Harpers Ferry Weekend Getaway for the Carless

View of Harpers Ferry from the Train Station I don’t drive. It’s a long story involving a dent in a parked car on a village road in Southeast Asia, but suffice it to say that I do so enjoy living in DC where I can take the Metro and walk places and not need to pay hundreds for insurance or parking or gas or maintenance. And my carbon footprint is tiny. The major disadvantage to my carless lifestyle, however, is limited travel options, so a peculiar challenge presented itself to me after my wedding two months ago: where to go for a nice, quick, cheap, outdoorsy DC-area weekend honeymoon using only those forms of mass public transportation immediately available to our downtown location?

My solution: Harpers Ferry. Is it possible? I found out:

Panorama of Harpers Ferry from Overlook Cliffs, Maryland Heights Trail

Getting There and Back
The cheapest solution is the MARC Brunswick Line. Only two trains each way serve past Brunswick between DC and Martinsburg, WV — those are your trains to and from Harpers Ferry, $7 one way. They’re scheduled okay for commuting workers, not quite okay for weekend vacationers, and are a definite no for day trips.

As with all MARC trains, they run weekdays only, so go Friday afternoon (4:55 PM) or evening (7:15 PM) and come back Monday morning (5:51 AM or 6:56 AM). Yes, this does mean you’ll have to get up at some ungodly hour on Monday morning, but hey, you’re only spending $14 round-trip, and you even get back to DC with time to get to work.

Alternatively, the Amtrak Capitol Limited passes through Harpers Ferry en route to Cleveland and Chicago, leaving DC at 4:05 PM and leaving Harpers Ferry going back at 12:15 PM. This is an even less suitable schedule for weekenders wanting to get the most out of their time, but if you can get days off or need a backup train, this Amtrak route works. (Note that schedule delays can pile up on the train’s return trip to DC, so you can expect a bit of a wait at Harpers Ferry for your train back. Keep Amtrak’s train status phone number handy.)

Town's Inn Orchids in Hallway Window

Where To Stay
Not having a car, you’ll want a place that’s walkable from Harpers Ferry Station. There are lots of little bed & breakfast-type guest houses in town, but the very closest one I found was The Towns Inn, which is on High Street right up the hill from the Station, practically in Lower Town. Room rates run $120 to $140 per night, two rooms with a common bath, one room with its own. The house is right across from The Secret Six Tavern and near a whole bunch of other restaurants — and the frozen custard vendor.

There’s also The Ledge House, Harpers Ferry Guest House, or Hilltop House Hotel. None of these are as close as the Towns Inn, but these are the next closest walkable places I can find. BBOnline lists more B&B options — how far you’re willing to stray from the train station and Lower Town is up to you, but remember that if you’re coming on the last MARC train, you’ll be arriving at almost 9 PM.

(By the way, I wouldn’t trust this Google Map search too much. At the time of this writing, Google puts a couple of “W Washington St” addresses which should be within Harpers Ferry waaaay out down Route 32, which is not where those places are.)

John Brown and Waxy Green-skinned Dangerfield Newby Tubers and Bridge Detail

What To Do
Lower Town has all the standard historical fare: restored buildings turned into museums, John Brown’s Fort, Civil War reenactors in full uniform or dress. I highly recommend the John Brown Wax Museum for a stroll back in time — both through the life of John Brown before the Civil War and through the wax educational kitsch of the early 1960s.

The Appalachian Trail goes through the area, and several hiking options present themselves. Jefferson Rock is closest by, just past Saint Peter’s and the ruins of the old Episcopalian church. There’s also the Loudoun Heights and Maryland Heights trails, as well as the C&O Canal Towpath. Overlook Cliffs on the Maryland Heights Trail is the quintessential Harpers Ferry-area hike, offering a lovely view of the town and the rivers.

Both major watersports providers in the area, Butts Tubes and River Riders, are beyond driving distance, but do offer shuttle service free if you purchase an activity package. Whitewater tubing trips are especially nice, giving you mild to moderate river action on the Potomac while providing a lovely view of the town as you float under the railroad bridges.

The Way Home So There You Have It
It’s entirely possible to enjoy a full weekend getaway at Harpers Ferry without once getting behind the wheel. Probably the hardest part about the whole thing is getting up early enough to catch the MARC back to DC on Monday morning. (If you miss it, you’ll have to wait for a Capitol Limited Amtrak at noon which will mostly likely be late.) We had a great time, which you can read all about in my Harpers Ferry Honeymoon travel log, with photos here.

4 Comments so far

  1. Megan (unregistered) on August 27th, 2007 @ 10:23 am

    Cool post, thanks for putting it up. You should do a series on things you can do in the DC area without having a car. There are a lot of us out here that are carless for one reason or another. Plus the research would be fun!


  2. Anon (unregistered) on August 27th, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

    Great post. I’ve long wished that the MARC as good as services up north, so that I could live out in places like Harpers Ferry. As it is, it’d be pretty rough.


  3. Wayan (unregistered) on August 27th, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

    You forgot a whole other way to get out there – biking the C&O Canal trail all the way there and back. Coming back would be the easier path, its downhill.


  4. sten (unregistered) on August 27th, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

    Great pics!!



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