Monday, October 12, 2009

Catoctin Mountain Park

Date: October 11, 2009
Place: Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland
Trails: Falls Nature, Hog Rock Nature, Blue Ridge Summit, Thurmont Vista, Wolf Rock, Chimney Rock
Distance: 8.5 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate

More fall season hiking, this time at the Catoctin Mountain Park managed by the National Park Service. It's a beautiful drive of about 50 miles from DC leading to the park. The mountains here are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the ancient Appalachian Mountains. The park itself is forested thickly with hardwood trees like oaks and maples and also has some interesting rock formations wrought over hundreds of millions of years of geological evolution.

Shankar and I chose the longest round-trip trail, listed as being 8.5 miles with a few strenuous climbing sections. This loop skirts around the edges of the park, from the Cunningham falls in the west to the Chimney Rock in the east.

Falls Nature Trail to the Cunningham Falls
Around 1.5 miles from the visitor center trailhead, and along the Falls Nature Trail, lies the Cunningham Falls viewing point. The hike up is moderate, and the falls are set in a beautiful wooded area.

Hog Rock, Blue Ridge Summit and Thurmont Vista
From the Cunningham Falls, it's a strenuous hike up of around 1.25 miles to the Hog Rock. The Hog Rock is at the center of the park, and is made of metabasalt, a dark greenish-gray igneous rock. It's also called the Catoctin Greenstone. After sunbathing here for a while and taking in the beautiful views, we resumed our hike up to the Blue Ridge Summit about half a mile away.

The view here opens out to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the far west, hence the name. Another half a mile away on the trail led us to the Thurmont Vista overlook. You can see the town of Thurmont in the valley below, the valley itself a geological attraction made by erosion over millions of years.

Wolf Rock
Another moderate hike of 1.5 miles took us to the Wolf Rock formations. The quartzite rocks and the erosion by wind and rain water (through frost wedging) creating spectacular shapes were a treat. We spent considerable time here jumping from rock to rock.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock, another 0.6 miles away, was the highlight of the entire hike. This is again quartzite rock formed in the shape of chimney. In order to get on the chimney rock though, we had to jump across very deep wedges that had formed cliffs along the rock walls. Dangerous and exciting as the jump was, we were rewarded with the best panoramic views yet. After spending half an hour here, we jumped back onto the main trail and headed back.
A couple of miles more of hiking brought us back to the visitor center just as the sun was setting. The hikes made for a good workout among beautiful wooded and forested sections for the most part, and there are viewing spots all along the trail every mile or so. It is an enjoyable and rewarding hike through some of the best scenery in Maryland.

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