Part of moving is learning to adjust to new surroundings and establishing new routines, especially during COVID times. We’ve enjoyed the many benefits that come with city life, but it has been a learning experience of the most optimal way to get out into mountains. Turns out, a two hour drive one way is a lot bigger barrier than 20-40 minutes. So going forward, we plan on making a weekend of it with some camping and hotel stays. For now in efforts to get back on the trail, we visited the closest mountain to the D.C. area in Sugarloaf Mountain. And as part of adjusting to our new home, Bradley and Brenna joined us for this classic D.C. hike.
- Sugarloaf Mountain & Northern Peaks Trail
- type: loop
- distance: 6.75 miles
- elevation change: 1,348 ft
- time: 3:12 hours (3:02 moving)
- location: Near Clarksburg, Maryland (directions to trailhead)
Sugarloaf Mountain is is located on private property owned by Stronghold Inc. and open to the public (Sugarloafmd.com). The park is open from 8am to sundown. The property owners ask for a voluntary donation of USD$5 or more for the purpose of maintaining the property and facilities. Since this is a busy area, park only at designated areas or risk your car being towed.
For our hike, we mainly followed the Northern Peaks Trail, the Blue Trail, except to access the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. Since we were parked at the East View Parking lot, we took the Orange Trail up to the summit and the Red Trail down to the Blue Trail. The trail to the summit for the West View parking lot is the Green Trail. Majority of visitors seem to stay on these trails around the summit.
The trail system around Sugarloaf has several other loops including the Mountain Loop Trail that loops around the mountain for 2.5 miles (White Trail; alltrails) and the Saddleback Horse Trail that is a 7 mile trail that loops around the base of the mountain and open to horses year around and open to bikers between memorial day and labor day (Yellow Trail; alltrails). Lastly there is the Purple Trail, which is an alternative section to the Blue Trail we took to reach the White Rocks adding 0.5 miles.
There are a few picnic tables here and a view toward the farmland to the east.
There are two trails leading away from the East View trailhead, the Orange trail that heads up to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain and the White trail the bypasses it to connect to the Blue Trail. We headed to the summit by taking the left Orange trail on the left. As part of the Orange Trail, a 0.1 mile section of the a third mile long trail is the steepest we’d encounter on the entire day at a 31.5% grade.
Near the summit, the Orange Trail junctions into the Red Trail. We turned left to take it to the summit. Along the way, we saw some ice still remaining on the trails as we did the hike in the last few days of winter.
A few steps on the Red Trail and we reached the Sugarloaf summit.
There are several rocky outcrops here you can scramble upon
and enjoy the different views including one of the Monocacy River confluence with the Potomac River and the Dickerson Plant next to the confluence. These viewpoints sees a lot of traffic as evidenced by the trash left here despite the large sign to carry out your trash. We picked up the few we saw around us before we left.
We retraced our steps along the Red Trail off the summit and turned left right on the Blue Trail at the 1 mile mark of our hike. The downhill was at roughly -13.9% grade over a half mile.
We would be taking the Blue Trail counterclockwise for majority of the rest of our hike as it circles around the three other peaks here. In the first few steps along the Blue Trail, we junction twice with the White Trail, once as it comes from the East View parking area and once as it leaves us heading back toward the West View parking area.
The first 2.8 miles on the blue trail to the White Rocks undulated up and down as we continue along the ridge. In case of the first peak, the trail was just off the ridge. Typically the trail would have taken us through a tunnel of green, but we could still see a little out into the distance during this late winter day.
About 2 miles on our day (1 mile on the Blue Trail), we came to a few rocky boulders on the ridge that broke up the otherwise monotonous trail. There wasn’t much of a view here still.
Next was a five way junction between the Blue Trail, Yellow Trail, and the Purple Trail at the 2.5 miles on our. The Yellow Trail is a horse trail looping the base of the mountain while the Purple trail bypass the next couple peaks by taking a longer but with less elevation to the White Rocks. We stayed on the Blue Trail.
Our next peak was marked by a large summit cairn, but was again without a view. This was at the 3 mile mark of our hike.
The next portion of the ridge was probably my favorite as it was wide and had a more open feel with views of Sugarloaf Mountain. I imagine the fall foliage view from here would be nice.
Shortly after arriving at our final peak, we were at the junction from the Purple trail rejoining the Blue Trail and then the short spur for the White Rocks. This was at the 4 mile mark of our hike.
The White Rocks consist of two outcrops, the south outcrop
and the north outcrop. Both views are the same, but we found less people on the northern rocks. We didn’t stay for long though since the west facing outcrops meant the wind was blasted in our face.
From the White Rocks, the Blue trail drops down to the lowest point of our hike in the course of the next three quarter of a mile with an average grade of -7.9%. At the bottom, we come to Mount Ephraim Road and a couple of creeks. We turned left on the road for a short section of road walk.
The Yellow Trail also junctions with the road here, but for our hike we followed the Blue trail markers.
For the next 0.9 miles, the Blue Trail gained elevation at a 7.9% grade following a small creek before taking a switchback away from it. The uphill at the end of the day always made it seem worse than it was, either that or because my legs are no where near hiking shape currently.
At the top of our uphill, the Blue trail junctioned and joined the White trail for a half mile before leaving it and bring us to the West View Parking Lot.
At West View, there is an old Civil War signal station.
The view is of the west out toward the Potomac River. From here, Union observers watched the Army of Northern Virginia cross the Potomac to invade Maryland on Sep 5-6, 1862 (Heritage Montgomery).
To return to our car at East View, we walked the final half mile along the road connecting the two parking areas.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
view: 2. There are several overlooks from both Sugarloaf Mountain Summit and along the Northern Peaks Trail. However, since the mountain is a monadnock, everything around it is flat and pretty much farm land. Along the viewpoints, there are some boulders you can scramble around on, but otherwise you’ll be mostly among the trees. Perhaps the best time to visit is the spring time with plenty of wild flowers like Mountain Laurels or the fall with the changing leaves.
difficulty: 1. Other than the steep ascent on the Orange Trail we took to the summit, the overall elevation was only slightly over 1300 ft. This is also broken up over the course of the hike as the trail undulates going from ridge to ridge.
technical: 1. The trails here are well signed and very busy, so it is pretty easy to follow.
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