Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Catoctin Trail - Maryland's Other Long(ish) Trail

We made a quick trip up to Thurmont to hike with a friend yesterday.  We decided to do a relatively short out-and-back on the Catoctin Trail, from its northern terminus at Mt. Zion Road to Cunningham Falls and back. The Catoctin Trail is a 26.5 mile long trail near Frederick, MD.  It starts in Gambrill State Park, crosses the Frederick Watershed, Cunningham Falls State Park, and ends at the northwestern boundary of Catoctin Mountain Park.

The parking area is at the top of a ridge on Mt. Zion Road near the boundary of Catoctin Mountain Park.  From there, it is one-tenth of a mile on a horse trail to the Catoctin Trail.  We got a late start, so before getting too far underway, we stopped for lunch.  The late start also meant we were hiking in the hottest part of the day.  The trail trends downhills toward the Owens Creek Campground.  It is marked sporadically with blue blazes.  A couple of horse trails cross it so we had to check the map once or twice.

After crossing Owens Creek, the trail climbs steadily, but relatively gently, for a couple of miles.  It was the kind of climb where you expect the top to be around the corner a number of times.  I turned the corner several times only to find the trail still climbing.  Still, it was a relatively easy, pretty climb through the forest.  On the way down the other side, we crossed an area that had been hit by a tornado in 2004.  The damage from the tornado is still visible in all of the large trees that are down.  We found ripe wineberries below the rootball of one of the downed trees.  Not many of those survived our visit.

We crossed MD Route 77 after waiting several minutes for a break in traffic and continued south to the trail down to Cunningham Falls.  Up to this point, we had seen fewer than five people.  As soon as we reached the trail to the falls, we found the crowds, not really surprising on a hot July day.  The falls themselves were jam-packed with people.  The amount of trash was a bit disappointing:  I mean, how heavy is an empty water bottle to carry out?  In spite of that, the falls were pretty.  We took a break and then headed back up the trail to the Catoctin Trail.  The return trip was uneventful, except for eating more wineberries.  We hiked about 10 miles, total and I would hike there again, but perhaps visit the falls in the winter.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

 Cunningham Falls
I tried out a neutral density filter for the first time yesterday.  A neutral density filter allows a long exposure without overexposing bright parts of the image.  It is pretty much made for smooth waterfalls on sunny days.  I've had it for a while, I just keep forgetting it when we are going hiking in areas with waterfalls.  The picture above is with no filter, with an exposure of 0.4 seconds. 
The same setup with the neutral density filter.  What a difference.  I did go in after I got home and lighten the shadows just a little bit.
 Impatiens capensis (Jewelweed, Touch-Me-Not)
 Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal)
Geum canadense (White Avens)
The view from the parking area on Mt. Zion Road.

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