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good views from Chimney Rock
Catoctin Mountain Park
Closest available address
14707 Park Central Road Thurmont, MD 21788
Park is open dawn to dusk. Visitor center hours vary, generally 9:30am-5:00pm.
Best time to visit
Catoctin Mountain Park is 6,154 acres and is located in the Appalachian Mountains of western Maryland. The park is best known as the home of US presidential retreat Camp David. While Camp David is not open to the public, the park does have a variety of other offerings, such as hiking trails, scenic views, rustic cabins, modern dorms, campgrounds, a small visitor center/museum and a reconstructed Prohibition era still. Catoctin borders Cunningham Falls State Park, which has a waterfall and also a man-made lake open for swimming and boating.
Catoctin was one of many rural areas purchased by the US government in the 1930s for preservation purposes and to provide conservation jobs during the Great Depression. The land had suffered from over logging as well as from charcoal and iron production. In 1954 half the area became Cunningham Falls State Park and the other half was renamed Catoctin Mountain Park. Most of the Catoctin is now a mixed hardwood forest. Several streams in the park have large trout populations. There are also 750 species of plants, including 60 types of trees.
Much of the park was closed for an undisclosed “National Security Reason.” It also happened to be President Obama’s birthday, maybe just a coincidence. The visitor center staff was very helpful in answering questions and recommending trails. There was a small museum with basic information about animals and recent history of the area. It can be seen in a few minutes. Nearby the visitor center is a short pleasant walk to the Blue Blazes Whiskey Still. Moonshine was big business in these parts during Prohibition, and the still was interesting to learn about. A loop trail to Chimney Rock was about 4 miles from the visitor center to Chimney Rock, then past Wolf Rock and back. It was moderate in difficulty with a number of rocks and an approximate 500 foot elevation gain. The summer heat and frequent gnats detracted a bit from the outing, but the hike was still worthwhile and views from Chimney Rock were good. There was little to see at Wolf Rock. A visit to Cunningham Falls in the state park was unimpressive because water levels were too low. Proximate to both Washington, DC and Baltimore, Catoctin can attract crowds from both places on weekends, in summer, and in October when the leaves change color. The park is picturesque though and has a variety of trails in good condition. If hiking or camping in a scenic mountain setting sounds appealing, then a visit here will be of interest.
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