Take a Hike in Western Maryland

17 Feb
February 17, 2011

The thermometer is expected to soar this weekend, a sure sign that spring is on its way. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-50s on Saturday and Sunday, which makes this the perfect weekend to get an early start on some of Washington D.C.’s finer outdoor activities.

It’s not hard to find good walking trails in and around the DC area, but if you’d like something a little more arduous, you need to only take a short drive north. There’s a fantastic mountain to wander up and down and it’s just a brief drive beyond the city limits.

Forty miles northwest of D.C., Sugarloaf Mountain resides in the tiny town of Barnesville, MD, which is about seven miles south of Frederick.

The mountain has an elevation of almost 1,300 feet, and while that’s not that high, it’s easily one of the tallest peaks within an hour’s drive of Washington.

It’s free to hike the mountain’s five main trails, which traverse the entirety of the park. When beginning a hike, start by heading to the summit first. It’s actually the shortest and quickest trip.  To get to it, after leaving your car in the parking lot, take the eastern fork of the White Trail.

There, while hiking slowly upward, you’ll catch nature at its finest. Rocks are covered in shiny green moss. The trails littered with crunchy leaves, still abundant from autumn. Fallen trees are everywhere and they make for great balance beams to wander on. Then there’s the wildlife. On any day at Sugarloaf, expect to see squirrels, rabbits, foxes and deer. But there are snakes too, so keep your eyes open.

After about a mile on the White Trail, you’ll reach a fork. From there, take the Orange Trail (also known as the Sunrise Trail). You’ll be able to tell if you are on the right path by the trees. Every so often, a tree is marked with a swath of paint the color of the trail you are on.

The Orange Trail is a steep climb, rising 400 feet in a quarter-of-a-mile, taking you right to the summit. There, you’ll get sweeping views of the scenery below, farmland and trees as far as the eye can see.

The hike to the summit is only about a mile one way, but the trip can easily be extended. From the summit, hikers can take either the Red or Green Trail, which head to different parts of the mountain.

If you choose the Red Trail, you’ll take a short descent and merge with the Blue Trail. This path will take you to the mountain’s second peak, which comes in a bit lower, at 1,000 feet.

Don’t stop there though, because the trail continues on to White Rocks, which is absolutely worth the extra time.  It’s a massive rock outcropping that climbers love to scale. But you don’t need to be a expert rock climber to enjoy the area. It’s easily navigable on foot and worth a trek just for the views.

After hiking around White Rocks, continue on the Blue Trail, which lazily winds back down to the mountain to the parking lot, where your trek is finished. This route in total is about five miles, and if you hike at a brisk pace, it can be completed in a couple of hours.

Then it’s just a quick commute back to Washington, which makes Sugarloaf Mountain a very easy and enjoyable escape to do, but an escape nonetheless.

- David

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