Billy Goat Trail
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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:
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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
Printable Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Wolfsville Weather Forecast

Garmin (GDB), GPS eXchange (GPX) (What's this?)
From:

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)
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Maryland Challenge hike:

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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: Friday, May 24, 2019
I took this on over Memorial Day weekend because I wasn’t sure how long it would take me. I’ve done sections over the years with friends but have never gone solo. Additionally I had multiple knee surgeries late last year so this was the first hike at any level that I was attempting. Having read numerous posts about doing it in a day or two I figured I would challenge myself and give it a shot. I figured I could do it in 3 days and if my knees weren’t up to it, 4 days. Also, I wanted to check the sights and try and get 47 miles in before I turned 48 this summer.

The route: north to south. Dropped a car at harpers ferry upper park (free parking with national parks pass) at 5am and my wife gave me a ride to pen mar road. Hopped out and was on my way.

Gear: altra trail running shoes w/rock plate, shorts, T-shirt and Columbia PFG, hat. Trekking poles and 30 lb pack. Too much water.

Day 1: The hike itself started great. Snapped a couple of inches off a trekking pole at mile 3 as it got wedged between rocks. It had rained the couple of days before so it was alternating between mud and rock at times. I had my handy paper AT topo map and downloaded Guthook to check that out. Ended up using the app more. Great scenic pit stops and saw a few people on the trail. Most heading north. The uphill after Ensign Cowall shelter gave me problems. Most of the downhills weren’t easy on my knees but weren’t hard. The jagged rocks after POGO also left a memorable mark on me. That was tough on me and a group heading north. Made me think I should have worn boots. Powered through and set a mental destination of Dahlgren. 4 miles out I didn’t think I would make it. The heat and humidity stopped me from fueling properly and my face was chalky from all the salt I had sweat out. It didn’t look good. Took a long breather and ate/drank and moved on. Got to dahlgren just before 8pm. Legs were shot and got the tent set up and everything out to cook dinner....and then I cheated. Others in camp were walking up to the South Mountain Inn for pizza and beer. Sounded glorious. I joined them. Although Diet Coke sounded better and when I saw the pizza I passed. Diet Coke was the elixir of the gods. Had 3 and hobbled back to my tent and passed out from exhaustion.

Day 2: figured the worst was behind me and planned on finishing that night. I was carrying food supplies to cover 4 days so I started to unload food on everyone. It went quick and my pack was much lighter. Also I carry too much water. Springs are plentiful along this hike and there are a few places that supply potable water. So I rolled up the bladder and stayed with the handheld. The second seemed a breeze in comparison. Some great sites and tons of people out for Memorial Day weekend. Made it to Harpers Ferry only to find my car was 2 miles away because there are two parts of the park. I was parked in the “main” or “upper” park and the trailhead is in the lower park. Dagger.

It’s a great hike. Too much for two days. Take 4 and you’ll love it. You could dial back the food, water and even a tent for pack weight. I carried too much myself. I also encourage north to south because you can hang out in harpers ferry and have fun.


By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 11, 2019
Four friends and I (2F, 3M in our early 30s) did the hike in one day from Pen-Mar to Harper's Ferry. We're all pretty active, and I personally didn't expect the hike to be as challenging as it was for my fitness level, but I still really enjoyed the challenge.

Light and trail issues:
Despite the suggestions from other reviews on this thread, within the first couple of miles even with headlamps we managed to get off the trail and had to scramble up a pretty steep slope in the dark to get back to the AT using a map on one of our phones. It could have been immediately after the first trailblazer - we don't have any idea when we ventured off, but we didn't realize for a bit too long. Do not forget a headlamp or other source(s) of light! After getting back on the trail, it was pretty well marked with the white trailblazers. However, if it has recently rained/is raining, around mile 7 you cross a creek and many of the rocks are nearly covered by water. The vast majority of the hike is extremely rocky. I had never previously done a hike that was this consistently rocky, and my feet definitely felt it. Do not attempt this hike with shoes that are too old or that don't have any arch support left. Toward the end of the hike, rain from earlier in the week created some pretty muddy patches of trail. I'd also suggest bringing 1-2 extra pairs of socks to change if your feet get wet or sweaty.

Food and water:
Three people used 3 L bladders and two had 1.5 L bladders. We also brought 3 Lifestraw water bottles in case we ran out before the springs and a 20 oz water bottle with nuun in it. There are springs at miles 21 and 31. I ran out of all water just before mile 21 (1.5 L bladder and 20 oz water bottle), so this was perfect for me. However, it was about 65 degrees and not sunny during most of the hike. Any warmer/sunnier/more humid day would call for more water for sure, so depending on the weather, I'd suggest getting a 3 L bladder just to be safe. Needing to filter water was not necessary - I'd leave the filters at home to save weight. For food, we actually brought too much. I went through (after bagels and cream cheese prior to starting) 2 fruit leathers, half a small pack of dried mango, 1 kind bar, 3 beef sticks, 1 pack of beef jerky, 1 chocolate covered pretzel, 1 chocolate covered oreo, a couple handfuls of chocolate covered espresso beans (a GREAT pick me up), a half bag of trail mix, a half small bag of peanut butter filled pretzels, a package of dried seaweed, and 2 packages of running beans (jelly beans). The group I was with constantly reminded each other to eat or drink water which was helpful as the mental awareness of thirst wasn't really all there after mile ~35.

Difficulty/suggestions:
This hike was a mental challenge just as much as a physical challenge. My preparation was limited to one 16 mile hike, a 10 mile road race, and a 6.5 mile trail run in the weeks before. Up until the 22 mile water stop at the Washington Monument, I felt great. Between 22 and the 31 mile water stop at Crampton Gap Shelter, all of us had ailments including foot and knee pain. I'd strongly suggest trying to knock out a 25-30 mile hike during training, just for the sake of repetitive motion. I'd also suggest not doing this hike on your own unless you've been able to do 30-40 mile hikes by yourself. I needed the motivation of my friends to get through the last 10 miles. That being said, don't bring too many people. Paces may not match, and there's nothing worse than feeling like you're holding back a group of people, or feeling like you can push yourself to go quicker and other's cannot keep up. Go with people that can keep up with your fitness level - for me, five people was perfect. The hike took us just about 17 hours with a handful of stops. Importantly, go a bit further from the trail than you think you need in order to poop. Thru hikers aren't ashamed to stare otherwise :)

Parking/lodging:
We left one car at the Harper's Ferry train station and drove up to Pen-Mar with another car. We parked in the gravel lot across from Pen-Mar Park, and slept under a gazebo in the park overlooking a town below, which was ideal for getting started early. Our goal was the estimated 16-18 hours, and we left at 4:15 am to try to get back before dark (did not make it before sunset). The end of the hike essentially leads to the train station at Harper's Ferry where we collected our bags and left the car again overnight ($15 park fee, an envelope but not a true "ticket" was left on the windshield). I booked 2 rooms in advance a the Town's Inn which is a very short walk from the parking lot (would highly suggest!). One of the rooms could actually have housed us all, but I'd definitely look into this place for a late check in and ease of getting off your feet quickly after the hike. There's not much open late at Harper's Ferry, but there is a cafe connected to the Town's Inn and a pizza place that are open til 10 pm. We opted to drive to get pizza and beer from a 7-eleven a mile away, brought it back and passed out an hour later.

Things to not forget (aside from the obvious):
Sunscreen, toilet paper, headlamp/flashlight, socks, moleskin if you're prone to blisters, hand sanitizer, plastic bag/ziploc for garbage and used toilet paper, bugspray if mosquitoes are already out, portable phone charger if you will depend on any apps, rain jacket

Overall this was an amazing experience, pushing ourselves together. The weather was absolutely on our side, and I could see this hike increasing with difficulty in other conditions, so just be prepared for what the weather forecast is whenever you do decide to go!


By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 16, 2018
Two friends and I did this hike mid-June. We’re all in our late 20’s, hike very often, and are in decent shape. We started at 5:00 AM at the Mason Dixon line and crossed over into Harpers Ferry right after 8:00 PM. Factoring in a 45-minute break at the Washington Monument (pizza!!!) and various 5-10 minute breaks throughout our actual hiking time was just under 14 hours.

A few things to note about the trail. First, there really isn’t that much elevation gain/loss. There are 3 primary hills, High Rock, Black Rock, and Lamb’s Knoll. Aside from that, the trail is rolling hills and flat areas. The elevation was challenging at times, especially Lamb’s Knoll, but what got us even more was the rocky terrain. It seemed like miles would go by and we’d still be walking on rocks, and sometimes sharp rocks. Don’t do what I did and use beat up old tennis shoes. Proper footwear is a must for this trail.

Another thing to note is that the trail, although well marked most of the time, can be confusing. On one occasion, about Mile 7 or so, we were walking along a creek when the trail started to narrow. We became suspicious, so we double backed a few hundred yards and realized the trail actually crossed the creek. There was no bridge, just a few rocks to hop across. Looking back on it now I realize that the creek was just very high at the time so it’s most likely not much of an issue typically. Little things like this can set you back and also mess with you mentally if they keep happening.

Another area that was quite confusing was about Mile 2. When you get to the large rock beds at the base of High Rock pay close attention to the trees so you can find the white marks. There’s no real “trail,” you must rely on the white marks to navigate the rocks. This can be particularly difficult in the dark.

I would recommend doing this hike as close to the summer solstice as possible to maximize daylight. Both the start and the end of this trail have difficult terrain (base of High Rock and Weverton Cliffs) so operating in the daylight is ideal. That said, definitely have a headlamp for early morning hiking and in case you pace slower than expected. The hike down Weverton Cliffs is no joke, especially after hiking 35+ miles, and I can’t imagine doing it in the dark.

Anyway, a few random thoughts about the hike. From an emotional standpoint, you almost get the sense the trail will never end I remember thinking to myself around the 35-mile marker that this was getting a bit excessive. And it was. Especially when you’re literally walking for miles on the toe path to Harpers Ferry.

Another thought I have (or I guess I should say had), and previous writers have suggested this as well, is that prior to this hike I thought that since I’ve been hiking 10+ miles for a long time and have done 25-mile hikes before yada yada yada that this would be no biggie. Nope. Unless you’re in amazing shape and do long hikes/walks all the time, THIS HIKE WILL TEST YOU. Don’t get me wrong, expect that you will finish, just know that physically and especially mentally the hike will challenge you throughout.

Overall, I recommend the hike. It was great to spend time with friends not only doing the hike but also prepping and making plans. But just know what you’re getting into be prepared, get the right shoes and study the terrain a little. If possible, hike a few miles in advance of the challenge so you get an idea of what to expect. Bottom line is just go do it.


By: Kevin H. Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Completed the Maryland Challenge over the course of two days beginning the early morning of October 4th and finishing in the evening of October 5th. Day one was 18 miles to Pine Knob Shelter and day two was the remaining 24 miles to Harpers Ferry.

Began day one at around 5:30am at the Pen Mar County Park parking lot. It was very dark up there at this time for and a headlamp was absolutely necessary to walk safely to up to the Mason Dixon Line sign and to officially begin the journey. I had never traveled on this part of the AT before so it was a challenge to stay on the trail especially given that it was still dark outside. I found myself diverting from the trail a few times by accident because the white blaze was difficult to spot on the trees. Luckily I had downloaded the Guthook app on my phone (which can run on Airplane mode) and I was able to find the trail again.

The first miles between High Rock and the Raven Rock shelter were tough, it was a lot of steep, rocky inclines, followed by a steep decline past Raven Rock, so be prepared. I remember this beginning section as some of the more challenging of the entire first day. High Rock is a very nice view, and I took a few minutes to break and enjoy the view, just try to ignore some the graffiti on the rock itself, in my opinion it kind of takes away from the whole experience. Raven Rock was the next place I wanted to check out and it&rsquos one of the newer and nicer shelters along this section of the trail. I finally finished the first half of the day at Ensign Cowall Shelter for lunch.

Continuing along, Black Rock Cliffs and Annapolis Rocks are two great areas to visit along the way, the views here are probably some of the best along the entire trail and worth blue blazing a quarter mile to take in. These are also good places to drop the pack and ease the weight off your shoulders. I finally settled at Pine Knob Shelter for the night at about 5:00 or 5:30pm. Here you&rsquoll find tent pads, privy, shelter and the bear poles to stick your food on for the night. The major downside to this area is you can hear the traffic from Interstate 70 like it&rsquos in your backyard. I thought traffic would die down a bit as the night went on but it didn&rsquot. It was hard for me to get a good sleep at Pine Knob Shelter. I&rsquod consider Annapolis Rock&rsquos campsite (which isn&rsquot listed on the four day guide here) and you won&rsquot hear the traffic.

Day two began and I was on the Interstate 70 bridge very early on and heading towards the Washington Monument. The journey up to the momument is definitely a steep incline up, but I&rsquod suggest taking the extra small mileage and checking out the monument and the great view. There are also a number of historical signs to take in with regards to our first president&rsquos life. The next stop would be Dahlgreen Backpack Campground, but I&rsquod caution that this is fine for privy use, but the showers are pretty gross looking, I passed on showering here and on the entire journey for that matter.

Gathland State Park is at about mile 30 and it&rsquos has a large pavilion with picnic tables to rest and eat at. There are bathrooms just beyond the pavilion. From here, there was no more stopping for me until Harper&rsquos Ferry. I knew that coming down the very steep decline at Weaverton Cliffs is probably pretty tough at night so I wanted to make sure there was enough day light to get down safely. Having gone about 20 or so miles already that day, this was a major challenge to get down without any incidents.

Once I was down, it is pretty much flat and a straight shot to Harper&rsquos Ferry along the C&O Canal. At this point my feet were ready to fall off and I&rsquod probably would have paid any sum of money for one of the bikes that passed me along the way so that I could get to my end point. However, I pushed on and grinded it out and finished around 6:30pm.

This was the first time I had done anything like this, the most I had ever hiked was 9-10 miles in one day in Colorado. To hike 42 miles in two days was very taxing on my entire body including my hips and shoulders. This hike for an overnight hiker novice like me was more challenging than I imagined, but I consider it quite an accomplishment and would suggest it to those who are up for it.

Some additional tips-must haves on the trail are: trekking poles (can&rsquot tell you how many falls they saved me from having), plenty of water, a good understanding of water sources on the trail (Guthook app can help with this), good headlamp if you want to hike at night or early morning, and plenty of food for energy to keep the legs and feet going. Also like I said before consider other shelters besides Pine Knob, especially if you are a light sleeper. Prepare to walk through tons of spider webs. Take the time to enjoy the views.


By: Rachel S Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 6, 2017
3 of my classmates and I decided to do this hike as a last-hurrah during our Senior Year of college. We had minimal hiking experience but are all fit and more or less athletic individuals. We decided to do this as an overnight, hiking from Pen Mar to Dahlgren Backpacking Campground on the first day (about 24 miles) and then from Dahlgren to Harpers Ferry the second day (about 16 miles).

We began from Pen Mar in good spirits at about 8:30am and headed south (after touching PA). The weather was rainy and somewhat chilly, which made much of the uphills and rocks slippery, but not too bad. Our group woefully underestimated the toll that 24 miles would take on our bodies (and spirits), but decided to push through the whole way. Pine Knob shelter was our bail out point, if we thought we wouldn't make it all the way to Dahlgren, but we decided keep walking, knowing that we would be hiking in the dark for the last portion. I am glad we did this because we reached the Washington Monument just at sunset, and it was a GORGEOUS view. However that left us to go the remaining 1.5 miles in the dark. Finally we made it to Dahlgren around 10pm and quickly set up camp before falling right asleep. The bathrooms were a welcome sight.

Waking up on Day Two was difficult but we wanted to get an early start to the day. We left Dahlgreen around 8am and continued south. The uphill to Gathland State Park was brutal, but we made it with frequent stops. It was more or less flat after that, but our feet hurt with every step and the downhills were difficult on our knees. We were so focused on finishing the trip that we didn't stop to enjoy the views off trail- something I wish we took the time for, in retrospect. It felt like forever until we made it to the final switchbacks and then the C&O Towpath, but the level ground was welcome. By the time we reached Harpers Ferry I thought my feet would fall off.

All in all, the hike was HARD (especially for some inexperienced, but very eager friends) but so worth it in the end. The best part of the trip was some Trail Magic we experienced on Day 2. A family in the parking lot of Gathland had a picnic table set up with lots of food and snacks for the taking. It was the highlight of the trip. I would recommend, perhaps as a 3 or 4 day trip so to more enjoy the journey.


    View all 22 reviews for the Maryland Challenge hike
Mid May

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