Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hog Rock Nature Trail

Greenery around the trail
1 mile loop, 80 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy. Flat, no unexpected hazards.

The short loop hike to Hog Rock is a pleasant leg-stretcher in Catoctin Mountain Park though very pretty forest to a nice view of the Piedmont.

Catoctin Mountain Park is home to Camp David, the presidential retreat. Franklin Roosevelt built Camp David after realizing it would be difficult for him to access the former presidential retreat, Rapidan Camp in Shenandoah National Park. There are occasional closures in the park when the president comes to Camp David, so check at before visiting.

I did this hike on my way back from my unsuccessful attempt to hike the AT across Maryland in 2 days. For hikers coming from DC, the easiest way to get to the trailhead would be to take I-270 northwest to Frederick, then to head north on US 15 to Thurmont, take Maryland Route 77 west into Catoctin Mountain Park, then to take the Park Central Road north (right) at the visitor center and drive uphill to reach the well-marked trailhead.

When I drove into the park during late July, the greenery in the park was nothing short of astonishing. I climbed up toward the crest of Catoctin Mountain on Park Central Road and soon treached the trailhead. Catoctin Mountain is one of the two main ridges that form the Crystalline Appalachians through Maryland. The Blue Ridge Mountains, which form a towering backbone from Roanoke to Manassas Gap, is reduced to the single undulating ridgeline of South Mountain in Maryland. The Southwest Mountains and Bull Run Mountains of Virginia, a chain of low mountains east of the Blue Ridge, begin rising far out of the Piedmont after crossing the Potomac and become Catoctin Mountain. Together, Catoctin and South Mountains form the heart of the Appalachians in Maryland.

Park Central Road
The trail started across the road from the parking area. While self-guiding brochures are sometimes available for hikers on the Hog Rock Nature Trail, there were not any brochures available on my visit, so I did not get to learn about quite as much of the area's ecology as I would have liked. The trail started by heading slightly downhill, then flattening out. The trail was wide and easy to follow and the greenery of the park made it an enjoyable jaunt.

About five minutes from the trailhead, I came to a trail junction, at which I followed the trail to the left, which headed directly toward Hog Rock. Not long afterward, I arrived at Hog Rock itself, a very small rock outcrop with a nice but limited view of a ridge of Catoctin Mountain and the Piedmont in the distance.
View east from Hog Rock
Appropriately, Hog Rock was an outcrop of Catoctin basalt. The Catoctin formation, which runs along many points of the Blue Ridge crest and on Catoctin Mountain, was named after this mountain and region, even though it is found much further south as well. This formation is an ancient lava flow: it is the remnant of volcanic activity that occurred when a rift formed as the supercontinent Rodinia split up around 600 million years ago and created the Iapetus Ocean.

Continuing on the trail, I walked through more gentle forest landscape until I came to a junction that for the loop back, which I followed back to the parking area. While this hike was generally uneventful, I still found it enjoyable and worth a short 20-30 minute jaunt.

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