Camp at the Adirondack Shelters in Catoctin Mountain Park

4 miles 1200 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Ashley Stimpson

Escape boring ol' car camping with a challenging 4-mile hike to an Adirondack shelter, buried deep in the park's wilder, less crowded western edge.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Maryland is an ideal place to live. Between the mountains and the Bay--and the rivers, bike paths, and trails along the way--we couldn't ask for much more. But if we were feeling greedy, we would probably ask for additional backpacking options, right? Of course, there are the state forests out west, and Pennsylvania and Virginia are close enough destinations. But for a state as beautiful as ours, it would be great to have another way to get out--and stay out--in it. 

Catoctin Mountain Park saves the day. The popular spot, run by the National Park Service, has built two Adirondack shelters (much like the ones you'll find on the AT) deep in the backcountry of the park. These cost a measly reservation fee and seem to be only sporadically booked. Accessing the shelters requires a moderately difficult hike in, but takes you to the western edge of the park, away from the madness that surrounds Chimney and Wolf Rocks. 

I was advised by a ranger to park overnight in the Camp Round Meadow lot, but that checking in for a permit was not required. From the lot, take the Brown's Farm trail to the Owen's Creek picnic area. Once in the picnic area, head toward the road (Foxfield-Deerfield Rd.) and turn right. In about 100 yards, you'll veer left onto a horse trail, narrowly skirting the Owen's Creek campground. 

From here the trail crawls uphill. The climbs are gradual and there was ample water along the way (in late July). The horse trail merges with the Catoctin Scenic Trail briefly before diverging for one last push to the shelters. We encountered no other hikers in the backcountry on a Saturday in the summer. Depending on which trails you choose, the hike is 3.5-4 miles long. 

The shelters themselves are set back on a lush hilltop beneath enormous trees among endless undergrowth. They are far enough apart that your neighbor would have to throw down pretty hard to bother you--but they're close enough that if you go with friends, you can at least spy each other across the way. The structures are sound and kept us dry through a night of torrential rains. A fire ring and pit toilet are nearby if you need them. A small creek runs just behind shelter #2 to filter drinking water and clean your gear. You cannot camp in these shelters without making a reservation online or in person at the ranger station.

While not quite a Homeric adventure, this backpacking excursion is a great way to test out new gear or get in shape. And for those of us Marylanders who crave nearby backpacking, Catoctin Mountain is a Free State miracle.  

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Summer delight

This is fun during summer! Lots of green fills the area and the fire pits make for a nice evening. We were able to pack in more than usual since its an easier hike, too!

Easy backpacking trip

We took our two sons, 7 and 9 on their first backpacking trip to the Adirondack Shelters in Catoctin. Total solitude as we did not see another soul up there! The hike was not too hard, and if you can read a map you will be fine (print out the description of the hike on this website for help getting started at the right place). The trail up to the shelter is actually several connected trails, be sure to watch for blaze changes and you will not be lost. Bring a compass like any wise hiker :) and use the map provided at the trailhead or at the Visitor's Center. Each shelter has an outhouse/pit toilet and a fire ring. The shelters are well built, ours kept us bone dry during a rainstorm. Since our boys had never backpacked before, after hiking back we spent the next night in a cabin at Camp Misty Mount (which had access to hot water showers and a pool) plus access to lots of easy day hikes. Great location, quiet and beautiful. This hike is great for newbies or for those with capable children.

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