Spanning three different states and about nine miles, this venture was particularly meaningful because of where we were. Countless times, the Links have joined friends in tubes floating down the Potomac River past Harpers Ferry, under the pair of railroad bridges that disappear into the cliffs of the Maryland Heights to eat lunch on the famous Andy Bopp Memorial Rock in the shadow of the Loudoun Heights. We have always viewed them from the river. On this crisp spring day, we swapped swimsuits and beer for hiking boots and water and off we went.
First, some history.
Harpers Ferry lies at the juncture of the Shenandoah River (which winds northward from the Shenandoah Valley) and the Potomac River which continues east until it bisects Washington D.C. It is an absolutely stunning place that inspired Thomas Jefferson to laud its beauty. It is also dominated on two of three sides by high cliffs, which makes its selection as the primary location of America’s armory prior to the Civil War a questionable tactical choice.
To the south lie Loudoun Heights in Virginia, which feature great view of the famous Andy Bopp Memorial Rock (pictured here). This rock figures prominently in the escape of Andy Bopp, who would be the only survivor of John Brown’s Raid.
To the north is the Maryland Heights, a sheer cliff face that still features a fading advertisement for borated toilet powder which was painted on the cliff face decades ago.
Both of these areas of high ground overlooking Harpers Ferry and a substantial portion of the Union arms and gunpowder featured prominently in the Battle of Harpers Ferry. This is a story I have told many, many times. But until this day, I had never actually hiked up to either location.
The hike starts in West Virginia, where finding the actual trail up to Loudoun Heights is a little tricky and requires you to walk along a tiny shoulder on a very busy road. We had parked a car in Maryland as well – the loop requires you to cross a bridge that his closed to pedestrians for construction. We missed the trailhead the first time, but eventually we found what we were looking for and began our ascent.
We arrived at the cliffs just above the Andy Bopp Memorial Rock after only about 30 minutes of hiking. It was a great view, although the weather was still cold and cloudy. We were with tubing friends, Andy and Brian.
In this picture, we are sitting on the cliffs at Loudoun Heights. Out of the frame to the left, the Shenandoah River enters. Slightly off frame to the left is Harpers Ferry, the origin of the two railroad bridges you can see. And right over Andy’s shoulder, you can see your ultimate destination, the Maryland Heights.
After playing around on those cliffs for a few minutes, we trekked up the ridge-line for a few miles, and then cut downward into the Shenandoah valley. We hooked up with the Appellation Trail, which got us across the Shenandoah and into Harpers Ferry. Passed Jefferson’s Rock, and onto the railroad bridge.
If you don’t understand the barrel monument at Harpers Ferry, you don’t know your history of John Brown’s Raid. That’s the Andy Bopp Memorial in Harpers Ferry.
From the bridges, we hiked north along the trail we know very well from tubing to the famous ‘lower lot’ where picked up the trail and began the strenuous climb up to the Maryland Heights. It was a trail head we’d had seen countless times, but never ventured to explore. At this point, the whole hike was a little surreal – like watching your favorite movie dubbed in a foreign language.
The Maryland Heights hike was much more crowded, and the trail was much wider. We came across some real dobermans and pit bulls (my hand still has the scar, thank you). But they were really nice. Still, I gave them a wide berth.
We pushed up over the ridge, and then down again to the cliffs. Again, the view was spectacular. Totally worth the hike. But it had been miles and miles, and everyone was tired, so we didn’t do the full Maryland Heights loops (saving ourselves another 4 miles of hiking).
And then… we did Cracker Barrel.