|Harpers Ferry from the Maryland Heights viewpoint|
Maryland Heights is one of the most popular hikes in the DC area. It has a wide variety of appeal, offering both a look into Harpers Ferry's Civil War past and a spectacular views of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.
I hiked this trail with five fellow interns in late July. We left Rockville mid-morning and took I-270 northwest to Frederick, then US 340 west to Harpers Ferry. I tried parking at the lot at the base of the trail on the Maryland side of the river but the lot was already full, so I doubled back and drove over to the West Virginia side of the river. To reach the Maryland trailhead (and trim 1.2 miles round trip from the hike), turn left onto Keep Tryst Road from US 340 during the long downhill before crossing the Potomac River. Then turn right onto Sandy Hook Road and drive past the foot of the Maryland Heights cliff until you reach pass the trailhead to the right. There is a small parking area on the right.
I parked at the train station in Harpers Ferry, where we purchased a week's pass for the park for $10. We walked down to the Point and crossed the Potomac River on the Appalachian Trail bridge, which paralleled an old railroad bridge. Supports for old bridges littered the river. To the right (east), there was a beautiful view of Loudoun Heights rising above the Potomac Water Gap. Beneath us, we saw many people tubing on the river.
|The Potomac River at Harpers Ferry|
The trail, a broad former road, immediately began to climb at a moderate grade. In the next three-quarter miles or so, the trail ascended continuously, with a few historical signs along the trail to tell of the area's Civil War history. The first major historical stop along the trail was the Naval Battery, a former Union defensive position where two major guns were mounted high above the river and town below. A trail looped around the footprint of the former battery- while no views were available, the size of the battery's footprint gave an impressive idea of the size of the artillery used in the war.
A little further from the Naval Battery, we reached a trail junction: the trail to the right led directly to the viewpoint at Maryland Heights, while the trail to the left led to more Civil War fortifications. We took the trail to the left, which followed a former road built by the Union Army to haul equipment and weapons to a fort atop the ridge. This trail was remarkably steep- steeper, certainly, than your average Mid-Atlantic trail. This made for a very tiring stretch of trail on a hot, humid day. It was hard to imagine how cannons could possibly be lugged up such a road.
The trail finally leveled out as it approached the top of the ridge. We walked among the remnants of a Union stone fort; it was hard to imagine what the original structure looked like as there were now only a handful of scattered stone walls remaining.
|Stoneworks from the former Union fort on Maryland Heights|
|The Potomac River flowing east of Harpers Ferry, with Sugarloaf in the distance|
|The Potomac River west of Harpers Ferry|
|View of Maryland Heights from below|