For this hike, I was joined by fellow blogger and day trips enthusiast, Jody of Midatlanticdaytrips.com. 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 HikeWe 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!
Directions: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.