Welcome to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a small charming town that is home to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. While there’s enough to keep you entertained within town, while you’re visiting, it’s worth hitting the trails to capture the most beautiful view of Harpers Ferry and the surrounding nature.
Commonly referred to as the best view in West Virginia, the Maryland Heights Overlook needs to be at the top of your Harpers Ferry bucket list.
You can take multiple routes to reach this spot, which provides a fantastic view of Harpers Ferry, the Potomac River, and the surrounding Appalachian mountains. This is a fantastic, family-friendly day trip option from your Mountain Mama cabin rental.
Getting to the Harpers Ferry Overlook
The overlook is located on the Maryland Heights Trail in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The park, which sits at the confluence of the Potomac River and Shenandoah River, is a popular destination for history and nature lovers alike.
To reach the overlook, you can either start at the Visitor’s Center or at Lower Town. The national park service (NPS) recommends that hikers use the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center and either start their trail there or utilize the free park shuttle system to reach the Lower Town Trailhead.
At the Visitor’s Center, you can pick up a trail map. Otherwise, use AllTrails to navigate your way.
Maryland Heights Trail
The Maryland Heights trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park due to the spectacular Maryland Heights Overlook, allowing incredible views over the town and beyond. There are three different routes you can take, but note that even the shortest route is rather steep! Expect the hike to be quite strenuous if you are not in good shape, and children under ages 8-10 may struggle to keep up. For those who make it though, the views are well worth the trip!
The first route, and the shortest of the three, is the Lower Town to Maryland Heights Overlook route.
This trail is 4.5 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,154 feet. Expect to take around 3.5 hours to complete this moderately strenuous hike.
The second route is Lower Town to Maryland Heights Overlook, including the Stone Fort Trail. This route is similar to the first but includes the scenic Stone Fort Trail.
In total, this route is 6.2 miles with an elevation gain of 1,522 feet. With this much elevation gain, give yourself 4.5-5 hours to complete this moderately difficult trail.
For a longer hike, take the route from the Visitors Center to Maryland Heights Overlook, including the Stone Fort Trail.
The hike from the Visitors Center adds a few miles, making this route about 9.5 miles roundtrip. With a heart-pumping 1,771-foot elevation gain, expect this hike to take 6.5-7 hours.
Additional Attractions on the Trail
While the Maryland Heights Overlook Trail is best known for its spectacular overlook cliff, there are other points of interest along this hike. There are numerous natural and Civil War-era sites that will be appreciated by history buffs and nature lovers alike.
The Appalachian Trail
The first is the Appalachian Trail, which you will walk along for a few minutes as you leave Lower Town and cross the footbridge over the Potomac River. The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile hike from Georgia to Maine, and Harpers Ferry is considered the halfway point of the trek.
C&O Canal Towpath
Next, you will walk along the C&O Canal Towpath. This towpath follows the Potomac river and historically was used to move goods up and down the Potomac Valley. Mules would walk along the sides while towing boats through the canal!
The C&O Canal Towpath is another long-distance trail, stretching 184.5 miles from Georgetown, Washington, DC, all the way through Harpers Ferry and ending in Cumberland, Maryland. Known as a popular biking trail, the towpath also makes for a lovely walk.
1862 Naval Battery
Further along the trail, it is possible to take a short detour to see the 1862 Naval Battery. This marker shows an important historic site in Harpers Ferry: the first Union fortification. On the green-blazed trail, go straight at the first intersection to see this interesting piece of history before returning back to the green trail and going right.
Civil War Stone Fort
If you choose to take the Stone Fort Trail, you will be rewarded with Civil War artillery batteries and the Civil War Stone Fort. The fort was originally designed by engineers for the Union army to be an infantry blockhouse in 1863. It was never completed and eventually was used as a commissary and storage area. The ruins still stand today and are a fascinating stop along your hike.
When to Visit the Maryland Heights Overlook
To Avoid Crowds
With the fantastic views that the Maryland Heights overlook offers, it’s no surprise that it is a very popular hike. It can be very crowded on weekends and holidays, so for a quieter hike, you are best off going on a weekday or in the off-season. If you do go on a weekend, beat the crowds by heading out early–it’s a great place to watch the sunrise!
Each season offers its own perks for this hike. In spring and summer, the warm, sunny days are great for a hike and long daylight hours give you plenty of time to do whichever route you choose.
Visiting Harpers Ferry in autumn provides incredible views with vivid fall foliage as far as the eye can see. Harpers Ferry is a popular fall destination for leaf peepers and outdoor enthusiasts, and you are guaranteed great photo opportunities when you reach the overlook.
In winter, the chilly days mean you will have much smaller crowds, even on weekends. Another bonus of winter is that you will have perfect, unobstructed views from the overlook with no leaves or foliage blocking the scene.
Other Nearby Overlooks
If you can’t get enough of the lovely views of Harpers Ferry, there are more overlooks that are well worth a visit.
Jefferson Rock is one of the top attractions in Harpers Ferry and certainly has one of the most interesting stories. This site is named for Thomas Jefferson, who famously visited the rock on October 25th, 1783, during his journey through the country. He wrote in his journal about the beauty of the area, saying the view from Jefferson Rock alone is “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Jefferson Rock is located along the Appalachian Trail and is easily reached just a few minutes uphill from town. Enjoy majestic views over the Potomac and Shenandoah as you stand where Thomas Jefferson once stood. Note that actually climbing on top of Jefferson Rock, as Jefferson himself did, is prohibited and quite dangerous, but the views are superb without requiring you to be atop the rock.
Loudoun Heights Overlook
Just across the river from the Maryland Heights overlook, you will find the Loudoun Heights Overlook. This 7.5-mile roundtrip trail is considered strenuous and will take you around 4-5 hours, and you will be rewarded at the overlook with fantastic views of Harpers Ferry, the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and Pleasant valley to the east.
While the Loudoun Heights Trail is a popular hiking location, it is less so than the Maryland Heights overlook, meaning you should encounter fewer people.
Bolivar Heights Scenic Overlook
Just outside of Harpers Ferry is the Bolivar Heights Overlook, another great spot offering numerous routes to suit all activity levels. The Bolivar Heights Overlook provides memorable views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Potomac River water gap, and the Shenandoah valley.
Bolivar Heights is unique because here, you can find stunning views without any hiking required. There are four routes to the overlook, the shortest being 0.3 miles and the longest being 4.1 miles, but you can also use the small parking area at the overlook and be just steps from panoramic overlooks. This makes it a great destination for people with mobility challenges. The short distance from the car also makes it a great spot to set up a lavish picnic.
Soak Up the Views at The Harpers Ferry Overlook
Make lifelong memories and enjoy stunning views of Harpers Ferry and its surroundings when you take a day trip to hike the Maryland Heights trail. This overlook provides a great mix of history and natural beauty and is the perfect, family-friendly activity during your West Virginia vacation.