Climbing

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Know before you go! Some areas are currently closed to climbing.
 

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Maryland Heights rugged cliff face on a sunny day
The rugged Maryland Heights cliff face on a sunny day.

NPS Photo / A. Blalock

Where can I climb in Harpers Ferry?

The cliff faces within Harpers Ferry National Historical Park are widely considered to be some of the best climbing in the area, drawing visitors to the cliffs each year. Within the park, there is a broad range of rock types, as well as a broad range of climbing, including traditional, top rope, belay, lead climbing and bouldering.
State Climbing availability
Maryland Open, except in seasonal peregrine falcon nesting areas
Virginia Closed
West Virginia Open, except for Jefferson Rock, Shenandoah Street Cliffs, and all cliffs along Shenandoah Street in the Lower Town of Harpers Ferry, WV

Currently, all rock-climbing activities, including traditional, top rope, belay, lead climbing, bouldering, etc. within the legislative boundaries of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, in the state of Virginia are closed through a Superintendent's Compendium closure (2021). All closures are in effect until the park can complete a climbing management plan.

Climbing activities within the state of West Virginia within the boundaries of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park are open, except for Jefferson Rock, Shenandoah Street Cliffs, and all cliffs along Shenandoah Street in the Lower Town of Harpers Ferry, WV.

All climbing activities in Maryland are allowed with the exception of a seasonal closure for nesting peregrine falcons. This closure of a portion of the main cliff of Maryland Heights takes place between February 15 and July 31 in order to protect the nesting site(s). The closure for peregrine falcon protection is limited to the area where nesting occurs and is determined and adjusted each year.

 

Goals of the Climbing Management Plan

A climbing management plan will provide the framework to manage rock climbing and related activities within Harpers Ferry Historical Park. The plan will consider the protection of the natural and cultural resources and the public’s desire to enjoy the park through climbing and related activities. The plan will address impact issues associated with access routes to climbing areas, climbing routes and will be consistent with laws, regulations, policy, and guidance. During the development of the plan, information will be collected on rock outcrops including locations, geology, ecological communities, important resources, and threats to those resources. Information will also be gathered on visitor recreational uses and their impacts on rock outcrop sites. The goals for the plan include the following.

  1. Preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources found in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park while providing for recreational climbing activities.
  2. Evaluate existing climbing within Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to determine which areas should be open and closed.
  3. Supply a set of written regulations and closures that park management can use in the education of climbers visiting the park.
  4. Set forth a clearly defined set of requirements for climbing within the Park that will allow for continued climbing activity within designated areas.
  5. Supply Law Enforcement Rangers with written guidelines, mapped climbing areas, and common climbing practices to better enforce climbing regulations and preserve resources.
  6. Engage the climbing community in cooperative stewardship of natural resources and the climbing experience;
  7. Build a foundation of data (status of natural resources, climbing routes and use patterns, and visitor effects on resource values) as a basis for future decision making;
  8. Provide a framework for a climber education program;

Plan Process

  1. Data Collection including inventory and mapping of routes, inventory of sensitive habitats and rare species, and Climbing User Survey*

  2. Public Scoping*
  3. Alternatives development and analysis for a range of potential management actions
  4. Development of Draft Plan / Environmental Assessment, including preferred management alternative
  5. Public Review and Comment Period of Draft Climbing Management Plan*
  6. Final Plan and Decision Document Published

*Opportunities for the public to provide input

 
A map of the Harpers Ferry area with hiking trails and features indicated.

NPS

Inventory and Mapping of Routes


In coordination with the climbing community, the Park has developed Geographic Information Systems mapping for all the climbing locations with the boundary of the park.

Inventory of Sensitive Habitats and Rare Species

The park is currently working with Pennsylvania State University to investigate the extent that recreational activities (e.g., rock climbing, fishing, hiking, and general visitation) affects the vegetation, primarily rare vascular species, in the shoreline, cliff-face, and cliff-top environments of Maryland Heights.

Climbing User Survey – COMING SOON

The park has been working with a research team, led by Old Dominion University, to develop a user survey specific to climbing within the park. The user survey will inform the climbing management plan for the park.

Timeline for Climbing Management Plan

Work will begin on the climbing management plan in the Fall of 2021. Additional information about the process and how to get involved will be available at that time.

 

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Regulations and Guidelines

  • Climbing on or around Jefferson Rock or anywhere along Shenandoah Street is prohibited per the Superintendent's Compendium.

  • Observe posted route closures; contact the park for specific closure areas.
  • Leave historical and natural objects undisturbed for the next visitor.
  • Please help protect your national park by not using vegetation as an anchor, do not deface, damage, or alter the natural rock surface, and practice Leave No Trace Principles. Do not leave gear on the cliffs or rocks.
  • Minimize erosion on your approach and descent. If an obvious main trail has been created, use it. Go slow on the way down to avoid pushing soil down the hill. Avoid walking on vegetation whenever possible
 

Climber Registration

  • Because the Lower Town Information Center is currently closed, climber registration is not required at this time.
  • Registration is required for all persons planning to climb on the cliff face on Maryland Heights. The free, required registration is in the best interest of the climber and the climbing community as it ensures climber safety, documents climbing use, and becomes part of a historical database.
  • To register before your climb, visit the Lower Town Information Center, ask the ranger or volunteer for the climbing registry book, and fill out your information in the log.
 

Safety Tips

  • Make sure all of your gear is in good, working condition.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Take drinking water.
  • If climbing during the summer months, follow these summer tips.
 
Peregrine falcon in flight
Peregrine falcon

NPS / Kelly J.

Peregrine Falcon Nesting

  • The Maryland Heights cliff face often closes between early April and mid-August in order to protect nesting peregrine falcons. Exact dates and locations may vary annually.

Last updated: June 8, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
National Park Service
PO Box 65

Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Phone:

(304) 535-6029

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