here water from the inner basin, located off to your right, flowed through a series of underground passages. With openings smaller at the downstream end - like a nozzle on a garden hose - these tunnels increased the water's flow. This increased pressure created more... More

18. 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... More

19. Lower Town Trail

This trail leads through the once busy market vendors. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance on this path. The Butcher Shop and Boarding House (within shouting distance); Armory Workers (within shouting distance); Casualties of Time (within shouting distance); A Government Factory Town No Longer (about 300 feet away, in a direct... More

20. Lower Town Trail - Market House

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,... More

21. Lower Town Trail - Armory Paymaster's Residence

Along the way towards the lower town overlook is the armory paymaster's residence.
The nearby marker reads:
Rank has its privileges. The paymaster, second in command at the armory, enjoyed an unobstructed view of the factory grounds and water gap from the substantial brick dwelling erected here about 1800.

Soot and noise disrupted the scene with... More

22. Lower Town Trail - 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... More

23. Lower Town Trail - 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 ... More

24. Lower Town Trail - John Brown Fort

These stairs lead to the original location of the John Brown Fort.

25. Lower Town Trail - John Brown Fort

This marks the spot of the original site of John Brown's Fort.

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... More

26. Lower Town Trail - Daring Escapes

This view overlooks the Potomac River and Maryland Heights. You can see the Maryland Heights overlook marker from this position (On the top right of this picture above the rocks and under the tree line).

The nearby marker reads:
The boat ramp in front of you was the site of two daring escapes in the Battle of Harpers Ferry. Under the cover of... More

27. Lower Town Trail - Railroad Station

The B&O has shifted the rail lines at least three times. The first, mentioned on the marker, passed along the river wall. The second passed further inland along what is today a berm along Potomac Street. The last crosses the river at a less critical angle to a point roughly in the middle of the old Armory site. This area is also used as a... More

28. Lower Town Trail - Confectionery

What is a town without a bakery?

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... More

29. Lower Town Trail - 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... More

30. Lower Town Trail - 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... More

31. Jefferson Rock

In 1834 former President John Quincy Adams visited the Armory at Harpers Ferry and in particular observed the scene described by Jefferson. From the Diaries of John Quincy Adams, May 24, 1834-
"Here we saw the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, described somewhat enthusiastically by Mr. Jefferson. I went to the hanging rock that bears ... More

32. 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 ... More

33. Lower Town Trail

Harper cemetery is located above Jefferson Rock. You will need to take the stairs to the top.

34. Lower Town Trail - 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... More

This section of the trail collides with the Appalachian trail. Use caution on this trail.

This section of the trail has its up and downs.

Here is a sign indicating the trail directions. The trail path taken from this spot goes down and is located on the left near the edge of the mountain. The trail path taken was not displayed on the sign.

38. Lower Town Trail

This section of the trail is not well maintained and you will need to use extreme caution when going down this trail path. Rocks are loose and footing is not great.

39. Island Access and House Ruins

The marker inscription at the bridge 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.

As... More

40. Lower Town Trail Spring Water

The lower town trail has a surprising hidden spring water that is rarely seen by visitors. The spring water is located next to the road on the lower town trail path.

41. Lower Town Trail Spring Water

Spring water flows down from the top of the rocks. The spring water flowing down from the rocks is a great site to take pictures.

42. Lower Town Trail

The stone stairs are well maintained and will lead you to a path back to the visitor parking lot.

43. Lower Town Trail

The trail path is one of the best looking trails within Harpers Ferry. As you climb up the stairs, you can enjoy the sounds of the spring water flowing down.

44. Lower Town Trail

This trail path leads you back to the visitor center parking lot.

45. Lower Town Trail

This is the sign indicating the start of the lower town trail. The entrance is located at the end of the parking lot near the picnic area. Not many visitors use this enjoyable trail path.