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)
The whole hike- Stone Fort Trail plus Overlook took us 2.5 hours round trip from the trail head, including about 15 minutes at the top for a snack and about 10 minutes stop at the overlook, and we were going at a pretty decent speed. Be warned that the overlook trail (and the overlook) can be pretty crowded on the weekends, but the steep Stone Fort trail much less so. We did not even try to park in one of the 8-car lots by the trail head, nor was there any room at either of the NPS lots near the historic town, so we had to park at the Visitor's Center (a couple miles away from the historic town) and take the shuttle. All in all, round trip from the visitors center parking lot (including shuttle to the historic town, plus 15-minute walk to trail head, plus the hike and back) took almost 3.5 hours. Very pretty with the fall foliage, and the views are awesome from the overlook looking down on the confluence of the two rivers and the town, but the views are more distant and less direct from the Stone Fort. Worth doing as a day trip from DC for sure.
Date of Hike: Monday, October 21, 2013
There were no spaces in the train station lot and none on the street when we arrived at 10:30 a.m. on a Monday. Went up to the National Park visitor's center lot and took the short bus ride back down, so it was pretty quick. That's a good option of you are running late.
The hike was fairly crowded until the turn off to go up to the ruins of the Union Civil War Fort. After that turn we saw no one, and for good reason as it was really very strenuous getting to the top. In fact, I wouldn't attempt going all the way up to the fort unless you were in pretty decent shape. We went up the west side which as a previous reviewer noted was wide and fairly well marked, until the very top where we actually got lost a little bit looking for markers and the fort. The east side is indeed narrow, rocky, and in places slippery with leaves and loose stones. On the way down I was at times unsure if I was on the actual trail, and had to look around quite a bit for the few markers there.
If you're up for the climb to the fort you will really enjoy getting up close to civil war history. Really makes you think about what a hell of a time that was. And the views are fantastic. Don't forget your map and bring a good amount of water.
Date of Hike: Monday, September 23, 2013
the east side of the trail leading to/from the stone fort is narrow, hard to navigate in places and very poorly marked. it is easy to loose the path. the west side path is 3 people wide and very well marked even though it would be difficult to loose one's way. suggest going UP east side and down west...coming down then will be easier after the more difficult going up is accomplished. just doing the overlook cliff trail is a challenge, but well worth it.
Date of Hike: Sunday, May 26, 2013
This hike was built for battle during the Civil War, and after going up wide steep trails filled with trenches and walls constructed for safety you totally get a feel that a lot happened on that mountain besides just enjoying nature. Nevertheless, this was a great hike for all levels, yet I still left feeling like I got a workout due to steepness of some parts of the trail. Even going down played a toll on my knees. I definitely recommend this hike for an easy yet evenful hike that more than just "a walk in the park".
Date of Hike: Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Weekday, on the cool side, perfect. The lot had about 5 cars when we pulled in around 10:30. We did the combined trail to stone fort trail to overlook trail, then back, as suggested (total time: 3 hours almost to the minute). I'm used to long walks, but usually on level ground, so the steep ascent to the fort gave me a good workout. The signs were good for brief breaks and a bit of a history lesson. Nice views from the various overlooks. We didn't meet anyone on the stone fort trail, but there were a bunch of people on the combined/overlook trails.
FWIW I think the hike to the fort may be a bit much for anyone who is really out of shape or has health issues. For someone who isn't sure, maybe do the route in reverse as someone else posted she likes to do: overlook first, then stone fort (if overlook is no problem). If I go back, I want to try it that way to see which I like better.