Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weverton Cliffs to Gathland State Park on the Appalachian Trail

Warning:  Lots of pictures on this post.  The weather forecast for today was for rain followed by thunderstorms, so we decided to stay closer to home, but still get a long hike in.  An out-and-back from the Weverton parking area to Gathland State park on the Appalachian Trail, at 12 miles, fit the bill.  If the weather got too bad, we could turn around and head back to the car.  When we arrived at the parking lot, there were low clouds, but it was dry - a hopeful sign.  Four of us and a dog headed north on the Appalachian Trail.  Not 15 feet beyond the trailhead, we encountered our first wildflowers:  Potentilla canadensis (Dwarf Cinquefoil) and Antennaria sp. (Pussytoes).  As we continued, we saw a number of other flowers.

We were soon high enough to be hiking in the cloud.  The mist seemed to make the new leaves appear greener and gave the forest a jungle-like feel.  Luckily, it still wasn't raining.  After hiking up a number of gently sloped switchbacks, we reached the junction with a blue-blazed trail down to the Weverton Cliffs overlook.  The overlook itself was socked in in the fog.  The Potomac River runs right below the cliffs, but we couldn't see it through the clouds.

From the cliffs, there is a moderate, rocky climb up to the top of the ridge.  From there, the trail flattens out for most of the rest of the hike.  There were a few gentle ups and downs, but overall, it was an easy, pleasant walk in the woods.  We saw Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pink Azaleas) and Asimina triloba (Paw Paw), among other things.  We had lunch at the very nice Garvey Shelter. While we were sitting in the shelter, the trees were dripping on the tin roof, which is a sound I really like.

After another easy three miles, we ended up at Gathland State Park.  A small civil war battle occurred there and there is a large arch which is a war correspondents' memorial.  There is also a very small museum that happened to be open.  We took a break, took advantage of the bathrooms, and had a look around before heading back down the trail towards Weverton. 

On the way back, the clouds lifted, so we stopped at the Weverton Cliffs overlook again.  This time, we could see the river and most of the way to Harper's Ferry.  We could also see a thunderstorm that was headed our way.  We managed to get back to the cars before it rolled in.  We stopped at Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick, MD and had a great dinner.

Lots of pictures:
Pontentilla canadensis (Dwarf Cinquefoil) right near the northbound trailhead at Weverton parking area.

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit)

Tradescantia virginiana (Spiderwort) - a member of the Iris family

Weverton Cliffs in the clouds

Silene caroliniana (Wild Pink)

Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pink Azaleas)

Hiking in the clouds

Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium)

Conopholis americana (Squawroot).  C. americana is a parasitic plant that lives primarily on oak roots.  It does not have chlorophyll and does not perform photosynthesis since it gets its nutrients from other plants.

Vaccinium sp. (Blueberry)

War Correspondents' Memorial at Gathland State Park

Asimina triloba (Paw Paw Tree).  A. triloba is a tree that produces an edible fruit, the paw paw.  The flowers, as is typical of most flowers this color, are carrion flowers.  They attract insects that feed on carrion through a strong smell.

Another view of A. triloba

 Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple)

 Boot shot at Weverton Cliffs overlooking the Potomac River.

Saxifraga virginiensis (Early Saxifrage)

Antennaria sp. (Pussytoes)


  1. Another great post with lots of wonderful floral pictures. I learned some new plant names. I do not think I have ever seen a Paw Paw in the wild. I will be keeping my eyes open for one now.

  2. Nice post. I was just on the same trail today. Did you see any pink lady slipper? They are much more common north of Gathland but you sometimes see a few on this route.

  3. Thanks! It was a great hike. No pink lady slippers, but it was a few weeks ago, so they likely weren't up yet.