Hiking Maryland Heights, Part 2: Stone Fort Trail

Fellow blogger J. Hammer graciously agreed to guest blog for the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog about hiking along Maryland Heights, near Harpers Ferry. This is part 2 of his two-part series.

Last post I mentioned that I hadn’t hiked the Stone Fort Trail section of Maryland Heights due to a lack of time. Well, I had plenty of free time on Tuesday, 11 November to complete this section of the trail, and it was well worth it.



Distances: from the Maryland Heights Trail Guide: railroad bridge to Stone Fort (round trip): about 6 miles (4 hours)


Combined Trail: Green Blaze

Stone Fort Trail: Blue Blaze (note: the blazes were light blue; in harsh/bright sunlight, the blue blazes look almost white)

Except for a few spots, the trail is clearly marked, but I included the blaze information anyway.


First, you’ll have to reach the Maryland Heights trailhead, and hike part of the way up the hill, as I described in my previous post.

The Stone Fort Trail starts not far from the Naval Battery (described in the previous post) which sits at about 679 feet, and it goes UP to over 1440 feet.

The start of the Stone Fort Trail.

It goes up!

…and up…

…and up…
During your climb, you’ll probably want to stop to rest, catch your breath,
and look around a bit. In this picture, you can see the remnants of Dam #3 on the Potomac.

The path you’re hiking is basically an old military road. The soldiers used this path to climb Maryland Heights during the many efforts to fortify it in the Civil War. One information sign along the trail acknowledges the steepness of the trail. “Tired and breathless?” it asks. “You are experiencing the hardship of a Union soldier climbing to reach his work place (or fort) or his home (a tent or log cabin),” the sign states. Then the sign suggests trying the ascent helping haul a 9700-pound gun tube or a week’s supply of water. Lincoln himself attempted to climb up to the batteries. Following the Battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln came to Maryland to review the army, including the garrisons on the mountain. He began the ascent, but because of the steepness of the slope, turned around halfway up, concluding any man who could make the climb would pass his muster. Even Lincoln couldn’t finish this climb, but you can! 


Eventually you reach a more level spot on the ridge. This flatter area is where Civil War soldiers lived and worked for more than 3 years.

The campground is bordered by the exterior fort, a rock wall breast works that leads from the top of the ridge down the hill toward the Potomac River.


To the right from the breast works is a set of stairs which will lead you up to the top of the ridge, and the interior of the Stone Fort.

Some of the Stone Fort ruins:

There are some nice views of the Potomac from the Stone Fort vista
(although a better view was from the 100-pounder battery)

The Stone Fort is a great place to stop for lunch, since it’s about halfway through the hike, and you’ve got a nice place to sit, relax, and take in the view (…and dry out a bit, since you’ve probably worked up a sweat just getting here.)


Once you leave the Stone Fort area, the path takes you along the top of the Maryland Heights ridge, winding you through more wooded and rocky areas. At times it was difficult to discern if I was still on the trail,

You’ll eventually reach the 100-pounder battery, site of the heaviest and highest gun on Maryland Heights. As you can see, it would have had a commanding view of the Potomac River and Loudoun Heights (VA).

From the 100-pounder battery location, you can see Brunswick, MD, and Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.

A short distance from the 100-pounder battery, you start a rapid descent from the top of the ridge. This part of the trail is very rocky, so take your time and use your walking stick or trekking poles for balance.

Looking back toward the ridge:



After descending from the ridge, the trail takes you to the final ‘spot of interest’ on the Stone Fort hike: The 30-pounder battery. The remnants of the fortification, a moat and rampart, are clearly evident. There’s a ramp that allows you to cross over the rampart and explore the battery area.

Inside the battery


The battery operated up to six guns, able to reach Loudoun Heights in Virginia, and Bolivar Heights, above the town of Harpers Ferry.


After the 30-pounder battery, you’ll continue down the hill toward the main trail. The Stone Fort trail connects with the combined trail not far from the turnoff to the Overlook Trail. If you’re not too exhausted, hang a left at the trail intersection to take a trip to the overlook if you haven’t seen that yet. Otherwise, going right will take you back down toward the Maryland Heights trailhead, and back to town.

Stop by one of the shops in town for some ice cream or another snack, you’ve earned it!

Happy Hiking!

Tip #1: If you can’t tell by the photos, the trail is somewhat steep, in some places more than others. Take your time and bring plenty of water (there are no fountains or water access on the trail at all). Also, make sure you take care of restroom business in town before you cross over the river.

Tip #2: I strongly recommend a hiking stick or trekking poles to help you up the side of the mountain. There’s plenty of loose gravel, rocks, and tree roots on the trail, so mind your steps.

Tip #3: There are a very small number of spots near the trailhead, so unless you get there early, you probably won’t get a spot. I recommend parking at the visitor center, taking the bus into town, and walking the rest of the way.

Tip #4: The Stone Fort is a nice place to stop for a lunch break, so if you’re willing and able to haul some food up the mountain, go for it, but please make sure you pack out your trash, as there are no trashcans anywhere on the trails.

Dogs: You can bring dogs along, but please make sure you clean up after them as well. Leave no trace except footprints.

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hikes.htm

Did you enjoy Hiking with Hammer? For more Hiking with Hammer posts, check out my blog, Hiking with Hammer.

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I’d love to hear what you’re doing! Email [email protected] if you’re interested in being a guest-blogger!