Hiking the Maryland Heights Trail at Harpers Ferry

My travel adventures certainly look different now that I’m back in Maryland and there’s a pandemic preventing me from pursuing plane travel, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about them! Honestly, I am loving the opportunity to explore this state, especially after three years of feeling like an outsider in Germany. Maryland is my home, and I feel a greater sense of belonging now than I ever have before.

It’s also just beautiful. For being such a small state, it’s kind of amazing how little of it I have explored. Growing up, our vacations always took us out of Maryland, but now I’m learning to appreciate what we have here and the relaxation in knowing we don’t have to travel far, and I can feel right at home wherever I am. Maryland will never look like California, which I consider the most beautiful state, but California will never look like Maryland either. 

Hiking has become my new favorite Covid-safe hobby during the pandemic. After a hot, humid summer, I now love getting outdoors to exercise, challenge myself and enjoy beautiful scenery. Plus it’s an excuse not to run because I’m still getting a good workout, and I love excuses!

According to Instagram, everyone and their mother hiked the Maryland Heights Trail in Harpers Ferry this summer. I waited for the temperature—and tourists—to settle down a little and then took full advantage of the prospect of changing fall foliage and went at the end of September. Even in Europe, this is my favorite time of year to travel because the weather is still warm enough to be outdoors, but kids have gone back to school, so tourist season slows down tremendously. 

Harpers Ferry is a National Historic Park in West Virginia, complete with old buildings, a cute town and hiking trails. It sits right where the Potomac River meets the Shenandoah, and you can actually see where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet. The Appalachian Trail and C & O Canal towpath also pass through the park, so it really is quite the hotspot. 

The Maryland Heights trail is indeed in Maryland, but provides sweeping views of the other two states, rivers and the adorable town. Currently, the parking area by the trailhead is blocked off, so my family and I parked on the West Virginia side in town at the train station. This only added about half a mile each way to our trip, and this was the easiest section of walking.

We crossed the railroad bridge back into Maryland and walked along the C & O canal towpath until it met the trailhead. Mom continued along the flat towpath while my sister and I started our uphill climb. In total, it took us a little over two hours to walk from town up the mountain to the overlook and back, including our couple of water breaks and stop to take pictures at the overlook. The total mileage is about 4.5 miles.

The trail itself was overall very walkable until the last half mile or so leading to the overlook where you had to step down on tree roots, boulders, and some loose rocks. But if you’re like my mom with her bad knees and are concerned about the terrain, in general, I would say most able-bodied people, including Mom, could do it. The difficulty of the hike came with the mile or so straight of constant climbing. It was only about 60 degrees and I was still dripping sweat and out of breath, but that’s my favorite kind of hiking. On the way back down, I’m always concerned about falling because my knees are weak on declines, but the path was packed down enough without too many loose rocks that I did just fine. 

The overlook was a rocky outcropping with a gorgeous vista straight over town and into the mountains in the distance. We only had to share it with about three other groups, and it was large enough that we could all spread out. Just don’t get too close to the edge!

The trail also passes the Naval Gun Battery overlook, which doesn’t overlook much as long as there are leaves on the trees but provides an nice insight into history where Union soldiers during the Civil War cut into the terrain to create a natural fortification where they stationed their rifles.

After the hike, you end up right back in town where you can treat yourself to lunch or a history lesson. And if you’re a craft beer fan like me, you can’t leave the area without stopping at Harpers Ferry Brewing. The brewery offers one of the most spacious outdoor setups I’ve seen with picnic tables all along the property and a breathtaking landscape of the mountains and river. And the beer was delicious (pictured is a sample size so I could try three different pours).

From our home in Hanover, it took us about one hour to drive to Harpers Ferry, so this was the perfect little day trip for us to enjoy some nice views and exercise. If you have any recommendations for hikes in Maryland or the neighboring states, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

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