Hiking – AT NOBO – Harpers Ferry to Crampton Gap

Distance: 6.3 miles from Weverton Cliffs (9.9 miles including the C&O Canal)

Hike Time: 3 hours

Elevation Gain: ~1,200 feet

Hiking Map

Starting Maryland Northbound

Route Overview

The AT through Maryland is notoriously flat (and short). Despite the short distance (+/- 40 miles) and mild topography, the Maryland section of the AT contains many Civil War historical sites (if you are into that sort of thing).

The AT follows the ridgeline of South Mountain and the Battle of South Mountain occurred at several points along the ridge. In fact, the trail parallels many of the paths taken by soldiers during the Civil War. So put on your history hat if you want to make the AT in Maryland more interesting.

The route North

The first section (NOBO) in Maryland is potentially the most scenic. After crossing the Potomac River from West Virginia, the AT follows the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal along the Potomac for 3 miles. The trail then turns North as you begin the climb to the top of Weverton Cliffs.

Weverton Cliffs overlook - 12-27-20
Looking North toward Harpers Ferry from Weverton Cliffs

After gaining about 600 feet in elevation, there is a small detour to the overlook at Weverton Cliffs. Don’t miss this! The view is the reward for one of the “toughest” climbs in Maryland. It’s the last time you will see the Potomac River if you are heading Northbound.

After a small detour to the overlook, the terrain is very flat and comfortable. The AT has flat sections, but they can be loaded with sharp rocks. Not true for this section. It’s very easy on the knees and the feet.

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Edward Garvey Shelter Sign on the AT

Another 2 miles North and you stumble upon the Edward Garvey Shelter. It’s a really nice shelter with a spring (although I couldn’t locate it). It’s a good place to grab a snack and/or drink. After about 4 more miles of rolling up and down the ridge, you drop into Crampton Gap for a Civil War history lesson.

Overall this is an easy hike. The only real challenge is hiking up Weverton Cliffs in the beginning. It’s a good warm up for the rest of the hike. At the overlook, you can stretch while you take in the view.


Let’s hike in the cold

Ah the first hike of Winter. Cold weather shouldn’t stop you from hiking. After about 20 minutes of climbing at the beginning of our hike, we all stopped near the “summit” to remove a layer of clothing. If you keep moving, you should stay warm (and maybe even get too hot) hiking in the Winter (especially when going uphill).

However, the problem with getting to a high point is that you heat up, shed a layer, and then want to stop and take in the view. That is exactly what we did. Not only did we stop moving, we were also exposed to wind. Just a few minutes after taking off my jacket, I had to put it back on to stay warm.

Dress in layers!

Weverton Cliffs

We started hiking from the Weverton Cliffs parking lot (see map). So we technically skipped the Southern-most section of Maryland along the C&O Canal. We will get to it another time (it’s completely flat).

At the top of the initial climb, we took the short detour and stopped at the top of Weverton Cliffs to see the Potomac River flow by.

North to Crampton Gap

The remainder of this section was quite easy. The only obstacles along the trail were the dozens of ice pools which froze from previous water puddles. It had “warmed up” to 32 degrees when we started early in the morning, so needless to say it was below freezing over night.

Edward Garvey Shelter

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Edward Garvey Shelter with birdhouse

About 2 miles from Weverton Cliffs we came across the Edward Garvey Shelter. It was a nice shelter and looked like it had been recently rebuilt.

There was a group of folks hanging out at the shelter which prevented us from exploring it in detail. The shelter also has a small-scale “replica” as a bird house.

There is a spring at the Garvey shelter but I was unable to locate it. Typically you follow the side trail (usually blue blaze) until you hit the spring.

Fallout

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Dave points out the fallout shelter near Crampton Gap

In addition to the Civil War remnants along the AT, there are a few fallout shelters (or bunkers) just off the trail. It looked like there was an electric hookup to the shelter too. We weren’t sure if they are still in use or who built them. Maybe it was a smaller version of something built during the Cold War. Maybe it was an access point to a tunnel network beneath the mountains.

Crampton Gap

After some more gradual up and down terrain (and the occasional ice pool) we ended our day at Crampton Gap. Located in Gathland State Park, Crampton Gap is full of Civil War-era history. The Battle of Crampton’s Gap (part of the battle of South Mountain) was fought on September 14th 1862.

The trail passes next to a mausoleum (apparently unused) which was built by George Alfred Townsend (aka Gath). The park was formally Townsend’s estate. Townsend was a journalist during the Civil War and erected the War Correspondents Memorial Arch located in the middle of the park.

Flora and Fauna

Nothing to report. Hiking in Winter is great. However most of the animals are hibernating and the trees have no leaves.

Next Hike

We will attempt to close the gap in completing the Maryland AT section in a Northbound direction. We have already completed the section from Wolfsville Road to Pen Mar. Next hike we will likely be continuing Northbound from Crampton Gap to the “original” Washington Monument, or continuing Southbound from the Roller Coaster at Ashby Gap approaching Shenandoah National Park.

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