Fellow blogger J. Hammer graciously agreed to guest blog for the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog about hiking along Maryland Heights, near Harpers Ferry. This is part 1 of his two-part series.
Maryland Heights is one of the hikes I've been wanting to do from the first time I visited Harpers Ferry. I finally got some spare time to hike it on a chilly, windy, but sunny November afternoon. I parked at the visitor center and took the bus down to the main town with my pack and hiking stick.
Full disclosure: I only hiked the Overlook trail and didn't get to the Stone Fort trail, since I got started a little later than I wanted.
Distances (from the Maryland Heights Trail Guide):
- railroad bridge to Overlook Cliffs (round trip): about 4.1 miles (3 hours)
- railroad bridge to Stone Fort (round trip): about 6 miles (4 hours)
- Combined Trail: Green Blaze
- Stone Fort Trail: Blue Blaze (note: the blazes were light blue; in harsh/bright sunlight, the blue blazes look almost white)
- Overlook Cliffs Trail: Red Blaze
|The footbridge over the canal to the trailhead.|
|Maryland Heights trailhead. It goes up!|
|The trail winds around the back side of the mountain, then begins a steady climb up toward the turn to the overlook.|
On the way up the combined trail to the overlook trail, you'll encounter some trail markers and points of interest. The first one, 300 feet above the Potomac River, is the Naval Battery, the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights. Hastily built in May 1862, its detachment of 309 sailors and marines were there to protect Harpers Ferry, just opposite the Potomac River, from Confederate attack during General Stonewall Jackson's famous Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862. Although the fortification initially was successful, Jackson returned in September that year, and this time he prevailed, and the battery was abandoned by Union troops. Soon after that, however, Union troops returned again to Maryland Heights, but this time they built fortifications at better locations on the crest and slopes of Maryland Heights. Losing its defensive importance, the Naval Battery became instead an ordnance depot.
|As you can see on the Maryland Heights Trail Guide, the trail splits around the Naval Battery, but make sure you take the side trail to see it. The Naval Battery was the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights.|
THE TRAIL NOT TAKEN
Once past the Naval battery, not far up the combined trail, the Stone Fort trail splits off. The Stone Fort trail goes up to the summit of Maryland Heights, and is a little more than 3-mile circuit hike, which will bring you back around near the Overlook trail.
|The Stone Fort trail branches off.|
|Finally, the payoff for climbing the mountain.|
|Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights overlook.|
|The Potomac River. You can see the Maryland Heights trailhead from here.|
The AT then turns up the hill and goes past the church before crossing the Potomac into Maryland.
OTHER PICTURES FROM MY HIKE
The trail to the Overlook actually descends from the Combined Trail to the Overlook cliffs, involving several switchbacks. There were plenty of rocks and tree roots on this section of trail, so again, watch your step as you descend down to the Overlook.
Tip #1: I strongly recommend a hiking stick or trekking poles to help you up the side of the mountain. There's also plenty of loose gravel, rocks, and tree roots on the trail, so mind your steps.
Tip #3: On a warm day, the overlook would be a nice place for a picnic, so if you're willing and able to haul some food up the mountain, go for it, but please make sure you pack out your trash, as there are no trashcans anywhere on the trails.
Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about: facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips!
Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!