Balcony Rock in Harper’s Ferry, MD
For starters, I call this crag “hidden” because it’s pretty challenging to get to! Off the beaten path, so to speak. Although researching Balcony Rock online will take you to Mountain Project’s Balcony Rock page, the process of parking and finding your way to the trailhead is a bit mystifying. I made some errors getting here so you don’t have to; the bonus is, because this is difficult to get to, there aren’t many climbers on what is a relatively small crag. When Alex and I went on June 3rd, we had the place to ourselves for hours in the middle of the day!
Balcony Rock has a range of grades to climb, from the 5.7 classic “Crown of Thorns” to the more challenging end of the 5.10 range. There is also another crag, nicknamed “Balcony Jr.”, even further up the slope. Balcony Rock is better for toproping, while Balcony Jr. offers some great sport climbs, with ample opportunity to practice gear placements, if that’s your thing.
We took coordinates off of Mountain Project’s page, which turned out to be spot on. Parking in Harper’s Ferry, within walking distance of the trail, was a bit of a challenge. I am not someone who is comfortable parking in a “possible spot”, leaving my car to be ticketed or towed. I need to know a legit spot where I can leave my car all day without a second thought.
That being said, I identified two areas of possible parking. One was the MARC train station at the edge of the town of Harper’s Ferry itself (120 Potomac Street, Harpers Ferry, WV), while another was parking for the trail along the Potomac (560 Harper’s Ferry Road, Knoxville, MD). Either would mean about a 20 minute walk, but hey, why not a little extra exercise??
We ended up parking at the trail along the Potomac, because we got there at around 8:30 am. On the weekends you’ll want to arrive early to beat the tourists that come to walk the river trail. At this hour, we had no trouble parking, but when we came back in the afternoon folks were camping out on the side of the road waiting for spots. Yikes.
The River Walk
From the parking lot, we walked along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath in the direction of the coordinates. All in all, it was a lovely walkway. We actually had to walk past the coordinates, cut across a small (almost hidden) path over the train tracks to get up to the road, and then hike back along the road a little ways.
Another option is to just walk along Sandy Hook Road, but because of the narrowness of it and the speeding traffic, Alex and I did not feel safe doing that, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Once on the road, you’ll walk past some houses, a little pull-through area for buses, and then about another hundred feet down the road there is the trail head! Huzzah. Once on the trail head, the walk up to the crag is pretty self-explanatory.
What Balcony is Like
The view from the top of Balcony is incredible. Setting up top rope anchors is almost a treat, because you get to look over your shoulder and watch the Potomac slide by (that set-up is not mine by the way, some climbers were leaving when we first arrived). The top is a little exposed to the sun, but there are some trees a little further back to take shelter in. I’d recommend some static line for anchors, as some of the trees and boulders are situated a little further back.
The rock itself is fairly sturdy and hard, and mostly vertical. Some climbs, like Crown of Thorns, have shelves that are nice to stand and take a break on.
The crag is pretty long, so let me be clear here: you will probably need a 70 meter rope. We used 70 meters, and we had some extra length to spare, but not much. Maybe 60 m would work on the shorter left side, but I’d hate for you to get all the way up there only to have it not be long enough. Readers, any thoughts on this?
Because it is a less frequented area, the wildlife still hangs around. We saw the only two species of lizard in Maryland, as well as deer and a black rat snake. At the time we visited, the rock itself didn’t have any wasps nests or issues going on. Crown of Thorns, interestingly enough, has some thorny plants growing in the shelves.
Is it Worth the Hike?
Pshh. Yes! A 20-25 minute walk for some great and sheltered climbing is well worth it, in my opinion. Just be sure to take a lot of snacks and water with you, because once you get up there, you will be very hesitant to make the trek back to your car until you’re done for the day.
I hope I’ve been able to help you locate this crag and nab some stress-free parking! It’s a beautiful location away from the crowds of other crags like Carderock or Great Falls. As always, make sure you treat the crag with respect and take your trash and equipment with you when you leave.
Remember those other guys heading out when we arrived? They gave us an excellent tip about a local coffee shop in Harper’s Ferry. Not only do they have great coffee and local items for sale, they have a bouldering wall inside. No joke, you can boulder while you wait for your coffee. Also, how cute is the outside of the store? It’s called the Guide Shack; give it a look-see!
If you’ve climbed at Balcony Rock, what did you think? Leave your thoughts below!