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Loudoun Heights at Harper’s Ferry

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Hike Summary

I recently finished reading an excellent book: John Brown, Abolitionist, by David Reynolds. Since I had been steeped in so much history, and since the guys a HikingUpward had recently posted a new hike from Harpers Ferry up to Loudoun Heights via the AT, I figured it would be a good time to go visit.

Spring has given way to Summer, and this was a scorcher of a day. I managed to completely luck out and get a parking spot at the downtown parking lot (something I can’t imagine will ever happen again,) and I set out.

Harpers Ferry itself is almost entirely National Park, with most of the buildings serving as museums or commercial locations. I’m not sure anyone actually lives in the town, most people live nearby in Bolivar, WV. I followed the AT through down, passing by St. Peter’s church, the ruins of St. John’s church, and Jefferson Rock. You really can throw a rock and hit a historic site in this town.

John Brown himself held the armory for several days in 1859, his fort is still standing and serves as a museum site, and is one of the more popular attractions in town.

The day was really sweltering, and I was drenched in sweat for most of the hike, and I also had the unfortunate luck to forget my bandanna. Most of the hike was shady, but there were a few spots that were under the hot sun, and both I and my dog could feel the effects.

Passing on the AT over the Route 340 bridge was one of these spots. The sun beat down, but the view of the Shenandoah River was quite nice, nice enough to make me want to go down for a swim.

Then came the hill. Obviously, Loudoun Heights implies that it is indeed upon a hill, and so up a hill we went, following the AT on switchbacks, going up some cliffs above route 340, and along through the woods. I met a couple of day hikers, who asked me if I knew where the WV state line was. I confirmed on my GPS unit that it was along the Loudoun Heights trail, which was where I was headed, not far from where we’d met.

At the Loudoun Heights trail, there was a bit of up and down, with a few bits of clover flowers and the ruins of some Civil War Era fort emplacements. It isn’t as well documented with signage as Maryland Heights on the opposite side of the gorge. As with the view from that side, this side was quite impressive, seeing the rivers merging together, and seeing all the buildings below like little toys.

On the way back, I started humming the tune to “John Brown’s Body,” (better known now as the Battle Hymn of the Republic,) and gave in to the tradition of making up new and inventive lyrics:

“When we get to Harpers Ferry we’re going to eat us some ice cream”

“Oh yes, we will indeed!”

I had spied the two frozen custard stands on High Street, and when I made my way back into town, I stopped at The Coffee Mill and got some for myself and my dog. The prices were a little steep there, but it was totally worth it. The dog and I were both incredibly happy at the end.

Harpers Ferry Loudoun Heights

Maryland Heights – Harpers Ferry NP

Hike Summary

I am convinced that Harpers Ferry, WV has only one type of weather: overcast. Every time I’ve been here, it’s always been grey and gloomy. This day, it was particularly chilly, and I kicked myself for not bringing gloves.

One of the problems with hikes with a lot of hills is that one gets overheated going up, and then freezing at the top/on the way down. Luckily, my jacket still keeps me warm, even when soggy.

Navigating to/around this park is kind of a pain — there’s a big visitor’s center over near Bolivar, with a nice spacious parking lot and a shuttle down to the town. A shuttle that of course doesn’t allow dogs, so if you want to visit the downtown area, you need to drive in and hope there’s parking. Same for the various parking areas around the trailheads — the first parking area was actually full, but luckily there was an additional one, which put me on the C&O Canal towpath for a short distance.

It’s also a pretty busy trail, even in the middle of the week in a chilly autumn, I saw several groups of hikers coming back from the cliff vista area when I was on my way up. I would eventually head there myself, but I wanted to get up to the summit of Maryland Heights first.

There are a lot of informative placards on the trail, and the trail itself is pretty wide on the way up. It is steep though — a real “ball buster” of an incline. It was a 1400 ft incline in the space of a couple of miles. I had a good chuckle when I read a sign that mentioned that even Lincoln, when he was there to inspect the Union fortifications, decided that he didn’t want to go up to the summit.

Once up at the top, there are good views to the east, where there were gun emplacements to keep watch over the Potomac, and some towards the south towards Loudoun Heights. Even though the place was heavily settled during the war, nature has taken its course over the past 150 years and obscured much under layers of leaves and plenty of tree regrowth. The signs are definitely there, though.

On the way back down to the junction, the trail gets really steep and narrow, with a lot of sliding rock. It got better when I went on the trail to the cliff overlook though, with a lot of switchbacks, that made the way a lot easier.

The overlook is fantastic, offering a wonderful view of the old downtown, as well as up the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. I took quite a few pictures, and most of them came out pretty well, despite the crappy weather.

I tried not to dally too much around on this hike because of the weather and my hands getting cold — same with the visit to Harpers Ferry in general. I find the driving in this area to be a little stressful, and I had farted around a bit at home before I set out this day, which made me take too long. I really want to take some time to visit the downtown again and poke around the buildings, maybe visit the AT center that’s there, and the bigger gift shop. Well, there will be more opportunities, I’d like to hike some of the other trails that are around the park area.

More Pictures of Maryland Heights