Maryland? Yes, this is a hike report about a local Maryland hike as we start to transition to the D.C. area.
- name: Catoctin Mountain Park & Cunningham Falls loop
- type: loop
- distance: 8.8 miles
- elevation change: 1793 ft ascent and descent
- time: 3:30 hours moving (4:15 hours total time)
- location: Catoctin Mountain Park, near Thurmont (direction to trailhead)
- There is a network of trails at Catoctin Mountain Park divided into the east side and the west side of the park (the portion in between and the top of Catoctin Mountain is where Camp David is located). Several different loops and routes can be done here.
- There is no fee for the Catoctin Mountain Park
- Our loop took us briefly into Cunningham Falls State Park.
- There are several climbing options in Catoctin Mountain Park.
Looking for some local hikes in the D.C. area, Catoctin Mountain Park seems to be one of the more popular areas. Looking on Hiking Upwards and Alltrails, there seemed to be a nice loop that covers the main viewpoints of on the east side of the park. Being a popular area, it was recommended that to get there early if you’d like to have solitude for the main viewpoints.
An advice I did not heed as we arrived at the park around 1pm. The parking lots were full around the visitor center and we parked on Foxville Road.
After a bathroom break, we started on our loop in a counterclockwise direction heading for Chimney rock first on the trail paralleling Foxville Road for about a mile before turning left and uphills at the next junction. There were additional parking lots found along the road and at the park headquarters in case you want to get a jump start in the morning for Chimney Rock. An interesting feature of the trail here is that there is a decent amount of rocks to hop over on the trail.
The steepest climb of the day starts at this point over the next half of mile. On the way up, you pass a few large boulders before turning left at the next junction as you reach the ridge.
The trail along the ridge is a wide and easy half mile walk. Through the trees, you can start to see a buildup of boulders making the base of Chimney Rock. The trail circles around the base before another incline to the spur for the viewpoint.
Chimney Rock consisted several outcrop of rocks separated by varying sized gaps.
Hopping over a sizable gap and climbing up,
you get a view of the last outcrop that I’d assume is where the Chimney name comes from. To get onto the rock, you have to go back, bushwack and loop around to the left (facing the outlook) to the base of the outcrop before scrambling up. An additional benefit of getting up here early may be a possible of nice sunrises, something I’ll have to see in the future. Be sure of yourselves if you do decide to scramble around these rocks as this can be dangerous.
We then continued along the ridge for less than half a mile toward Wolf rock. The trail declined for a short distance before curving around a rocky ridge protruding out of the ground on the right. At the spur for Wolf Rock, you’ll hike up onto the rocky ridge.
To continued along the Quartzite ridge with many deep crevices, minor scrambling is needed. This area is a place where you can climb around and it looks like there are possible caves that maybe possibly be explored. Again, be mindful of the dangers of the crevices.
At the end of the area, there is a wolf looking rock where the area gets its name from. I’d say it looks more like a dog. A couple vultures were hanging around waiting for food scraps dropped by those having lunch in the area.
We returned to the trail and continued on toward the next view point. Before the next viewpoint, there is a trail junction that you can take back toward the visitor center 0.3 miles from Wolf Rock should you want a shorter hike. From the junction, it is 1.5 miles back to the visitor center. It seems like this shorter loop is what majority of hikers were doing as the number of people we saw on the trail dropped as we continued straight on our large loop.
The next viewpoint is the Thurmont Vista and we reached it after 0.7 miles. The view is of the town of Thurmont with a bench to take a break on.
From the vista, the trail descended for 0.4 miles toward another 4 way junction. From the junction you can turn left to return to the visitor center, straight for a parking lot off the Park Central Road, or turn right toward the next viewpoint along the north side of the mountain. We took the last option. The trail starts to descend further among many fresh downfalls, possibly from a windstorm during the previous month, before climbing back up. There were also some more large boulders. It wasn’t the most interesting section, but we didn’t see any other hikers as we
reached the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook after 0.7 miles, which refers to the town of Blue Ridge Summit, PA and not the immediate summit of Piney Mountain.
Shortly after the overlook, the trail crosses the Park Central Road and continues toward Hog Rock. There are again some cool boulders in this section. Hog Rock is part of a small nature walk loop with labels of the trees in the area. The loop itself was only half a mile, but wasn’t very interesting other than chipmunks scrambling around.
A little over a half a mile from the road cross, there is one more overlook at Hog Rock looking east.
The trail then started to descend over the next mile while crossing a stream and passing more rock features toward Foxville Road with the last portion the steepest and covered in leaves. There is a junction right before the busy road with a left turn back toward the visitor center and our car. However, we crossed over the road with great care and into Cunningham Falls State Park. As you can tell by the name, the Boardwalk Trail on the other side of the road continues along a creek
toward the Cunningham Falls. It’s always cool to see the icicles among the falls in the winter.
The boardwalk ends with warning signs about climbing up on the rocks around the falls and no swimming signs. A gate use to be part of the railing, but now has been boarded up. From all the signage and a bit more trash I picked up around the falls, I imagine this is a pretty popular area in the summer and someone might been stupid and got hurt. The maps are very clear that the Boardwalk trail does not connect with the Lower Trail on the other side of the creek even though it would have been only a few rock skips to cross.
After the falls, we backtracked to the junction crossing over Foxville Road again and hiking the last mile or so back on the Falls nature Trail amongst hauntingly beautiful trees still with their wilted leaves in the golden hour sun
toward the visitor center and our car.
- views: 3. The loop we took through the eastern portion of Catoctin Mountain Park took us to several overviews, but it was the rock formations as part of the vistas and along the trail that makes for the best views in the park. My favorites in the park was Wolf Rock and the Chimney Rock. If you don’t want to do the 9 mile loop, a short loop to see those two are worth it. The edge mountain ridges doesn’t have the elevation profile and layering seen in the Virginia so vista are just ok. What pushes it just into a 3 rating for me is the addition of Cunningham Falls. The negative of this hike is the crowds of being near D.C., but we didn’t find it overwhelming at all on this 40-50 degree fahrenheit Saturday in March. You won’t find solitude on this hike, but you can definitely enjoy yourself in the wild if you plan accordingly.
- difficulty: 2. The loop had a good amount of elevation change, but that’s spread out across a long distance mostly undulating on the ridges. There are 2 main elevation changes going up to Chimney Rock and down from Hogs Rock.
- technical: 1. The trail itself was well marked and easy to follow. There are also plenty of people to ask. Be mindful of your own abilities and the conditions if you plan to scramble and climb around the rocks.