Catoctin Mountain Loop




Description: This is a moderate 7.5 mile loop in Catoctin National Park, MD. It features a pleasant walk along Big Hunting Creek on an un-official fisherman’s trail, 1200 feet of total elevation gain and what seems like one great vista after another. Being about an hour and thirty minutes away from Baltimore and Washington and mere minutes from the Pennsylvania border makes this is a very popular hiking venue in the region. With its popularity come the crowds. I prefer to hike it in the winter when the solitude is far greater and one is more apt to get a clear day to enjoy the four fantastic vistas. I’ll admit that the best views are in fall when the surrounding hardwood forest is aglow with the reds, oranges and yellow of the season. Fortunately the Visitor Center has a pretty large overflow parking lot.


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Trail Notes: The Park service did away with blazes several years ago in an attempt to make the park seem more like wilderness. With the exception of the unofficial Fisherman’s Trail all trail intersections are well posted with details and distances. Furthermore the trails are well worn. It is almost impossible to get lost here if you bring this map or one you can obtain for free at the Visitor Center. The trails colored in blue and red are certified with a GPS unit. The yellow trails were drawn in using the Park’s free map as a reference. I have not walked them so cannot comment on their condition. There are other trail segments shown on the park map but I did not find their intersections with the trails we walked so I left them out. These notes describe the longest possible circuit which includes all of the vistas in the park. Shorter loops with fewer vistas can be made by utilizing the yellow trails shown here.


Starting at the Visitor Center, cross MD 77 and walk over to Hunting Creek. Turn left and follow the creek downstream, soon walking in the shade of Hemlock trees as you go. Keep an eye out for trout in the stream. Eventually you will pick up an obvious footpath used by fishermen. Follow it east. At two points the hill on the left will force you up onto the road but you should be able to descend to the creek in only a handful of steps. As you near the Cat Rock Trail parking lot the bank will become just too steep and rocky. Climb up to the road, cross to the opposite shoulder and walk east on Rt77 a short distance to the trailhead to Chimney Rocks on the left (0.97 miles from the visitor Center).


Turn left onto this trail and begin to climb, with the aid of switchbacks, to Chimney Rocks. You’ll pass the Crow’s Nest Trail on the right and in about 0.9 miles reach the spur trail to Chimney Rocks.


After enjoying the view return to the main trail and follow the sign directing you to Wolf Rocks. Reach the spur trail for Wolf Rocks in 0.48 miles. Climb around this unique Quartzite outcrop but watch out for the deep crevices!!!


Return to the main trail and turn right following the signs for Thurmont Vista. In 0.37 miles pass a sign for a cut-off trail leading to Park Central Road and the Visitor Center. Continue straight following the sign for Thurmont Vista.


Arrive at Thurmont Vista in 0.7 miles from the last trail junction. Here you can enjoy the view on a bench or one of several rocks.


Return to the main trail and turn right following the sign toward Park Central and Hog Rock. In 0.22 miles come to an intersection with a near parallel trail with a sign – “Camp Airy”. Continue downhill on the main trail.


In another 0.15 miles arrive at a four way intersection. Turning left takes you back to the Visitor Center. Going straight leads you out to Park Central Rd. Turning right will take you to Hog Rock Vista. Turn right.


In another 0.65 miles arrive at the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook. Enjoy the view and return to the main trail and turn right. From here the remainder of the trip will be flat or downhill with the exception of a few short hills on the Nature Trail.


In 0.25 miles arrive at a picnic area on Park Central Road with latrines. Cross Park Central Road and follow the Hog Rock Nature Trail for 0.39 miles to the last of the vistas, Hog Rock. From here you can see much of what you traveled with views of the backs of Chimney Rocks and Thurmont Vista to you left. To the right you might spy Cat Rock which we visit on another hike.


From here follow the signed trail to the right. Descend quickly, passing the Nature Trail (the return leg) on the left at 1.0 mile and soon arrive at Rt77. Turn left on the shoulder of Rt77. In a short distance cross the road and follow the gravel trail and boardwalk to view Cunningham Falls.


Return to the Nature Trail and turn right onto it. The sign says that the distance is 1.2 miles back to the Visitor Center. I think it’s more like 1 mile. There are a few low hills here as you weave in and out of some neat rock formations but generally speaking this is an easy piece of trail worth enjoying as you return to your car.

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Critique this Hike.



Name:   Jeremy
Date(s) of Hike: 09/25/15
Hike Name: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Ranking: 4

Outing Critique: I hiked this on a Friday in late September and had the park virtually to myself.  I enjoyed the multiple overlooks and did some rock scrambling on Chimney Rock.  I accidentally took a wrong turn and added a two mile down and back to Camp Airy (the trail is not on the Park Service map).

Pros: Multiple overlooks, well maintained trails, good signage.  I have always enjoyed Cunningham Falls so that is a good way to top off a day in the woods.

Cons:  Several portions of the trail are wide smooth gravel.  I guess one person’s Pro is another’s Con.  I thought it detracted from the natural experience.  It seems funny that they don’t blaze the trails to keep them more natural but are willing to truck in tons of gravel (note, the gravel tends to only be around the more popular places).  The road noise off of 77 on the south side and 550 (to a lesser extent) on the north side was ever-present (mostly motorcycles).  The hike between Cunningham Falls, the Visitor Center, and the Park HQ is within sight of the 77 which really detracted from the experience.

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Name: Adventure Runner                                                                                      Hike: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Date: 1/6/13                                                                                                           Rating: 5

Critique: I ran this loop today. The only modification I made was that I used the official park trail to get to Park HQ instead of bushwhacking along Hunting Creek. It's too close to the road to be worth the effort IMO. I've been on almost all the trails in the park on several occasions.

The trails here are exceptionally well maintained and marked. However, they are fairly rocky and there are a couple of steep sections. With 5 separate overlooks and a big waterfall, you really get a lot of bang for your buck here. Combine that with the park's proximity to DC and Baltimore, and its amenities (visitor center w/ bathrooms, NPS management), and it's easy to understand why this place can get very crowded.

For example, I got out early in the morning today, it was cold, and there was snow on all the trails. I still saw about 15 people on the trails, plus several families hanging out a the falls. Understand that it won't feel like wilderness if you come in the middle of the day on a nice weekend.


Name: Joseph Dooley                                                                                            Hike: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Date: 8/20/2011                                                                                                    Rating: 3.8

Critique: I followed this trail as described, took my time, got turned around twice, added the falls at the end, and it still took only 5 hours. The creek was a real treat, as it offered some fun stone-hopping. If the creek is low enough, you don't need to go up on Rte. 77, you can cross to the opposite bank. Wolf Rock was a little scary, as the farther you go out the wider the crevasses get. All along the loop, there's tons of spots where you can leave the trail and explore the rocks. Note: The nature trail loops back on itself. From Hog Rock Vista, follow the sign to Cunningham Falls. Climbing the falls was like the cherry on top for me, as I enjoy a good scramble. All in all a good hike.


Name: pEtE                                                                                                               Hike: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Date: 4/17/10                                                                                                         Rating: 4

Critique: A very pleasant hike over well established trails, except for the fishing trails at the start. It was a beautiful, healthy forest, with almost no storm or insect damage that seems to be so common everywhere else I go lately. It was far from secluded but not crowded either. A few decent vistas. I wish I hadn't climbed up wolf rocks because you can't see anything past the trees when you get up there.


Name: Kylena Cross                                                                                                Hike: Catoctin Mountain
Date: 7/25/09                                                                                                          Rating: 4.5

Critique: I have hiked Catoctin many times and have avoided hiking along the stream/Rt 77 because of traffic issues. Otherwise it is a fantastic place to hike. The hills aren't too bad in terms of steepness. However, if you need to stop and catch your breath you can do it without someone on your heels as long as you hike during the week or in the early morning.

Always a caution at Catoctin is whether the president will be at Camp David...if he is then some of the trails will be inaccessible. Check before you go!

Name: Vern                                                                                                               Hike: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Date: 6/13/09                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: I also did the 8.5 mile walk advertised on the NPS web site. The route is basically the same, with the exception of the walk along the stream and Route 77.

I set out early in the morning, and for a few hours, I had the park to myself. Until I reached the trail that leads up to the falls, other hikers were very few and far between. Basically, I ran into people at each vista, and of course there was a mob scene at the falls.

Of all of the vistas, Hog Rock was the best view in my opinion. Chimney Rocks had the most interesting rock formations. Be careful not to drop your glasses at Wolf Rock. Some of those crevices are very deep. Lucky mine ended up in one that was only two feet deep, but others looked like they might be more then twenty feet.

This was a very pleasant hike, and the moderate rating is right on. There are a very few areas that might be called strenuous, particularly when the moss-covered rocks are wet. My guess is that this will be a beautiful hike in the fall, when the leaves are changing colors. Catoctin is a beautiful park and is well worth the trip.


Name: Ryan Culloty                                                                                                 Hike: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Date: 6/6/2009                                                                                                        Rating: 4

Critique: I did the 8.5 mile hike starting at the visitor's center and heading north on the trail in lieu of walking along the road/stream. This is the map:

I found the hike to be strenuous at times and the trail somewhat rocky, but a very enjoyable experience. Most of the vistas had poor visibility due to trees blocking the view - I suggest visiting in the winter after all the leaves have fallen.


Name: Matt Zimmerman                                                                                        Hike: Catoctin Mountain Loop
Date: 3/28/08                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: Trail was in good condition although without markings you do need to pay closer attention to see the signs and intersections. Moderate rating for this hike is spot on. There were no extreme sections that we encountered and the vista we saw at Chimney Rock was beautiful. I couldn't really find the vista at Wolf Rock but the rock structures there were amazing with 1-2ft wide cracks that dropped 20-30ft; careful! After Wolf Rock we looped back on the side trails back to the Visitor Center.

A quick heads up about the park, I went with my wife and another couple and we had decided to tent somewhere in the park that night. There is no tenting along the trails and the camp sites were closed for the winter I guess. The only place we could stay were in the Adirondack shelters (3-sided wooden building with a roof, require registration but free). These are located in the furthermost north western part of the park along the horse trail. Let's just say they weren't as comfortable as the ground and not near as warm as a tent. (It got below freezing while we were out there.)


Name: Jason S Colflesh                                                                                          Hike: Catoctin Mtn Loop
Date: 7/15/2007                                                                                                     Rating: 4

Critique: This was a very good hike!  I had a curious method of finding it - I ran across two ladies that were hiking using this guide.  As such, I missed the trout section - I had gone from the Visitor Center up the side of the mountain to Wolf Rock.  That part was rather steep and windless, and not very pleasant at all.  I would say the view from Chimney Rock was probably the best of all of them.  Unfortunately, it had been rather dry, so Cunningham Falls was a bit disappointing.  In any event, I'd say it was quite enjoyable, and rather vigorous in spots.  Nice design!


Name: Zeb Amoss                                                                                                   Hike: Catoctin Mtn loop
Date: 1/9/06                                                                                                            Ranking: 3

Critique: Very nice hike! The weather was unseasonably warm (around 60) which accompanied by midday/midweek timing on my part made it possible to go all day without seeing another person. Definitely one of the most surreal day hikes I've taken in a while!


Name: Tom Fournier Jr                                                                                           Hike: Catoctin Mtn Loop
Date: 2/21/2006                                                                                                     Ranking: 4

Critique: This trip was a beautiful hike. I completed this trip in the reverse of what is mentioned above. The views provided at the five major vistas were breath-taking. The weather was on the cool side, with the Cummingham Falls being frozen over. While up on Wolf Rock, I was able to enjoy the view of a pair of Black Vutures prenning and sunbathing. I was able to get about 20 Yards from them and took numerous pictures. Also, just past the Thurmond Vista (or just prior to it if doing trail in reverse) is the Charcoal Trail. This provides about a .75 to 1 mile trip around a self-guided trail with signs talking about the "days of ole" process for charcoal making. The charcoal made here was used by the Catoctin Furnance (located about 2 Miles south on Rt 15).

There are a few points on the hike where the trail can be a little steep but don't that that keep you from some beautiful history and scenery in MD. Well worth the trip.


Name: Bob von Pentz                                                                                             Hike: Catoctin Mountain
Date: 1/27/07                                                                                                         Rating: 4

Critique: The hike was very much as described. The morning started out at 27 degrees which didn't stop me from working up a good sweat on the initial ascent up the switchbacks (I managed to miss a turn an bushwhacked up -- need to be a little more aler next time).  After that climb, the rest of the hike was a easy and enjoyable walk through the woods where I encountered only two couples.  While I didn't linger at all the vistas they were excellent.  I am sure to return for a more leisurely hike. The GPS waypoints provided here were spot on, thanks.  My only dislike was dodging the cars on the brief time on the road as the hike begins.


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