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Maryland Challenge, Frederick MD

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
41.9 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

16 - 18 hours
5,288 ft gain - 6,309 ft loss
Pen Mar County Park
Gathland State Park
Washington Monument State Park
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e.g. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
Parking is at the Pen Mar County Park. 39.71610, -77.50730

We did this hike as a one day 41 mile benefit challenge hike for the Blue Sky Fund, but we recommend doing it as a 4 day backpack, as also described on this site, which we used for planning our hike. This is also a very busy portion of the AT.  If you can only do a day hike, park at the I-70 Parking area and hike 2.3 miles north on the A.T. to see Annapolis Rocks and then 1 more mile to see Black Rocks.

The directions below should give you enough information to keep your orientation and know how far you have come. We will also highlight the places to camp if doing this is done as a backpack.

DAY ONE -10 Miles

  • Mile 0.0 – Parking is at the Pen Mar County Park . If leaving a car overnight you should park in the gravel lot across from the park as the main parking lot is locked each night. The trail begins just to the right of the Overlook Pavilion and A.T. Sign, go 0.3 miles North on the AT, cross the RR Track and then reach the PA Line (Mason Dixon Line). Stop, take a photo. turn around and then head South on the AT, passing Pen Mar Park. Note: If backpacking you could leave your gear at Pen Mar Park and pick it up as you return south.
  • Mile 3.1 – Side trail to High Rock, supposedly really good views.
  • Mile 5.3 – Raven Rocks Shelter
  • Mile 6.2 – MD 491 intersection. Couple of creek crossings near here
  • Mile 8.8 – MD 77 (Foxville Rd) intersection
  • Mile 10.0 Ensign Cowall Shelter, camp here for day 1.

DAY TWO – 8.4 Miles

  • Mile 10.3 – MD 17 (Wolfsville Rd). There is a short 0.1 mile spur trail to an AT parking lot, 10-12 cars (Parking Lot Coordinates: 39.6283,-77.5593). Cross Wolfsville Rd to continue south on the AT.
  • Mile 15.6 – Reach a couple of unmarked trails to Black Rock Cliffs in about 5.3 miles. Trail is pretty short to the cliffs.
  • Mile 16.6 – Reach spur trail for Annapolis Rocks. 0.25 miles to the Rocks.
  • Mile 18.3 – Pine Knob Shelter, this is the Day 2 campsite.

DAY THREE – 12.8 Miles

  • Mile 18.9 – I-70 AT Footbridge and spur trail to I-70/Rt 40 Parking Lot, 40 cars (Parking Lot Coordinates: 39.5355,-77.6040)
  • Mile 19.0 – Boonsboro Mountain Rd, 1st crossing.
  • Mile 19.7 – Boonsboro Mountain Rd, 2nd crossing.
  • Mile 21.9 – Pass through Washington Monument Parking lot. Note: Coming south before reaching the parking lot is a spur trail to the Monument.
  • Mile 23.7 – Turners Gap (Alt US 40, Old National Pike). Parking is directly across the road on the east side of the Inn closest to the AT (Parking Lot Coordinates:39.4841,-77.6198).If leaving car there, ask permission of the South Mountain Inn Lodge staff.
  • Mile 24.0 – Dahlgren Backpack Campground. Privy and hot shower. 
  • Mile 24.8 – Reno Monument Rd.
  • Mile 25.7 – Rocky Run Shelter
  • Mile 26.2 – Lamb's Knoll Rd
  • Mile 27.9 – White Rock Cliffs
  • Mile 30.7 – Crampton Gap Shelter, this is the Day 3 campsite.

DAY FOUR – 10 Miles

  • Mile 31.1 – Crampton Gap/Gathland State Park Parking (Parking Lot Coordinates: 39.406,-77.6393). Continue on the AT by crossing Gapland Rd.
  • Mile 34.9 – Ed Garvey Shelter.
  • Mile 37.0 Weaverton Cliffs Spur Trail.
  • Mile 38.1 – Route 340 Underpass.
  • Mile 38.4 – Railroad Crossing, turn right at C&O Canal Towpath
  • Mile 40.0 – Sandy Hook, Rt 340 Underpass
  • Mile 41.2 – Middle of Goodloe Byron footbridge into Harpers Ferry, WV.
  • Mile 41.5Train Station parking lot (small fee for 3 days).
    (Parking Lot Coordinates: 39.32442,-77.73)
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Hiker Reviews For The Maryland Challenge Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Maryland Challenge hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: grc Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 24, 2015
My friend and I broke this up into two separate trips. On the first trip we hiked from the 70 parking lot to Harpers Ferry and the second trip was Pen-Mar to the 70 parking lot. This was a fantastic hike, a bit warmer a month ago when we did the "second half" from this past weekend when we did the "first half". Our trip: Day 1, Pen-Mar to Ensign, solid foliage in late October, climb to High Rock is a true scramble and a solid climb. Definitely recommend going to High Point for the views and photos. Moved along to the Ravens Rock shelter for lunch beautiful shelter. Got to Ensign at about 4PM, fairly crowded for late in the year, but everything went smoothly. If using a water filter like a Sawyer for the still spring, make sure to bring something to scoop/pour water to the bags (I used my JetBoil w/ lid and worked like a charm). Day 2, Ensign to 70, pretty good climb up the ridge to begin the morning would rather tackle this early in the day. Stopped at Black Rock Overlook later in the hike... great views. Day 3, 70 to Treehouse Camp, we had great weather on this one in mid-September, stop at the overlook at the Washington Monument and there is one memorable climb. We decided to pass the shelter near Gathland and get a site at Treehouse Camp which gave us a little more room to spread out. Despite the ability to buy a steak there, we stuck to our Mountain House. This was my favorite day of the hike. Day 4, Treehouse Camp to HFWV, very reminiscent of Day 2. An initial climb up the mountain and then walking along the ridge until coming to a pretty solid descent to the Potomac River. Neither of us are in the greatest of shape or experienced on multi-day hikes, but we hobbled into town after 2 days/~24 miles of the 'second half'. I would prefer to tackle new sections of the AT, but living in Montgomery County, MD, this is a very manageable drive for great overnight hiking. Highly recommend this as a beginner backpacking trip to those in decent shape, either the 4day/3night approach on this site or broken up into two hike variety like we did. Challenging, but manageable.

By: Carl Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, May 24, 2015
First time overnight hikers. I'm 52 and my son is 15. LOL - I have nice broken in hiking boots but since my son has grown so much and fast we have not bought anything for him. So since he's going to be wearing tennis shoes I will also. Dropped off at Pen Mar @0715 AM 5/23/15. Didn't know how far or fast we can go so made plan A, pick up in Harpers Ferry on 5/24. Plan B, pick up @Gathland State park on 5/24, Plan C, pick up @Dahlgren Backpacker campground on 5/24. Made it to Ensign Cowell shelter before 12 and Pine Knob shelter before 3. My feet were starting to hurt but we both decided that we had 6 more miles in us and plenty of sunshine. Make it to the Dalhgren campground by 6. Found some space and set up camp, cleaned up and had dinner. Walked up to the Inn and had a few cold beers, root for him, Sam Adams for me.  Up and going @~0715 on 5/24. My feet hurting a little but his were fine. Stopped a few times along the way to fuel up but still made it to the Ed Garvey Shelter by 12 on 5/24. My feet hurt worse on every stop but our goal of making Harpers Ferry in one night was going to happen so we just kept going (pain is only temporary) and arrived before 1500 on 5/24. Funny the last 3 miles on the C&O seemed to be the hardest.  Finished with major blister on left "pinky" toe and quarter size blisters on bottom middle pad of each foot. Took a few days to recover. We may have packed a little too much food and water but that's part of the learning curve as pack weight was not a problem. This is a great hike and we are now making plans to do another, maybe a up and back from Pen Mar. Doing this hike from North to South I think the first 12 miles are the hardest with it getting easier after that. Water is not a problem along the way.   

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 23, 2015
I decided to do the 4 State Challenge on the spur of the moment (4 state adds an extra 2 miles or so past Harpers Ferry to the VA/WV state line).  I got droppped off at Pen Mar/Mason Dixon Line at midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning this Memorial Day weekend.  I parked my vehicle at Harpers Ferry Visitor Center (need to notify them of overnight parking via faxed form found on NPS/Harpers Ferry webpage). I did this hike solo with a 20 pound pack, most weight was snacks and water, but also brought toilet kit, water filtration, basic first aid kit, radio, phone and batteries/charger.  The trail was very well marked but I did make two wrong turns one coming out of a field missed the cut-in back into the woods and one going by one of the shelters-I went down hill instead of straight thru because I was trying to be curteous/quiet/keep my headlamp low and missed a White Blaze. Although this is a great hike with some great views, I missed many of those as the first 6 hours of my hike were in the dark. The only bad thing about this hike is there are some brutal sections of rocks with no way of avoiding them so your ankles take a beating. And that is ultimately what caused me to bail out on this hike. I made it to Washington Monument State Park, about 23 miles total with my detours. I texted for a pickup when I got to Black Rock overlook.

This would be a very nice 4 day hike, just make sure you have solid footwear with good ankle support. But to really challenge yourself, try the 24 hour challenge...I do recommend taking someone along because there is a good chance of twisting an ankle in the dark.  I ended up taking 11 hours to do my 23 miles, including a couple stops for some views (after I decided to stop at halfway) and a stop to replenish water, which was plentiful  this time of year as streams were flowing well, just have your filter with you.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 23, 2015
The 41.9-mile hike (the entire MD section of the AT) took our team of six just under 17 hours to complete. We started in Pen Mar at 5:00 AM and crossed the Goodloe Byron Memorial Footbridge into West Virginia just before 10:00 PM. For motivation and to maintain pace, we divided the overall hike into four roughly ten-mile sections (or “mini-hikes” as we called them) and had time goals for each. The goals marking the end of each section (maintaining at least a 2.5 mi./hr. pace) were as follows:

1. Ensign Cowall Shelter, 10 mi., 8:20 AM
2. Washington Monument State Park, 21.9 mi., 1:15 PM (midway point –refilled our water from a tap here)
3. Crampton Gap/Gathland State Park, 31.1 mi., 6:00 PM (also refilled our water here from a tap)
4. Goodloe Byron Memorial Footbridge, 41 mi.,9:45 PM.

We were extremely lucky to have perfect weather (high in mid-70s, low humidity, no rain), and hiking this time of year offered good coverage from a canopy that extends nearly throughout. The trail surface is rocky the majority of the time, making turning an ankle one of two serious liabilities –the other being blisters. We found the climb up South Mountain during the third leg and descending the Weverton Cliffs during the last leg to be the most challenging parts. Regarding the latter, it is highly recommended that you begin your descent of the Weverton Cliffs before dark.

The following are the supplies/gear we recommend:

• Backpack with at least a 2.5L water bladder
• Additional 1L water bottle
• Headlamp & extra batteries
• Adequate clothing and rain gear
• Sunscreen
• Hat
• Shades
• Insect repellent
• Tissues/TP and nontransparent Ziploc
• Sanitary wipes
• Broken-in running or trail shoes
• 2 pairs of socks
• A couple big Ziploc’s and trash bags to stash stuff in your pack in the event of rain
• Food to sustain you for 17ish hours (we had an assortment of energy bars, beef jerky, trail mix and candy).
• First-aid kit with extra moleskin, pre-wrap and tape, plus a light ankle brace
• Utility knife

As the name implies, this is a fun, challenging and rewarding hike across Maryland’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy!

By: dances with pugs Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, July 03, 2014
We split this hike into 2.5 days, doing 17,13, and 10 miles respectively. The first day we stopped at the Annapolis Rocks camp site for the night and then followed the itinerary for the rest of the trip. This hike is no joke. Even though we are pretty experienced hikers, this trail provided quite a challenge. Its totally worth it though. Highly recommended for anyone thinking of doing the AT at some point in their life.

    View all 15 reviews for the Maryland Challenge hike
Mid May

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