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Maryland Challenge, Frederick MD


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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
41.9 mls
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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: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 12, 2014
Did the entire MD AT trail with a run/hike. Conditions were sunny and high of 74F. Started in PA at Pen Mar at 6:45 am and got to Harpers Ferry 10.5 hours later. Used Nathan HPL 020 vest with 85 oz of water (2L bladder and 1 20 oz bottle of AMINO), ate Gu, CLIF and PBJ sandwiches. Refreshed water and food at Rt 40 parking lot (I put a car here in a.m. with supplies). Toughest part of the entire day was the monster hike from Rocky Run Shelter (mile 25.7) up to top of mountain, it was very hot and no shade due to no leaves yet. Refreshed water again at Gathland and sat in the shade for 10 min to cool off (yeah!!) but had a hard time eating anything. Run from Gathland to Harpers was good. Suggestions: water, water, water. Due to the sunny, warm conditions much water was needed and I used SUCCEED salt tablets to stay hydrated. I had trained on all the sections so I was very familiar with the course, this helped a lot. What an awesome challenge - enjoy!!!

By: Aly Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, November 15, 2013
I did this with a friend and it was my first backpacking trip. We did it over three days by doing 10/21/10 to complete the 41 mile trip. It was a fantastic hike and has definitely catapulted me into the world of backpacking. It is an easily marked trail and the campsites were pretty easy to find. We had trouble the second night of the trip only because it was foggy and raining so that we couldn't see 15 feet in front of us. We stumbled upon a group of tents around 9pm and set up camp there for the night. The only other trouble we had was finding running spigots for water because we went so late in the season that most were turned off for the winter. However, there were a few springs that were running where we could fill up. I hope to do this hike again soon and recommend it for all ages and abilities!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 21, 2013
in the past 2 weekends, my 11 yr old son and i have done the ~3.5 miles to High Rock from the PA border and back and from I-70 back up to annapolis rocks and back...all in prep for a July 27/28 hike of the first half of the MD challenge. We plan to do the 2nd half on a weekend on August. Thought it was great and a challenge for novice hikers like us, and some experienced explorer scouts we met along the way. i would note that the Mason Dixon Line sign at the MD-PA border appears to have been vandalized. Only the post and the MD-PA small sign remain. The trail was well marked with blazes especially during the tricky rocks climbs as you get close to high rock. The only partly negative comment i would make was there are no mile markers, so only way to tell where you were (especially with an 11 yr old asking "are we almost there") was by time or the guidebook. Otherwise very solid hike ut a gret time for my son and me.

By: Ophelia Titzoff Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, July 05, 2013
Do not take this trip lightly.  I tried this with a dozen of my best pals and it turned bad in a hurry.  Although it was only 42 miles over 2.5 days, most of the guys had never hiked more than 10 miles.   By mile 8 the blisters and cramping started, and then came the hills.  Guys started dropping like flies and getting separated to maintain the pace.  We packed ultra-light, but were also ultra-inexperienced.  Due to a lack of water and appropriate rations, two of the guys suffered from rhabdomyolysis - the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream.   To top it off, a male black bear invaded our camp on the second night and made off with our food bag.  Be forewarned, if you think you're fit because your were a star high school athlete or do cross-fit three times a week, you better look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. 

By: Valentina Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 18, 2013
I found that I went into this thinking I knew a lot of things that turned out not to be true.

Some examples:

(1) I thought I wouldn't get blisters since I didn't get any when I ran a marathon. (I now believe it's not possible to walk 41 miles without getting blisters.)

(2) I thought the difference between mile 21 and mile 41 would be like the difference between getting stabbed once and getting stabbed twice – both would hurt, but there wouldn't be much of a difference between the two. (I now see that the last few miles take things to a whole new level.)

(3) I thought my daily runs would be adequate preparation. (I now see that it would have been better to run in those barefoot sneakers, since the trail is littered with sharp 6-inch rocks that stab your feet every time you misstep.)

As far as logistics, I do have a few pointers:

(1) It's important to plan your start time so that you finish the downhill section of the hike before dark (about mile 35). There's a lot of sharp rocks to stab your feet, not to mention that you don't want to trip off the side of the slope. We hiked in May, and we started at about 4:45AM.

(2) There is plenty of water. You shouldn't need to carry more than 1.5 liters at any one time if you have a water filter. If you don't, there's tap water at a few locations, including the original Washington Monument (mile 21) and Gathland State Park (mile 30). We hiked in May (65-70 degrees) with 2.5 liters per person, and didn't need to fill up until the Washington Monument. (Although the sun set a half hour earlier since we hiked in May, I preferred hiking in the cool weather, which meant we had to stop for water less often.)

(3) There's plenty of overnight parking across the street from Pen Mar Park (free), and if you're willing to pay $10, you can park at the Amtrak station in Harpers Ferry (about 50 feet from the bridge between Maryland and West Virginia). If you're trying to save $10, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is 0.60 of a mile from the Amtrak station, and they'll let you park there for free on the weekends if you call ahead.

(4) I recommend hiking from Pen Mar Park to Harpers Ferry, because of the thankfully flat tow path in the last 3 miles. However, Pen Mar Park doesn't allow camping. We ended up sleeping in the parking lot across from Pen Mar, by putting down the car seats so that we could set up sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and pillows. This was more comfortable than I expected, and made things logistically easier the next day.

Good luck!


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Mid May

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