A Forest Full of Ferns: Gambrill State Park

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On the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend Tod and I decided to hike the yellow trail in Gambrill State Park. The park is located in Western Maryland off of I70.  We began at the first parking lot and headed North but when we got to the spot where we had to choose which way to go on the loop we took the wrong trail and ended up doing the Southern loop. Imagine our surprise when we ended up back at the car after a couple miles when we thought we were going on a 7 mile hike!

Luckily, we didn’t let this discourage us. We tried again and finally got on the right trail. It goes along the road for quite a ways and is maintained by a mountain biker club so there were a few bikers on the trail. The forest was really beautiful and covered with a blanket of ferns. The paths seemed a bit more level than Sugar Loaf and Cactoctin and for much of the trail it was clear of rocks or roots. That being said, there were also lots of area that were very rocky.

We ended up also doing the northern-most loop of the trail. Both Tod and I think that this is the best part. It had fewer people and was serene and beautiful. Just be careful! When you get to the powerlines, you  need to turn left and follow them a little ways to pick up the trail again. My only complaint is that there were not too many obvious places to pull off of the trail for a quick bite to eat. If you find a big rock, take it!

Overall, the length our hike was about 9 miles (according to my hiking/gps app.) The length of the hike was harder than the ruggedness of the trail. I found it easier than Sugar Loaf, but hopefully that is because I’m in better shape. 🙂


-There are a lot of parking spaces near the Nature Center at the top of the hill. The Nature Center also has cold drinks and there is a restroom nearby.

-Go early in the morning, before many bikers get there.

-Although this is a state park, we didn’t see anyplace to pay for admission. We have a yearly pass but it looks like it is possible to get in without one.

How did it come to this?!?

Hi! My name is Karen, Tod’s wife and a happy partner in our new hiking adventures.  Perhaps I should chime in on how it came to be that I went from being a couch potato to an avid hiker, all in the span of a few months. I think some of my friends and family are wondering what happened!

Like Tod, hiking is not completely new to me. Growing up, our family went camping almost every weekend. In my 20’s I had a bunch of girlfriends who also liked the outdoors. We would camp at Cactoctin Mountain Park and go hiking. That being said, I’ve never done backpacking and my camping methods were pretty tame. Life got in the way  of adventure and the hiking stopped.

Our visit to the Grand Canyon was life-changing. The feeling I got hiking along the rim was magical. Then, during our stay in Sedona, we went on the Cathedral Rock hike. Halfway up I thought, “This is crazy!  I’ll never get down!” I broke through my fear and had a blast. It was so freeing!

Now, after, several hikes in Maryland I’m hooked. There is something so serene about being in the woods. Being completely out of breath going up a mountain isn’t anything like being out of breath on a treadmill. I love it!

Hopefully, this blog will chronicle some neat hiking and camping options in the DMV area from the perspective of someone like me. An out of shape, old, novice hiker with a heck of a lot of enthusiasm!


Catching Up: Catoctin and Sugarloaf.

On Sundays May 4 and 11, Karen and I hiked two trails in the Frederick area of Maryland. The first was a five-mile trail in Catoctin Mountain Park. From the Visitor Center, we walked to Cunningham Falls, then headed northeast toward Hog Rock and onward toward the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook. From there we hiked east to where the trail intersects with the path toward Thurmont Vista. Not taking that path, we continued southward back to the Visitor Center.

Tod on one of our early hiking adventures.

Tod on one of our early hiking adventures.

On the 11th, Karen and I hiked six miles (our pedometers read well over six miles, though our trail map says five miles) on Sugarloaf Mountain. As at Catoctin, we arrived at about 10 a.m. and the parking lot was filling quickly.  Here we hiked the Blue Trail, which was—for the most part, at least—well marked. We lost the trail for 5-10 minutes at the White Rocks Overlook; we recovered it by walking back along the path by which we arrived at the Rocks until we found where the path diverged, with one part extending to the Overlook, the other part leading off to the right. Whereas the trail at Catoctin was rocky and rooty, Sugarloaf was far more rocky. Throughout our hike at Sugarloaf, the trail was shaded. In the first quarter, we descended along a creekbed—very green and cool. Along the final mile, the trail became sodden and muddy, and—although some planks had been placed where the mud was thickest—we had to circumvent the trail to avoid the mud.

On the following Sunday, May 18, Karen and I thought we would try out the three-mile Spicebush Trail in Watkins Regional Park—not far off of Central Ave., in Prince George County. We didn’t get very far before we found that the trail was submerged due to flooding over the past week. Since the trail was a circuit, we thought we’d reverse our direction and see how far we could get, but we hardly got beyond our starting point when we found the trail taped off and marked “Under Construction.” To salvage our trip as best we could, we walked the 1.7 mile Park Loop—which, I might observe, would make an excellent jogging path, as it is paved and generally smooth and level.

I wish I could say more for Watkins Regional Park, but the hiking trails at Catoctin and Sugarloaf are definitely worth visiting again.



Getting Started

Karen and I do not have a long history of hiking. Sure, we’ve walked along a few trails during our fifteen years of marriage, but it just never occurred to us to take on hiking as an avocation. That all changed during our recent trip to the south rim of Grand Canyon and to Sedona.

Back in ’79 and ’80 I worked as a reservations clerk in Grand Canyon Village. During that time I hiked hundreds of miles in the canyon, exploring many of the backcountry trails. Needless to say, I loved hiking, and I especially loved Grand Canyon. Being back on the rim, thirty-five years later, and looking down at the old familiar trails, pointing them out to my wife, brought back more than nostalgia. It reminded me of a past-time that once brought me pleasure, peace of mind, and a sense of accomplishment. But, was I now too old? I was certainly getting out of shape. Perhaps, it was too late to think of hiking once again.

Before heading back home, Karen and I stopped overnight at Sedona. Before leaving we decided to take a short hike. The Cathedral Rock Trail was listed as being only one mile long, but was also said to be difficult. I attributed that rating to the steepness merely, not at all aware of what that steepness involved. I should say, having climbed Cathedral Rock, that “Trail” is a misnomer, because—although well-marked with white blazes—there is often no cultivated trail beneath one’s feet, but only rock. The so-called trail is, in some places, nothing more than a crevice. Huffing and puffing, I reached the magnificent overlook at the top, right behind Karen. Doubts had given us pause more than once during our ascent. Yet, here we were. We had done it! We had met the challenge!

As we made our way back down, we reflected on what we had just done and what it meant. First, it meant that we were not too old. Second, although it let us know just how out of shape we had become, it also let us know that we could tolerate some rigorous exercise. Gradually, the plan came to us: we would become hikers, and we would get ourselves back into shape.  Who knows, . . . after a year or two, we might actually return to Arizona and hike the canyon!