Road Trip to the Mason-Dixon Line, Part 3 • March 18, 2017 • Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, the Maryland Heights Trail, and Washington Monument State Park
After our visit to Antietam, we drove about 20 minutes South to our next historic site, Harpers Ferry. We crossed the Potomac River into Virginia briefly then into West Virginia, and got a little too excited about adding these new states onto Charlotte’s list of states she’s been to (We had been to them both before, and together in 2012) not like she cares at all, but we sure do! 😉 (She’s up to 31 states and 5 provinces, in case you were wondering!)
Once in West Virginia, we turned off the main highway and drove into the little town of Harpers Ferry. It was so cute, but we suddenly had that overwhelming feeling that we hadn’t done enough research before arriving. Where was the visitor’s center? Where do we park? Where can we hike? Are dogs allowed? Sometimes just going with the flow works out great, but it was much busier here than we had anticipated so we felt the need to have a game plan. We drove around until we found parking on the side of the road near the old train station, then grabbed our stuff and started wandering.
Unlike with Antietam and Gettysburg, I hadn’t been here before, so neither of us knew what to expect. I just knew of one specific hike that I wanted to take — the Maryland Heights trail. This is probably one of the most popular hikes in this area as it is only 4 miles round trip and offers a great overlook to the town and the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers. But it wasn’t the popularity that fueled my desire, it was hearing about it from my family after they visited in 2014. It turned out to be a very memorable hike for them…but instead of me summarizing that experience, you just need to read about it on my dad’s blog. He shares their whole experience so well — go read his post HERE. I’ll wait. 🙂
We wandered around the town following Google Maps until we found information boards and signs for the trail. With this being a beautiful weekend right around spring break, the area was pretty busy, but it didn’t really bother us today. We were just excited to be out hiking in this GORGEOUS weather! We crossed the Potomac on the pedestrian bridge, then walked on a trail along the C&O Canal until we came to the trail for Maryland Heights across the highway. We realized here that we could have parked on this side of the Potomac in one of the small lots off of the highway if we had arrived earlier — but it didn’t really matter, we were excited to explore Harpers Ferry as well.
The hike to Maryland Heights is a bit steep, but is very well maintained. There were some puddles when we hiked it from the melting snow, and there were little patches of snow up on the ridge. Charlotte thought those patches were the greatest thing and used them to cool off. Once you reach the ridge, the trail to the overlook goes downhill through a series of switchbacks. I’m pretty sure I figured out which trail my family took, and we then made the executive decision to stay on the main trail and retrace our steps rather than live out their adventure. 🙂
We made it to the overlook, and found it to be very crowded. It was a challenge to try to get pictures with out anyone else in the way. Sadly, Curtis wasn’t able to attempt the letterbox around here because there were people in that spot that just wouldn’t leave, and they had the most unfriendly dog. So instead, we rested, had some cookies, stalled as long as we could just in case, then finally gave up and began our hike back. While we may have had a safe and easy hike today, we certainly don’t have as good a story to tell as my family! If we had more time, we would have enjoyed making this into a loop hike on the official trails to visit another fort, but it was around mid-afternoon already and the other trails appeared to be more covered in snow.
After making it back to Harpers Ferry, we found the visitor’s center where Curtis went to talk to the park ranger and Charlotte and I waited outside. He was impressed to find all the different programs they have to encourage learning and hiking around this area — there was an elaborate Junior Ranger program that National Parks offer, as well as a badge for hiking a number of nearby trails. This is definitely a spot we’d enjoy returning to! It seems to have it all when it comes to vacation areas — a cute town, lots of hiking trails, and plenty of history to learn about. It’s no wonder why there were so many people here. We finished up our time here by taking the Appalachian Trail a short walk up to Jefferson’s Rock, the location where Thomas Jefferson himself admired the view. Admiring the town, church, and river ourselves, we definitely felt that we could return to Harper’s Ferry.
Once we were finished here, we drove North to do a little more hiking before we ran out of daylight. Our destination was Washington Monument State Park — the one in Maryland, not in DC! This Washington Monument is the first monument to President Washington. We walked up the trail to see the monument and take in the view overlooking the Maryland countryside. We walked a little on the Appalachian Trail here to find some letterboxes. We learned that the 40 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland is totally dog friendly! The sun had almost set and was starting to get cold at this point, so we decided to finish up and head back to the hotel. We had packed a lot in to our day, and we felt so alive after being able to spend the full day outside without wearing coats!
As with the past 2 posts, Curtis will be writing a brief history about the Harper’s Ferry area, so stay tuned for that!