Maryland Heights is another of those must-do circuits for most hikers in the metro area. With a spectacular view of Harpers Ferry from the main overlook, and steeped in Civil War history, this shorter circuit is a favorite for many. But be prepared for the crowds, on nicer days this hike is very busy.
The main ridge at Maryland Heights has the ruins of Union Civil War forts, trenches, gunpowder magazines, and infantry encampments. With most of the circuit having informational signage describing the different ruins.
From the parking area start up the Combined Trail and pass the Naval Battery built in 1862, and first of the Union fortifications on Maryland Heights. At the next intersection, and informational sign, turn left uphill on the Stone Fort Trail as it very steeply ascends towards the ridge.
Once arriving at the ridge pass through the main fort area, then climb a set of log stairs to reach the main interior of the fort. This main section, and largest earthwork, was constructed in June of 1863. The main stone wall on the north of the fort was erected to protect it from northern attack.
From here the Stone Fort Trail will pass back to the south, with views of the Potomac River to the east through the trees. The trail will descend more steeply before ending at the intersection of the top section of the Combined Trail.
Turn left towards the overlook and in 150 yards turn right down the Overlook Trail. The main overlook for Harpers Ferry is in 0.3 miles.
Return to the Combined Trail, then follow it past the two trailheads for the Stone Fort Trail as it descends back down to Sandyhook Rd.
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Reviews For The Maryland Heights Hike (5 Most Recent)
This hike was hard and fun! I did it with some friends on December 26, 2016. It's a great winter hike, but make sure you layer up because the ridge is windy and cold!!
-Awesome view of Harpers Ferry from the Main Overlook cliffs
-Huge amount of Civil War history & artifacts
-The trail is really well-maintained and well-marked
-Fabulous view of the Potomac River from the ridge
-Only an hour drive from Montgomery County!
Date of Hike: Monday, November 14, 2016
Completed this hike in conjunction with the C&O/Weverton Cliffs hike, with a lunch break next to Lock 33. 14.4 mile total hike that day. The Maryland Heights portion took me just over 4 hours to complete at a moderate pace, including some time exploring the fort at the top of the ridge and a nice break at the overlook. I noted the trail head parking appeared full as I walked past, and I crossed paths with a few other hikers along the way, but there was plenty of solitude along the trail. I took the blue trail clockwise followed by a walk out to the overlook cliff before returning. From the canal up to the top of the ridge is a pretty steady climb, with the grade getting significantly steeper along the blue trail, which is the old civil war road. Apparently the Union army hadn't learned switchback technology to make life easier -- its a straight path directly up! Felt encouraged after reaching a sign following a steep grade noting that Abraham Lincoln had already turned around by this point when he attempted to review the troops at the fort during the war.
The payoff after arriving at the ridge is worth the climb. Significant civil war earthworks and stone fortifications remain on site. The layout and construction of this fort was quite unique compared to other civil war forts I've explored. I was the only one in the area of the fort while up there. The view from the top is OK, but still quite overgrown despite most of the leaves already being down. Returning down the ridge is also quite steep and more rocky than the western approach. The overlook trail is clearly much more traveled than the stone fort portion -- very wide and simple to follow. The overlook looking down into Harpers Ferry is fun and a good spot to rest before completing the hike. There were two other groups at the overlook when I arrived, a student research group working in the area and another solo hiker came in as I was leaving. Far from solitude at that point, but not terribly crowded either.
Overall, a nice combination of distance, workout and history to make this a very memorable day hike. Its a nice compliment to the history lesson you get in Harpers Ferry. If you can only do one hike while visiting this area, this would be the one to do.
Date of Hike: Thursday, November 03, 2016
How the soldiers during the Civil War took things like canons and huge amounts of water up the "heights" part of this hike is beyond me. This part of the hike is super steep, but once you reached the top, it was worth it and the cool air breeze is rewarding, as well. The hike completely pays off when you are able to overlook the historic Harpers Ferry. This area is definitely camera worthy. It did rain on my journey back down, so I had to be careful with the rocks becoming more and more slick. Parking was not an issue for me, but it was a week day. May want to arrive early on a weekend day. Parked right across the street from the Potomac River, which was nice to walk along as I cooled down from the hike. The entire hike is pretty rich in history, as the park service has posted at least 4 or 5 signs along the trail as it relates to the Civil War. Would definitely do this hike again.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 27, 2016
Really awesome day trip from the DC area! Got a bit of a late start - parked at the Harpers Ferry Visitors Center around 10:15 (free because of 100th NPS anniversary, normally $10/car I believe). Took the free shuttle to downtown Harpers Ferry and walked across the Railroad bridge to the parking area. Decided to take the long loop on the way up - pretty steep incline for about 20-30 minutes, then relatively flat the rest of the way around. Lots of cool signs with little historical notes spaced pretty regularly which made for good breaks. On the way down we stopped at the Harpers Ferry overlook for lunch - great view. Kind of crowded but that's to be expected. Not really any good views on the long loop, but it was mostly shaded so it made for a good hike. 3.5 hours was exactly right.
Near the parking area there's a bunch of areas to go in the river to cool off afterward - definitely recommend doing so! Obviously be mindful of the currents. After walking back into downtown Harpers Ferry we got ice cream at Scoops and then headed out. Really fun day!
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 02, 2016
I hike Maryland heights 5x a week in the summer. The lower trail is great for anyone that is not an experienced hiker. For me, I use the lower hike to get in shape for other, more strenous hikes. One of the reaons why this is my most frequently done hike is the overlook, and while a lot of people use this trail, most of the time if you go early in the morning you are by yourself most of the way out.
That said, I have a lot of pet peeves about this trail. Many people hime with their dogs unleashed here, even though it's against park rules. I have seen big dogs run up to little children many times, scaring them. Those same people let their animals poop on the trail and leave it there. So much so that you see something new almost daily.
The upper overlook is non existent and completely overgrown with trees. Don't go all the way up unless you want to see the ruins of the fort, or just want a harder workout. The ascent to the upper overlook is significantly harder than the lower.
If you find yourself liking this trail, I suggest you consider hiking Loudoun heights next time. It also has excellent views of Harpers Ferry from a different vantage point. That hike is also a little harder and significantly longer.