Frugal Foodie Mama: Hiking the Maryland Heights Trail

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hiking the Maryland Heights Trail

The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers...
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

Since my son & I's visit to Harpers Ferry last fall, we have been talking about hiking the Maryland Heights trail that takes you across the Potomac River and up rocky & steep paths to Overlook Cliff in Maryland. Harpers Ferry in West Virginia is to not only mere minutes from the Maryland and Virginia borders, but it also happens to be at almost the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail that spans 14 states between Maine and Georgia.

We are about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Harpers Ferry, so my son & I decided to drive in the day before our hike and stay overnight at a local bed & breakfast on the hillside just above Lower Town. The photo below was taken on the deck of the B&B right before my son & I left on our trek. Our destination? The cliff you see above and just to the right of my head... 

The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

The Maryland Heights Trail, which starts in Lower Town and winds up the mountain side to Overlook Cliff, is a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail.

The Maryland Heights Trail, which starts in Lower Town and winds up the mountain side to Overlook Cliff, is a 4 mile hike just off from the 2190 mile Appalachian Trail. The footbridge across the Potomac & the path leading to the trail head for Maryland Heights are part of the actual Appalachian Trail. So if you decide to take on the hike to Maryland Heights, you can technically say that you have hiked part (albeit, a very small part) of the Appalachian Trail. ;)
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

The initial mile or so of the hike is a steady gradual climb with few obstacles in the path. If you are feeling adventurous, there are several side paths and trails along the way (like the one pictured above). Some circle back to the main trails. Others lead down into steep ravines to a stream below.
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

At almost a mile in, the trail forks. Take the Stone Fort Trail on the left (blue blaze) to hike the mile to the remains of a Civil War era fort, breastworks, and batteries. Take the Overlook Cliff Trail to the right (red blaze) for the most breathtaking views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers. 

Since we got a later start to our hike than we had originally planned, we opted to skip the Stone Fort Trail this go-round. But from everything I have read, it adds about 2 miles round trip to the hike. I can't speak for the difficulty or ruggedness of the trail itself (we'll save that for another hike & another post ;) ). 
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

The trail to Overlook Cliff does get pretty rocky and steep in some spots. My main tips would be to watch for slick rocks (especially if it has been raining), and to be sure to bring a hiking stick or poles with you for stability on the rockier terrain. 
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

Once you have been on the Overlook Cliff Trail for about a third of a mile, it will fork again. Follow the signs to take the sharp right to the downhill path to the cliff. While you may see the sign and start thanking the stars above that you are almost there, don't get too excited just yet. ;)
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

You have about a half mile of this (pictured above) still left to go. The final path down to the cliff can be narrow at times (watch for hikers coming back up the trail from the cliff), and there are several trees, large rocks, and logs to navigate around as you make your descent. (Again, a hiking stick or hiking poles will come in handy here.)

But it is ALL worth it when you get to the cliff and see this view... :)
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

Just to give you some perspective on how far my son & I hiked in total, you can see the very edge of the B&B's deck we were standing on peeking out from the trees directly below the white house at the top right corner of the photo above.

Be sure to bring a camera to capture amazing panoramic views of the Lower Town of historic Harpers Ferry and of the expansive Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers. (CLICK HERE to see a live Facebook video I took from Overlook Cliff.)
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.
Photo Credit: Jake Bice Photography

The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

I have to say that I was thrilled to finally cross this one off of my travel bucket list! :) I have been looking up at this daunting cliff for months now wondering if I would be able to make the trek to the top. Though I am a nature lover at heart, I am not an avid hiker. In fact, this is probably the first real hike I have done in years. And though it was challenging and I had to take a few breathers and several water breaks, I was able to make it up the trail and back down in a little over 4 hours round trip.
The Maryland Heights Trail, a 4 mile hike just off from the Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.

But what goes up must come down, right? Make sure you have a good rest at the cliff, maybe pack a picnic lunch to enjoy, and drink plenty of water because you will have a 2 mile hike back down the mountain to get to the Lower Town of Harpers Ferry.
The Maryland Heights Trail, which makes up about 4 miles of the 2190 mile Appalachian Trail, is a challenging hike with rewarding views of Harpers Ferry and the Potomac & Shenandoah Rivers.
Photo Credit: Jake Bice Photography

But don't be in too much of a hurry to get back down to the trail head. You may miss some of nature's most magical moments. We were fortunate to have met some hikers on our way back down the trail who spotted this little fawn and pointed him out to us. We probably spent a good 10-15 minutes just watching him and snapping photos. :)

My Top 5 Tips for Hiking the Maryland Heights Trail:

  1. There is no camping allowed on the trail or in the Harpers Ferry National Park, so this is definitely a day hike. Pack light. A small first aid kit, a camera, plenty of water, snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy at Overlook Cliff, and definitely hiking poles. Since we didn't know exactly what to expect on this hike, we sort of over packed. ;) Cell phone reception is pretty strong for all of the hike, there is decent traffic on the trails, and the trails themselves are well marked & blazed. 
  2. Wear comfortable shoes with good support and plenty of grip. This is NOT a trail for flip flops or flats. I would even recommend light hiking boots.
  3. Bring plenty of water, especially if you are hiking the trail during the summer months. I actually had no clue that I could sweat so much until I did I this hike!
  4. And on that note, bring a shirt or clothes to change into once you have finished the hike. If you do not have a hotel room or B&B to return to after your hike, you will definitely thank me for that little tip later. ;)
  5. And as with any trail or any time you are in nature, be in awe of the wildlife, takes some photos, but respect the animals. The photo you see above was taken by my son with his lens that has a killer zoom. You may also run into a snake or two on the trail, so watch for those. I didn't see a single snake until I had almost made it back down to the trail head, and one slithered across the path in front of me-yikes!
Have you ever hiked the Maryland Heights Trail? 
What is your number one tip for hiking it?

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