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
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.
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.