Backpacking and camping on the A.T.

This week we took the leap from regular day packers to backpacking and camping along the Appalachian Trail. We came well prepared, having read all kinds of books on the what to bring, tips for packing, etc. Still, I was full of anxiety before the trip. What if I couldn’t handle it?

Karen on the A.T.

Karen on the A.T.

Our plan was to do a simple two-day hike along the A.T., from Greenbrier State Park in Maryland to Gathland State Park. (Basically this is sections four and five in Maryland.) As we hit the trail I had a hard time concentrating on the scenery. Was my backpack on right? Would I be able to make it? Was I carrying too much? Too little? Thankfully, after about a mile, I settled into my regular hiking mode and enjoyed the trail. I was quite proud of myself as we by-passed a few teenage boys. (Ha! An old lady can out-do the kids!) Later, I learned that the boys were part of a camp group and were just a little out of shape. Still, a small victory over youth!

Tod near DahlgrenWe stopped at the Washington Monument, the original monument to honor George. We continued on, past Dahlgren Chapel and across Route 40, until we got to Dahlgren Campsite.

The campsite is beautiful by A.T. standards. It has level campsites for tents and a bathroom with showers. We quickly settled in by setting up our tent and making cups of coffee. I had a great time reading from an old trailside reader while relaxing at camp.

Before long, an older man with a white beard and a big pack came lumbering into camp. His trail name, we learned, was “Poppy.” Poppy is a thru hiker, meaning that he began in Georgia and intends to go all the way to Maine. Wow! We learned so much from our camp companion. We gained tips about foot care, what to pack, how much to pack, places to pick up supplies, and much more. It was so much fun to hear about his adventures and to hear stories about others on the trail.

Tod and Poppy

Tod and Poppy

After a delicious dinner of instant meat lasagna, Claire, who is a trail ambassador and also stayed at camp, showed us how to boost our food up the bear pole for the night. We hit the sack early. I guess we were tired!

The next day, after breakfast, we said goodbye to Poppy and took off for another day of hiking. The trail was so serene at 8 am. The sun peaked through the trees and the glow of the early morning light was really beautiful. At first things were pretty easy. I even stopped by a big set of blackberry bushes and found a ripe one! From there, though, we had to go up a very steep, 800 foot elevation, in about 1 1/2 miles. Making things tough was the condition of the trail. Poppy had warned us that it was very rocky and he was right. It was crazy! I was a little

Rocks, rocks, rocks!

Rocks, rocks, rocks!

disappointed that there wasn’t a scenic overlook at the top if the mountain but we did find an overlook on the other side a little ways downhill.  We took a break to eat a power bar and the view was perfect. A little bird sang merrily on the top of a nearby tree and I can see why. She had the best view in all of Maryland.

The trip down hill was rocky but very do-able. We enjoyed the rest of our hike and it wasn’t long before we came to Gathland State Park, where we had left our car. The park has a Civil War correspondents memorial and other markers to describe the area’s significance during the war.

Overall, the trip boosted my confidence. I really can backpack!

Here we are, at the end of our hike!

Here we are, at the end of our hike!

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.