Beautiful views, tons of history, great shelters.
No escalators. Wait!
Back in 2013, two buddies and I set out to hike Maryland in four days. We did this mostly to enjoy our time on the trail, and didn’t do any big mile days, despite friendly terrain. Our trek could be done in three days pretty easily by pushing through where we stopped the last night (heck, thru-hikers are know to do this stretch in one day to complete something called the Maryland Challange), but take your time and enjoy this really nice stretch of trail.
Check out Maryland AT Day 1 for background info on this one
START – Ensign Cowall Shelter
FINISH –Rocky Run Shelter
DISTANCE – 15.5 trail miles (about 16.6 miles for the day)
Day 2 was our longest day, 15.5 miles is a stretch at any time. However, this was probably also my favorite day on the trail – big views, big history, and big miles. This is also the one day that I warn you about – 15.5 miles (more with side trails) is a lot to take on. We had more than 100 miles of backpacking under our belts in the previous four months, and we had really nice weather in the low 80s, pretty much a perfect situation for us. There are plenty of options to cut this day shorter to play it safe, and you won’t be disappointed if you get to spend a few hours at Black Rock Cliffs or Annapolis Rocks because you plan an eight mile day and have some time to kill.
We were up and moving early. Only 0.2 of a mile separated us from Wolfsville Road. From there, it was a 500 foot climb over a bit over a half mile up to a ridge. From there, you’ll be up on the ridge for almost 8 miles, which will make your life pretty easy.
From the time you reach the top of the ridge, it will be a little more than 4 miles until you reach the Pogo Campground, which has free tent sites on the site of an old hotel. 0.6 of a mile further on is the side trail to Black Rock Cliffs. It’s well worth taking the short blue trail out for the views.
Back to the AT, exactly a mile down the trail is another blue blazed side trail. This one leads 1/4 mile to Annapolis Rocks, an area that is hugely popular with climbers. There are a few campsites available here.
From Annapolis Rocks, it’s just over a mile to the next shelter at Pine Knob. We kept on trucking, but at 8.3 miles into our day, we were happy to be past our halfway point for the day. We headed slightly downhill to cross I-80 on the footbridge, getting a few honks from passing cars. Coming off of the bridge, you’ll head through some people’s yards, which is always a little weird. From the bridge, it will be just a hair under three miles to the next highlight, the Washington Monument.
Confused? This is not the massive obelisk in our nation’s capitol, but an older monument built by local townspeople on the 4th of July in 1827. It’s well worth the walk down the short side trail to the tower, which should be climbed for a pretty great view. While there, we amazed some lady and her kids, who couldn’t believe we had walked over 20 miles in two days for fun. I would have loved to see their reaction if they had run into some of the 1,000 mile section hikers we met later on our trip!
Down the tower, down the hill, past the water spigot (we highly recommend the water spigot). We took a break here, checking out the museum and enjoying the flush toilets. The ranger at the station seemed a little worried about us (apparently, they’d had a couple of hikers get themselves in trouble in the heat in the previous few weeks), but we convinced him that this wasn’t our first time to the rodeo. Besides, we were already down to less than 5 miles to go, and it was only lunch time.
After our break, we set out downhill and out of Washington Monument State Park. On the way out, Jeremy spotted a snake, which was pretty awesome. From here, it was 1.8 miles to Turner’s Gap, first heading down to Monument Road, then up a few hundred feet, then down to the gap.
This area is pretty great. Coming down to the road, you’ll pass the Dahlgren Chapel, which is pretty impressive. You’ll then hit the road, which is part of the original National Road, the first highway heading over the Appalachian Mountains to the (then) western part of the United States. On the road at the gap, Old South Mountain Inn is a 200 year old restaurant (possibly as old as the 1730s) that’s had several president’s visit it, and (according to their website) was a favorite watering hole of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Just in case there wasn’t enough history here already, a small part of the Battle of South Mountain during the Civil War was fought right here.
Almost home! You’ll pass the Dahlgren Campground, which looked nice, but hold out! A mile from the road, you’ll reach Fox Gap, which was the center of the Battle of South Mountain back in 1862. There is a monument here and many signs, so I had to stop and read all of them. Meanwhile, Jeremy found an old apple tree.
This is the home stretch, as it’s exactly one mile to Rocky Run Shelter. We pulled in at a very decent hour, 15.5 miles down the trail and 16.6 miles total.
Rocky Run Shelter – The shelter closest to the trail is practically brand new, and we opted to stay there. The water source (coming out of pipe) is downhill a little further, next to the old shelter, which is still serviceable. The old shelter has one advantage – a really great porch swing. We had a fire and enjoyed ourselves this night. We had the shelter to ourself for a good stretch, until a lone hiker came in and spent the night. With the size of the new shelter, we barely realized he was there (other than he made weird noises).
Other options – lots of other option for overnighting in this stretch – Dahlgren Campground, Annapolis Rocks Campground, Pine Knob Shelter, and Pogo Memorial Campground. Youth groups also have the option of staying at Washington Monument State Park.