Weekend Backpacker: Baltimore

Appalachian Trail
By Leonard Adkins

There may be no better introduction to backpacking and primitive camping than the 39.3 miles of the Appalachian Trail through Maryland. Shelters and campsites are conveniently spaced, and wildlife spottings are frequent. The trail crosses numerous roads where help may be available in case of an emergency, and there are four places where it is possible to make use of modern rest room facilities—one with warm showers. Plus, you will have bragging rights that you walked all the way across Maryland! The gentle terrain and great scenery makes this the perfect place to bring the kids for overnight hikes or to break friends in to the pleasures of backpacking without introducing them to the rigors of more rugged topography. Other than a couple of climbs of less than 500 feet, the trail stays along the gently undulating crest of South Mountain for nearly the entire distance. On the rare occasions when winter brings in a blanket of snow deep enough to completely cover all of the rocks and boulders, the trail can be a great cross-country skiing or snowshoeing route.

The hike's first reward comes just after 1.3 miles at Weverton Cliffs. From jagged, uplifted rocks you can gaze onto three states. Across the Potomac River is Virginia, directly below you is the flat-land of the C&O Canal in Maryland, while upstream the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac, sculpting the V-shaped piece of land upon which Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is built. Other highlights of the journey include Gathland State Park at 7.3 miles; the Dahlgren Back Pack Campground at 14.9 miles (with free hot showers); the original Washington Monument, built in 1827, at 17.1 miles; and the vistas from Annapolis Rocks at 22.7 miles, Black Rock Cliffs at 23.9 miles, and High Rock at 35.9 miles.

The car shuttle involves many miles of driving, so allow ample time. Drive I-70 West for 50 miles to Frederick and follow U.S. 15 North for approximately 20 miles. Turn left onto MD 550, continuing to the entrance to Fort Richie, where, a short distance later, you'll bear left, cross under railroad tracks, and turn right onto Pen Mar Road. Enter Pennsylvania, cross over railroad tracks and leave one car in the small pullout on the right. Return to Frederick and drive U.S. 340 to the southwest. About 15 miles later, make a left onto Keep Tryst Road and leave the car at the designated area along the road.

No permit required.

The A.T. is extremely popular; bring a tent and do not count on being able to stay in a shelter.

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Appalachian Trail across Maryland, maps 5 & 6.

The Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia and Maryland; 50 Hikes in Maryland.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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