Maryland Heights, Harpers Ferry WV

• 4-star hike
• 5 miles out-and-back
• Medium difficulty | Gain 910 feet
• Harpers Ferry, WV | Maryland
. Two large rivers meet, with the small hilly town of Harpers Ferry in view. Several bridges cross the rivers, and an Amtrak passenger service is on one of the bridges. Expand Map

RED 4★ Maryland Heights
5.4 mi out-and-back, medium, gain 910 ft
AllTrails · GPX File · Directions

Now part of the National Park Service, the West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry was a critical strategic military target leading up to and during the American Civil War. John Brown's 1859 raid of the federal arsenal here was an attempt to start a slave rebellion, and during the war the town changed hands multiple times. The town's tumultuous past is now found in the history books and the park's many interpretive signs. Visiting the site today now is a peaceful and reflective experience, situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and enjoying the picturesque landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In addition to learning about the site's history, we recommend a walk across the river from West Virginia to the state of Maryland, where an old canal towpath leads to a moderate hillside climb that culminates at the Maryland Heights Overlook. From this vantage point, visitors are rewarded with a panoramic view of the historical town, its surrounding landscapes and river junction, and the convergence of three separate US States.

Begin at the 1894 steel truss bridge that has been partly converted to hold pedestrian traffic across the Potomac River. Descending the steps on the Maryland side leads to the towpath of the old Chesapeake & Ohio canal which is now only apparent as a wide grassy depression in the ground. Heading up-river parallel to the Potomac stone wall remnants of the old canal lock 33 can be seen. This route leads across a footbridge that spans the canal ditch and onto the Overlook Cliff Trail.

Two large rivers meet, with the small hilly town of Harpers Ferry in view. Several bridges cross the rivers, and an Amtrak passenger service is on one of the bridges.
The meeting point of three states and two rivers.

The Overlook Cliff Trail is a wide trail that climbs up the flanks of Maryland Heights. Those less accustomed to hill climbs may be either reassured or dissuaded by the fact that the trail's gradient remains unchanged throughout its journey through the wooded hillside towards the overlook. A spur trail en-route leads to a naval gun battery that was built in 1862 to protect Harpers Ferry from Confederate attack under the command of Stonewall Jackson. Aside from an interpretive sign we found little here to appreciate as trees now obscure any view of the town below.

You will need to take a right-turn off the main trail and head downhill to reach the viewpoint of the Maryland Heights Overlook. This expansive rocky area is a superlative position from which to appreciate the town below and the surrounding landscape; and to take a rest from the hill-climb. The exposed and often breezy cliffs of the overlook also provide respite from any insects that may have been troubling you on your hike.

For most people parking will be at the National Park Service visitor center, some two miles distant from the town which is accessible by shuttle bus. Early birds might have success parking closer - either at the railroad station in town, or the River Access parking lot which is still half a mile from Harpers Ferry. A fee is required to leave your vehicle and enjoy the park's facilities and service, which is payable at any of these three locations. The links in this paragraph lead to Google Maps driving directions.

People on the footpath section of the bridge, suspended on stone piers above the Potomac River. Dark craggy rocks covered with bright green trees indicate the location of the Maryland Heights viewpoint. The dilapidated piers of another demolished bridge span are adjacent.
Crossing the Potomac on an 1894 steel truss bridge to begin the hike.

Framed by the metal of the steel truss bridge, an old painted sign that includes the word 'powder' remains visible on the rugged vertical cliff face.
Faded old advertisement on the cliffs.

Two people walking along a wide paved path, river to the left and a grassy depression to the right where the canal used to be. Lots of greenery and blue skies.
On the old C&O canal towpath to the Overlook Cliff Trail.

(1) Two walkers on a wide trail in the green woods. (2) Views across the Potomac - fast-flowing with whitewater, rocks and green trees and hillsides beyond. A heron close to the water, looking for a meal.
Overlook Cliff Trail | Whitewater on the wide Potomac River.

An Amtrak passenger train on the plate girder bridge crossing the Potomac. Viewed from Maryland Heights Overlook.
Amtrak's Capital Limited service from Chicago to DC.

• Official Site: National Park Service
• Public Map at AllTrails: Maryland Heights
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