This is the start of our new series of Hiking parks near and around the DC Metro Area. The level of hiking will be aimed towards the older kids and adults. I would like to welcome Celeste Otsuka as our guest reviewer. Celeste does a lot of hiking, running and overall exploration of the best hiking spots that can be driven to over a weekend.
I live and work in Reston, VA, where I enjoy running on the many trails near my neighborhood early in the morning with my obnoxious headlamp. As a child, I fell in love with the idea of hiking after seeing the play “Into the Woods”, then quickly realized the two were not related. Now, I largely solo hike on every type of trail – from those strenuous enough to include some difficult rock scrambling to what I term “nature walks”. Seven backpacks later, I’m convinced I’m ready to start another big adventure. -Celeste Otsuka
First up in Celeste’s Hiking Series is Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD. Not very far from the VA line and a beautiful drive through Lucketts, VA and Point of Rocks, MD.
As it was New Year’s Day, the park’s Visitor Center was closed (as were all the restroom facilities on site). Visitors to the park should always check the website, facebook, or twitter prior to going for any updates (including closures due to presidential visits). Prior to actually coming to the park, I had selected the 8 Mile Loop from the park’s website. I kept trail map up on my phone while I was hiking. I have Verizon cellular coverage, and I never experienced any issues with dead zones and had LTE for most of my visit. While the Visitor Center is likely usually well stocked with maps, it was not that day – so I was glad to have the map on my phone.
8 Mile Loop Map http://www.nps.gov/cato/
Catoctin Mountain Park borders Cunningham Falls State Park (where Cunningham Falls is located). The trail loop that I followed made a stop at the falls within the first two miles. Note that Catoctin is a National Park and Cunningham Falls is a State Park – there are slight differences in park rules that visitors should be aware of.
As I went during winter and fairly early in the morning (I arrived to the park around 8:00am), there were very few other visitors, and I did not encounter other people on the trails until about 3 miles into my hike. There are certain parts of the trail that offer a decent ascent/descent, but overall, if you hike the trail in a clockwise manner as I did, I found it to be a more moderate than strenuous hike. However, the trail itself is very rocky, so I’d still suggest wearing hiking boots with good ankle support.
As far as scenery goes, the trail is heavily wooded with interesting rock formations that jut out over most of the trail. There are several vistas and large rock formations of interest that are pointed out by the trail map. Each location is well marked on the trail with distance markers. The trail itself is fairly well worn, so even beginning hikers should have no problems navigating the trails. The section of the trail that winds from the Park Headquarters back to the Visitor Center is both very rocky and somewhat underused. However, that section is blazed with blue ties on the trees, so hikers can find their way through.
Prior to coming to the park, I did read reviews that the park is pretty riddled with ticks in the summer months, but in the winter, there were very few bugs in sight! This is a great hike for a chilly fall/winter day. I’d suggest going early to avoid crowds.