Original text by CharlesD: Maryland Heights stands at the historically and geographically important meeting point of two rivers and three states. Beneath the impressive bluffs which define the southern face of Maryland Heights lies the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and the historically critical town of Harpers Ferry. Two railroad lines, a roadway, and the historic C&O Canal thread the narrow gap along side the river.
Harpers Ferry controlled access through this narrow gap and played an especially important role during the American Civil War. So important was this site that it changed hands 14 times during the six years of the war. Batteries of artillery occupied several sites on the surrounding hills including the slopes of Maryland Heights. The early abolitionist John Brown assembled an armory in Harpers Ferry and made a valliant last stand against federal troops.
In more modern times, Harpers Ferry serves as a major stopping point along the famous Appalachian Trail. The AT headquarters is located in the town and it is widely (and incorrectly) thought of as the midpoint halfway between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Katahdin in Maine. (In fact, the actual midpoint lies a hundred miles to the north in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA.) The historic C&O Canal, with its recreation-heavy towpath, runs beneath Maryland Heights as well and sees thousands of cyclists, horseback riders, and hikers every year. The two rivers fall through a series of short rapids in the area as well, and there is a thriving whitewater industry.
Maryland Heights itself rises 400' above this bustling turmoil of nature and history and defines the northern side of the gap. A popular hiking trail winds around its southwestern end and reaches the spectacular viewpoint on top of the cliffs after a few miles. The actual summit lies a mile north of the clifftop roost. It is wooded and rarely visited.
The hiking trail up Maryland Heights is 4 miles RT and moderately strenuous.
Maryland Heights has the highest cliffs within a relatively short drive (around an hour) of Washington. D.C. It may also be the only crag in the D.C. area that has multi-pitch climbing (two or three pitches for a total climb of 150-200 feet). Despite those assets, plus its easy access, the crag is not exceedingly popular. One reason is that the routes can be quite brushy. Another is that toproping is difficult to do here and most D.C.-area rock climbers are topropers. Yet another reason may be the hassle of going into town to register at the ranger station and demonstrate that one has the proper equipment.
The established routes at Maryland Heights are clustered on or around "the sign." This crag has the potential for more routes to be established.
From left to right as one faces "the sign":
Dee's Rival (5.6 R)
"D" Route (5.4)
Hard On (5.8)
The Sign Route (5.10)-- an area classic
Hard Up (5.8)-- another area classic, also climbs the sign
"C" Route (5.4)
"A" Route (5.1)
There are two more walls, Guess Wall and Frenzy Wall, within short walking distance. They are not very popular and have shorter routes, and only a few at that. They are also difficult to approach. For more information on these walls and the area, get a copy of Eric Horst's Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.
Getting ThereHarpers Ferry National Historical Park and Maryland Heights lie within easy driving distance (90 minutes) of major cities such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Access is usually via US 340 which runs from I-70/270 near Frederick, MD, and I-66/81 in Northern Virginia.
There is a small parking area at the base of the climb on the Maryland side of the river which holds several cars. Access it via Harpers Ferry Road on the Maryland side of the river from US 340.
Far more convenient are the various parking options for Harpers Ferry itself. There is a huge parking area for the National Park a few miles south of town on US 340. Shuttle busses run into the historic areas frequently. Alternatively, you can park, carefully, on the side streets in town itself. A footbridge crosses the Potomac and accesses the Maryland Heights Trail.
Red TapeNo permits are required to hike Maryland Heights. Parking at the Park visitor's center (the large lot with the shuttle service) will cost you entrance fees.
Rock climbers are required to register at the ranger station in town and wear a helmet. Given the amount of loose rock on the cliffs and the number of people standing above you, this is a very prudent idea.
When To ClimbThe hiking trail up Maryland Heights can be undertaken at any time. Rock climbing is best in the fall and spring as the rocks are black and south-facing and can become brutally hot in the summer months.
CampingNo camping in the park and, given the length of any available hikes, none is needed. Long-distance cyclists and hikers can utilize the series of primitive campsites along the C&O Canal; the nearest to Maryland Heights is Weverton Campsite 2.7 miles downstream from Harpers Ferry. There is no water source at this site and all water should be packed in.
- Maryland Heights Annotated Trail Map
A nice map of some of the trails with points of interest along the way.
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