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Maryland Heights Trails

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
id_3663190
Rating: 4 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 10.4 miles
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly

Overview :  The start of this hike is at the visitor center. You may attempt a shorter hike of 7.3 miles by riding the visitor center bus to... more »

Tips:  Make sure to bring a trail map with you. Trail maps are free and located at the Visitor Center. Bring plenty of fluids and snacks. The... more »

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Points of Interest

1. History in the Mountains

The marker inscription reads:
"I will pledge myself that there is not a spot in the United States which combines more or greater requisites...."
George Washington
May 5, 1798

Harpers Ferry's history and geography have influenced each other for more than 250 years. Early settlers crossed these mountains and operated ferries across the... More

2. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

The trail to Harpers Ferry is located towards the back of the visitor center parking lot. There is a sign posted near the trail indicating the entrance.

3. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

Spring water flows down the mountain and creates a small fountain at the bottom.

4. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

Sign indicating the direction towards the lower town.

5. Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail

Sign indicating the direction towards the lower town. A parking lot and access to the river may be found here.

6. Shenandoah Pulp Factory

The Halls Island trail was taken here.

The nearby marker inscription reads:
In 1877-1888, on the former site of the Shenandoah Canal's lower locks, Thomas Savery erected this large mill to provide wood pulp for the paper industry.

Ten turbines, arranged in pairs in the mill's five massive sluiceways, powered wood grinders, rolling machines, and ... More

7. Virginius Islands Trail - Head Gates

This section of the trail is along the Shenandoah River.

The nearby marker inscription reads:
These brick-lined archways, or "head gates," built around 1850, once controlled much of the island's waterpower. From here, a "wing dam" extended across the Shenandoah River, funneling water through the arches and into the inner basin... More

8. Shenandoah River

The nearby marker inscription reads:
The power of the Shenandoah River once made Virginius Island valuable real estate. Armory Superintendent James Stubblefield purchased the island in 1824 for $15,000. Two months later he almost doubled his investment by selling the island as four tracts while promoting its industrial potential. By the mid-1850s,... More

9. Virginius Island Trail

The marker inscription at the bridge reads:
In the shadow of the United States Armory at Harpers Ferry, private industry thrived. Across this canal is Virginius Island, site of a town that once bustled with pre-Civil War businesses and the activities of 200 people. Built along the banks of the Shenandoah, the town's thriving factories were powered... More

10. Floods

The highest flood crest recorded on the board occurred in 1936. Others noted include 1889, 1896, 1902, 1924, 1942, 1972, 1985, and 1996 (twice).

The marker inscription reads:
Waterpower built this town, and the power of the water eventually destroyed it.

The destruction of the Federal Armory during the Civil War began the town's decline. Many... More

11. Early Travel

The Shenandoah and Potomac River collide at this location. This spot is great for pictures.

The nearby marker reads:
Situated in a gap of the Blue Ridge Mountains and at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Harpers Ferry, from its beginning, functioned as a natural avenue of transportation.

The first mode of travel consisted of a... More

12. Maryland Heights

Use the walking bridge to cross the Potomac River. The bridge is enclosed on its sides by a fence to protect anyone from falling over.

13. Maryland Heights

The sign indicates the direction towards Maryland Heights. Use caution when crossing the road.

14. Exploring Maryland Heights

The nearby marker inscription reads:
As the highest ridge surrounding the town of Harpers Ferry, Maryland Heights once bustled with private industry and Civil War occupation.

Antietam Iron Works, a major nail producer in the early 1800s, burned the timber of the heights for charcoal to fuel furnace and forges. Traces of charcoal hearths and roads... More

15. Maryland Heights - Mountain Fortress of Harpers Ferry

You are standing on the border between North and South during the Civil War. As the highest ridge surrounding Harpers Ferry, Maryland Heights played a prominent role in the strategic operations of both the Union and Confederacy.

Southern forces under Col. Thomas J. Jackson first occupied this ground in early May 1861, violating Maryland's... More

16. Hiking Maryland Heights

Here the trail divides and the choice is yours. Time and hiking difficulties are important factors as you select your trail route.

The Stone Fort Trail
To your left, is a strenuous but rewarding hike to the summit. The route passes Civil War forts and campgrounds, scenic overlooks and weathered charcoal hearths.
Distance: 3.3 miles
Time: 3 hours ... More

17. Making a Mountain Citadel

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Tired and breathless? You are experiencing the hardship of a Union soldier climbing to reach his work place (a fort) or his home (a tent or log cabin). Try ascending this road hauling a 9,700-pound gun tube or a week's supply of water. From 1862 through 1863, the Federals built seven fortifications and staked... More

18. Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights

The nearby marker inscription reads:
The charcoal industry required wood; Maryland Heights offered plenty. From 1810 to 1848 the Antietam Iron Works, 7 miles to the north, cut trees on the mountain to make charcoal to fuel its furnace and forges. The burning charcoal helped produce refined iron, from which the Antietam Iron Works made nails and... More

19. Maryland Heights

This section of the trail lies along the top of the mountain. The trail is leveled at this section.

20. Civil War Campgrounds

The marker inscription reads:
For more than three years - May 1862 through July 1865 - Union soldiers lived, worked, and played on Maryland Heights. They built numerous campgrounds on this inhospitable mountain that lacked water, level ground, or adequate sanitation conditions.

The stone walls, visible across this plateau, perhaps marked a camp... More

21. Exterior Fort

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Built in 1863 to strengthen a double row of rifle-pits and to protect against attack from the north, the Exterior Fort consisted of two parallel rock walls, or breastworks, about 530 feet apart. The south line, visible in front of you, extended 520 feet down the mountain's steep western slope. The north... More

22. Breastworks

The sign indicates that this section of the trail contained breastworks. The last brigade, under Colonel Thomas Ford, was placed in an isolated position on Maryland Heights. Ford constructed a line of breastworks consisting of logs and rocks, and cut trees to form an abatis in front.

23. Interior Fort

The nearby marker reads:
You are standing inside the Interior Fort, facing its north wall - the most imposing earthwork on Maryland Heights. This nine-foot-high parapet and accompanying ditch defended the crest from attack from the north. The five embrasures which cut through this wall served as artillery positions for howitzer guns, and later, 30... More

24. Stone Fort

The nearby marker inscription reads:
To command Maryland Heights' highest point, the Federals built this massive foundation, called the Stone Fort in the winter of 1862-63.

Union engineers designed this defense as an infantry blockhouse to ward off Confederate attack along the crest. The Northerners completed the blockhouse foundation but never... More

25. 100 - Pounder Battery - Heaviest and Highest

The nearby marker inscription reads:
During an inspection in late April 1863, Brig. Gen. John G. Barnard recommended that a gun be placed at a high point on this crest, "surrounded by a wall of sandbags, and arranged to fire not only on Loudoun Heights [across the Potomac] but into either of the valleys east and west of Maryland Heights."... More

26. 100 - Pounder Battery Site

This was the 100 pounder battery site. Not much of a scenic view here, but there may be a better scenic view during the late fall and winter.

27. Powder Magazine

You may notice that on this section of the trail, the ground feels hallow underneath your feet as if you were walking on top of a buried tunnel.

Archaeological surveys recorded thirteen powder magazines on Maryland Heights, three within this fort. Used to store gun powder and shells, these 30'x20' rectangular excavations were dug to a depth of... More

28. 30-Pounder Battery

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Positioned here at the end of a towering plateau, this fortification was the first earthen battery built on the mountain by the Federals in the fall of 1862. Facing south, its guns "commanded perfectly the summits of Loudoun Heights as well as Bolivar Heights."

A four-sided earthwork forms the... More

29. Maryland Heights

Make a left on the trail to go towards the Maryland Heights Overlook.

30. Maryland Heights

The sign indicates the direction towards Maryland Heights Overlook.

31. Harpers Ferry - Changes through Time

Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Harpers Ferry was named for Robert Harper, a millwright who continued a ferry operation here in 1747. The waterpower of the two rivers - harnessed for industry - generated tremendous growth in Harpers Ferry. By the mid-19th century, the town had become an important arms-producing... More

32. Naval Battery

The sign indicates the direction toaward the Naval Battery.

33. Naval Battery

The nearby marker reads:
Positioned 300 feet above the Potomac River the Naval Battery was the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights. Hastily built in May 1862, its naval guns were rushed here from the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard. Along with a detachment of 300 sailors and marines, the battery was equipped to protect Harpers Ferry from... More

34. Potomac River

This section of the trail is along the Potomac River. The cool breeze from the river may be felt here.

35. John Brown Fort

The nearby marker reads:
You are in the line of fire. The stone marker in front of you identifies the original site of the armory fire engine house - now known as John Brown's Fort. Barricaded inside the fort, abolitionist John Brown and his men held off local militia and U.S. Marines for three days in October 1859. Brown's men fired from inside... More

36. White Hall Tavern

The nearby marker inscription reads:
Located directly across from the U.S. Armory, the White Hall Tavern was an 1850's community gathering place, where white males debated politics; discussed local events; and protested armory management, wages and layoffs. The tavern's close proximity easily tempted armory workers to raise a glass, or two... or... More

37. St. John's Episcopal Church

The church marker inscription reads:
These weathered ruins are all that remain of St. John's Episcopal Church - one of Harpers Ferry's five earliest churches.

Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John's served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt afterward, but was... More

38. Jefferson Rock

The marker inscription near Jefferson Rock reads:
"On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass... More

The sign indicaties trail directions. Follow the direction towards Loudon Heights.

The Appalachian trail on this section goes up and down.

You will need to cross Shenandoah Street. Use caution when crossing the road.

Follow the road down and cut through the parking lot.

43. Lower Town Trail

Walk up the stairs within the parking lot and cross the road to get back on the Lower Town trail. The Lower Town Trail sign may be seen across the road.

44. Visitor Center

The visitor center has a pay phone, drink vending machine, and public restroom within the premises.