DC Day Trip: Antietam National Battlefield and Harper’s Ferry

Near the Sunken Road, Photo Credit Lauren Jones

For history buffs who’d like a jaunt out of the city you don’t have to drive very far before running into, well, more history. For Civil War aficionados, an easy, albeit hilly, hour and a half drive out of Washington, D.C. will take you to Antietam Battlefield, one of the many Civil War battlefields near DC.

Use this guide for more information on playing your day trip from DC to Antietam and Harper’s Ferry. Antietam is where the bloodiest one-day Civil War battle was fought in September of 1862. An industrial town from the beginning, Harper’s Ferry was spotlighted multiple times throughout the nineteenth century, from Meriweather Lewis to John Brown.

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DC Day Trip: Antietam National Battlefield and Harper’s Ferry

Getting to Antietam                                 Antietam Hours and Rates                               What to see at Antietam Battlefield

Getting to Harper’s Ferry                       Harper’s Ferry Hours and Rates                      What to see at Harper’s Ferry

Getting to Antietam

The Visitor Center address is 5831 Dunker Church Road, Sharpsburg, MD 21782

From Washington, D.C. take I-70 W towards Hagerstown. Take exit 49 for US-40 ALT W for 11 miles and continue onto MD-34 W. Follow signs to Antietam National Battlefield, visitors center will be on the right.

Driving from DC will take you through a town called Boonsboro where it may be a good idea to stop and have lunch, as there is no food available for purchase at the battlefield. For a slew of American craft beer and fare like crab dip, burgers, and fish & chips, check out Dan’s Restaurant and Taphouse, located right on Main Street.

Antietam Hours and Rates

Daily, 9:00am to 5:00pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

Entrance Fee:*

$5.00 Per Person (age 16 or older; 15 and under FREE)
$10.00 Per Vehicle

Entrance is free for those in the Military and also for 4th grade students & their families as part of the Every Kid in a Park program (until August 31 2016)

*This is a Three Day Pass so you can come back to Antietam over three consecutive days if you need more time or decide to stay.

2016 Fee-Free Days

  • January 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 16-24 – National Park Week
  • August 25-28 – National Park Service Birthday Weekend
  • September 24 – National Public Lands Day
  • November 11 – Veterans Day

What to see at Antietam Battlefield

A monument to mark the visit of Clara Barton, Photo Credit Lauren Jones

Once at the battlefield, your first stop will be at the visitor’s center,  where you’ll pay the park fee and have the opportunity to see a 26 minute film, narrated by James Earl Jones, that typically shows on the hour and the half hour. Also located within the visitor’s center are a small museum that displays numerous artifacts that have been found on the battlefield among other memorabilia and a gift shop.

Antietam is the only battle where six Brigadier or Major Generals (three from the Confederates and three from the Union) were mortally wounded or killed. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, visited Antietam to help wounded soldiers at the many locations they cared for after the battle.

Don’t forget to pick up a map at the Visitor Center, as it contains an 8.5-mile self-guided driving tour to eleven stops throughout the battlefield. Highlights include Dunker’s Church, the National Cemetery, and the Sunken Road as well as a multitude of state monuments. For those who are more ambitious, Antietam offers miles of self-guided hiking trails. Trails can often be uneven and rolling so good hiking shoes are recommended.

Getting to Harper’s Ferry

Historical exhibit buildings lining Shenandoah Street, Photo Credit Lauren JonesAfter leaving Antietam, head 17 miles south on Highway 67 to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It is about a 20 minute drive between Antietam and Harper’s Ferry.

The physical address of the Park Visitor Center is 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

There is a parking lot at the Park Visitor Center but from here you can either walk or take a free shuttle to get to the Lower Historic District. The hike is scenic but steep so we recommend taking the hike down and the shuttle back to the top. There is limited parking in the historic district.

Harper’s Ferry Hours and Rates

Daily, 9:00am to 5:00pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

Entrance Fee:*

$5.00 Per Person

$10.00 Per Vehicle

A view inside a general store, Photo Credit Lauren Jones

Entrance is free for those in the Military and also for 4th grade students & their families as part of the Every Kid in a Park program (until August 31 2016)

*This is a Three Day Pass so you can come back to Antietam over three consecutive days if you need more time or decide to stay.

Credit cards are accepted only at Cavalier Heights.

2016 Fee-Free Days

  • January 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 16-24 – National Park Week
  • August 25-28 – National Park Service Birthday Weekend
  • September 24 – National Public Lands Day
  • November 11 – Veterans Day

What to see at Harper’s Ferry

Historic Buildings of High Street, Photo Credit Lauren Jones

Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers it’s also where the states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia join. And it’s loaded with history! Meriwether Lewis traveled through in 1803 to obtain hardware and weapons that would aid him on his transcontinental expedition. Most notoriously, in 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid through Harper’s Ferry with 21 others. Between 1861-1865, during the Civil War, the town changed hands eight different times.

Today, visitor’s can spend hours wandering through the winding streets. At the lower part of the town sits the Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park where you’ll find building after building housing exhibits and artifacts that highlight the town’s history and the events that have taken place there. Don’t miss the three part John Brown film showcasing his invasion of the arsenal. Throughout the year the National Park Service also offers living history weekends that are great for families.

After you’ve had your fill of history, check out the many shops the town has to offer including boutiques, gift shops, jewelry and antique stores. If you’re hungry while visiting, there are a handful of restaurants (we enjoy the balcony patio seating at Potomac Grille) and a couple ice cream shops for those warm weather days. For the avid hiker, there are over 20 miles of hiking trails in Harper’s Ferry including an eight-mile trek to the top of a mountain. A quaint community, visiting Harper’s Ferry is truly like taking a step back in time.

This guest post was written by Kris & Lauren at Scuttabout – Tour guides talking about tours, travel and our experiences living on the road.

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