View from High Rock on Quirauk Mountain

View from High Rock on Quirauk Mountain

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gathland State Park to Weverton Cliff

For this hike, I was joined by fellow blogger and day trips enthusiast, Jody of Please take a trip over to her site, you might find something that suits your interests!

Gathland State Park is a small but beautiful state park on South Mountain, near Burkitsville, Maryland. Gathland SP occupies Crampton's Gap, the southernmost site of the Battle of South Mountain, which occurred on 14 September 1862, as a prelude to the Battle of Antietam. Confederate forces held three gaps in South Mountain: Fox's Gap, Turner's Gap, and Crampton Gap; in an effort to delay the Union Army's pursuit of Lee's divided forces. (I have previously blogged about my visit to Fox's and Turner's Gaps, so feel free to read that entry as well.)

The Appalachian Trail traverses through the park, passing by the base of the first monument dedicated to War Correspondents, built by the park's namesake, George Alfred Townsend, who wrote under the pen name "Gath."

In the late 1800's, Townsend called the land that is now Gathland SP his home. Two of the buildings from his estate survive, one of which now serves as the park's museum.  We didn't visit the museum, but I'll probably come back another time to have a look.

The Hike

We hiked the almost 7 miles from Gathland SP to Weverton Cliffs.  It's a relatively 'level' hike with no major climbs, and only a sharp descent at the end to the Weverton Cliffs parking lot.

For our hike, we met at the Weverton Cliff parking lot (see my previous blog), and left one of our cars at that lot, and drove the other car to Gathland SP via MD-67, on the west side of South Mountain. There's a good-sized parking lot at Gathland SP, along Arnoldtown Road. However, I'd recommend getting there early before it fills up.

To get to the AT southbound, head back toward the intersection of Gapland Road and Arnoldtown Road. Cross the intersection (and be careful, the cars coming up on Gapland Road from Burkittsville can come up fast) Since the trail access isn't abundantly obvious from the parking lot, I'll include the following map:

While heading toward the trail, stop by the War Correspondents Memorial and the Battle of South Mountain plaques and displays. Then walk up the park road (shown above), bearing to the left.  There will be a sign directing you to the AT, where it re-enters the woods. (I apologize that I failed to photograph the sign, but you'll be able to find your way, I hope.)

The trail gently climbs out of Gathland SP along the western side of the South Mountain ridgeline. At some places along the trail, you can look west to see Elk Ridge, also known as Maryland Heights.

Along the way, you'll come across a pass or fire road, just continue straight along the trail.

Huge rock, with trekking pole for scale:

The trail is very rocky, so be sure to wear sturdy boots.  Aside from that, there are generally no major climbs or descents along the trail - they're all thankfully gradual elevation changes.

About 4 miles into the hike, you'll come across a side trail (on the left hand side, if you're going south) to the Ed Garvey Shelter. The Garvey shelter looked really nice, and has an "upper deck" with plexiglass windows facing both east and west, a good sized fire pit to one side of the shelter with benches on three sides of the pit. and a privy a few dozen yards away. As shelters go, it looked pretty nice. I didn't take a lot of pictures of it because there were a few people packing up their gear at the shelter and at campsites near the shelter. I asked one of them about the spring (shown on the PATC trail map): it's apparently about a half mile downhill from the shelter.

The west side of the shelter is shown here, the lower level of the east side is open to the air.

As you continue south from the Garvey shelter, the trail definitely gets rockier which definitely slowed us down. Eventually you'll notice the general descent towards Weverton Cliff, and the fantastic overlook that you've hiked almost 7 miles to see. Definitely worth it!

Things to know before you go:

  • I'd rate this hike a shade tougher than moderate, if only for the distance and rockiness of the terrain. Wear good boots and use those trekking poles!
  • There are restrooms at Gathland SP, and a privy at the Ed Garvey Shelter area. You'll need to have your own toilet paper on hand if you think you may need to use the privy.
  • Let's talk about snakes: we were alerted to the presence of a group of baby timber rattlesnakes in a burrow at the cliffs. The timber rattlesnakes in Maryland can often be found in the rocky outcroppings along South Mountain and Catoctin Mountain. Be aware that timber rattlers can easily blend in to their surroundings, so if you're doing any kind of rock scrambling, make sure you check where you're putting your hands.
  • There's a water source down the hill from the Garvey shelter, but you will obviously need a filter or some other way to purify the water. You definitely want to bring your own water and snacks to refuel!
  • Dogs are welcome, but please keep them on a leash!


To Gathland SP: If you're doing a shuttle hike, follow the directions to the Weverton Cliff parking lot, and leave one car there. Then take the second car, and turn right onto MD-67, going north for about 6 miles. Turn right onto Gapland Road, which will take you up the mountain. When you enter the park, you will see the War Correspondents Memorial in front of you. At the 4-way intersection, take a slight left onto Arnoldtown Road. The entry/exit is at the far end. Here's the Google maps link to Gathland SP.

Happy Hiking!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Weverton Cliff Hike

As I've said before, the Harpers Ferry area has become one of my favorite places to visit since I've moved to the East Coast. The view of Harpers Ferry and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers from Maryland Heights is a wonder that everyone should see at least once. As the Potomac continues to meander its way through the gap it has carved in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it flows past another excellent vantage point: Weverton Cliff.

Weverton Cliff is located at the southern end of South Mountain in Maryland just off the Appalachian Trail. The trailhead is located at the end of Weverton Cliff road, a few yards from the parking lot- just a set of rock steps that disappear into the woods. The trail is very rocky, and winds up the hill via a series of switchbacks. In fact, I lost count of how many times the trail turned back on itself, but it makes the climb *much* easier. It's definitely a good workout, but not nearly as strenuous as the Maryland Heights hike, which is pretty much a straight climb.

The trailhead:

 One of the many switchbacks

At times the path is quite narrow. This is also one of the few sections of trail that's generally free of large rocks.

Big pile of rocks.

Very rocky trail, wear good boots with ankle protection, and use those trekking poles for balance and support!

When you reach the top of the hill, you'll come across a T-intersection with a sign post directing you toward the cliff or north on the AT. Unfortunately, the sign board pointing to Weverton Cliff was missing, but, as usual on the AT, follow a light blue blaze for side trails.

The trail to the cliff overlook takes you down the hill a bit.

Once at the overlook, you'll have to do some rock scrambling to get the best vantage point to take some really great pics. I only had my phone camera, but it worked pretty well...

You can see the bridge where US340 crosses the Potomac into Virginia, but without binoculars I could not discern Harpers Ferry at all. The ridge on the left is Loudon Heights, on the right is Maryland Heights and Elk Ridge. The Stone Fort, on Elk Ridge, might be more visible once the leaves have fallen.

Some kayakers were enjoying the beautiful weather on the river.

Back to the sign, headed down the hill...

After visiting the cliff, I traveled north on the AT for a short distance before turning around and heading back to the car. The AT continues a gradual climb heading north along the ridge. I was initially going to aim for the Ed Garvey Shelter as a turn-around point, but I got a late start and decided to head home.


As usual, wear a good pair of hiking boots. The trail is very rocky, and there are plenty of opportunities to twist an ankle. Trekking poles are highly suggested for balance. The trail is dog friendly, and I saw lots of people with their dogs while on my hike. As always, keep your dog on a leash and clean up any messes. I would not recommend this hike for small dogs, or dogs that can overheat easily.

How to get there:

Set your preferred GPS navigation system to Weverton Cliffs Parking Lot.  From Eastern Maryland: Get on Interstate 70W, take the exit to US340 south, same as if you were going to Harpers Ferry. Look for signs for MD 67 towards Boonsboro. Take the MD 67 exit and keep right. Weverton Cliff road is the first right after the exit. The parking lot is on the right a few hundred yards down. 

Note: parking is extremely limited, only about 22 spaces, although there were a few cars parked along the side of Weverton Cliff road when I returned from my hike. Highly recommend that you get an early start on a weekend day, but I imagine that parking on weekdays is likely much more open. An extreme alternative is to park at the Harpers Ferry parking lot, take the bus into downtown, and hike the 1.5 miles along the AT (and C&O Canal) to get to the trail head for Weverton Cliff.

Another option, if you've got a second hiker and car, is to visit the cliffs via a one-way 6+ mile shuttle hike from Gathland State Park south to Weverton Cliff. Park a car at the Weverton Cliff lot, and then you and your hiking partner can ride up to Gathland SP to start. At the end of the hike, shuttle the other driver to their car back at Gathland SP.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hiking through History

Hiking, history, and mountains....what's not to love?

If you're at all familiar with the Civil War, you're probably heard of the Battle of Antietam. However, you may not be as familiar with the Battle of South Mountain, which happened three days before Antietam.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign in September 1862 sought to bring the fight to Union soil. Among other objectives, Lee wanted to win a battle in the North and damage morale before the elections in November. A Confederate victory might have brought more 'peace-makers' into Congress, and an early, managed end to the war.

After entering Maryland and marching through Frederick, Lee split up his forces, sending Longstreet to Hagerstown via Boonsboro, and tasking Stonewall Jackson to take the Union garrison and armory at Harpers Ferry. This left the Confederate cavalry to defend the rear of Lee's forces. With McClellan in pursuit, and with the Confederate plans revealed to the Union side, Lee then sought to concentrate his forces near Sharpsburg. In order to delay the Union advance, and allow time for Lee to assemble his forces, small units of Confederate troops were positioned at three gaps in South Mountain: Turner's Gap, Fox's Gap, and Crampton Gap.

Since I've probably glossed over a lot of the history, please feel free to read all the linked wikis, or the following website at the Civil War Trust.

On to the hiking part! Disclaimer: I didn't have my camera (well, just a phone camera) so I didn't take a whole lot of pictures. Maybe I'll do this hike again soon, with a camera.

Turner's Gap to Lambs Knoll White Rocks Overlook

Aim your navigation app to the Old South Mountain Inn on US Alt 40. The Inn has its own storied history, having been founded in 1732. You can read more about it HERE.
There's a parking lot on the left of the inn (there's a sign denoting the Appalachian Trail parking area).

The trail head is more or less next to US Alt 40.

A short way down the trail, you'll run into the Dahlgren Backpackers Campground. It even has hot showers and a privy! Technically, the campground is for backpackers only, but unfortunately, being a 'free campground' leaves it open to non-backpacker use.

Author's Note: As I arrived, there was a large group of shall we say..."not-backpackers" leaving the campground. They had apparently parked overnight at the Old South Mountain Inn lot to camp at Dahlgren. Later during the hike, I ran into a couple of backpackers who also stayed at Dahlgren the previous night and mentioned that there was a group who was up late and making a lot of noise.There are several State parks with camping areas along South Mountain, and while it does cost to use a campsite, I would recommend that you use these instead of Dahlgren, unless you're actually backpacking along the AT. This is especially relevant when the AT thru-hikers are coming through Maryland (NoBo hikers come through from May to July, if I recall correctly).
The Dahlgren Backpackers Campground

Showers and privy

Once you pass the campground, the trail heads up a bit, and in just under a mile, you come across Reno Monument Road and Fox's Gap. The Reno Monument is dedicated to Union Major General Jesse Reno, who was killed by friendly fire during the Battle of South Mountain. There are other monuments here as well, including one opposite the Reno Monument dedicated to the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

There is a small parking lot at Fox's Gap, so if you want to shave off about a mile off your hike up Lambs Knoll, you could try to park here, but I'd recommend arriving early.

The trail picks back up right off the parking lot, next to an old split log fence. You'll eventually pass a large power line cut. If it's quiet, you can almost hear the electricity flowing through the wires high above you.  This is where the trail starts to really gain elevation.

Similar to the Pen Mar- High Rock hike, you won't cross over the highest point on Lambs Knoll, which is occupied by various communications towers.  The trail takes you around the summit, and at one point, there's a side trail that goes to the fenceline (I didn't explore this trail, so don't take my word for it).  Once you reach the highest point, there's a short descent to get to White Rock.

Getting there: 
Set your gps/navigation app to Old South Mountain Inn.
Interstate 70 west, take exit 49 to US Alt 40. You'll drive through Middletown, which has a nice restaurant, The Main Cup and ice cream parlor: More Ice Cream,  for post-hike treats. There are also a couple of Civil War history markers in Middletown.

Happy Hiking!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cunningham Falls State Park - Manor Area, Bob's Hill, and Cat Rock

I've visited and posted about Cunningham Falls SP before, but I hadn't hiked in this section of the park.

Much less visited than the falls and lake area, the Manor area of Cunningham Falls SP is a much more suitable destination if you're looking for some solitude, but like any Maryland State Park, you'll probably still encounter fellow hikers on weekends.

On a warm summer day I took on the challenge of climbing Bob's Hill.  The trail up the mountain runs concurrent with the Catoctin Trail, which begins in Gambrill State Park, a park which will be featured in another blog post.

The trail head is directly across from the Manor area visitor center. There's another trail head closer toward the park entrance, but either will work.

I first wanted to walk down to Little Hunting Creek, a lovely mountain stream. The path to the creek is also part of the Catoctin Trail, which crosses the creek and continues south from here. The trail goes up a bit before reaching an intersection to take you either down to the creek, or up the mountain.

To get to the creek, take the Blue Trail (aka the Catoctin Trail) south.

Little Hunting Creek

After taking in the quiet sounds of the creek, turn around and head back up to the trail intersection.

Back to the Catoctin (blue) Trail North.

It's a pretty good climb, so I'd definitely rate this a strenuous hike. The hike up Bob's Hill presents you with a 1,000 foot elevation gain in about 1.5 miles. Take your time, and plenty of water breaks!

After a nice climb, you'll reach the summit of Bob's Hill which is 1,765 feet, according to the marker. You'll also notice two paths on the left and right, toward the overlooks. Take the one on your left first, it's the better of the two.

Bob's Hill Overlook, looking south along Catoctin Mountain.
 The overlook is a rocky outcropping somewhat similar to Chimney Rock or Annapolis Rocks.

 Yes, that's Sugarloaf in the distance!

Looks like someone had a little fire up here. Shame!
*please folks, don't start fires in unauthorized places.

Once you head back toward the main trail, you can check out the North Overlook. It's not nearly as open and grandiose as the South Overlook, but you can get a good look at some rocks.

Ok, back to the trail.

Continuing down the Catoctin Trail, it's about another 1.2 miles to the Cat Rock trail intersection. This section is relatively easy, so enjoy it. The trail to Cat Rock will be on your right, and there will be a sign. The trail to Cat Rock is blazed yellow and gradually descends from 1,700 feet to about 1,500 feet over about a mile and a half. Note that you'll split off from the Catoctin Trail at this point, which continues over the mountain and down toward the William Houck area of Cunningham Falls State Park. The intersection is clearly marked, so there shouldn't be any confusion.

Cat Rock

The light gray rocks at the summit of Cat Rock and nearby Bobs Hill are quartzite – metamorphosed sandstone – originally deposited about 500 million years ago during the Cambrian Period. During much of that time, the seas teamed with life, but the land was mostly barren with only a few isolated microbial life forms existing. The quartzite rocks belong to the Weverton Formation, the primary ridge-forming unit of Catoctin Mountain and, to the west, South Mountain, the two main ridges in the Blue Ridge of Maryland. -source: Maryland DNR
Looking back at the map, you'll see now that you've taken the long way to get to Cat Rock, but I feel that it's worth the extra effort.

Cat Rock is a huge pile of rocks, and if you're interested in getting a better view, you'll have to do some rock scrambling to climb to the top. There are large crevices and cracks, so please take your time and be sure of your footing.

...and of course, the panorama view from (almost) the top:

Getting there:

Set your navigation app to the Manor Visitor Center
-from the Baltimore area: Head west on Interstate 70, and then take exit 53B in Frederick for US15 North. Follow signs for Cunningham Falls SP Manor Area, which will be on the left as you're heading north on US15.

Daily use fee is $3, on the honor system most days.

Other nearby places of interest:
Catoctin Iron Furnace
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo

Happy Hiking!