The last time we scheduled this event, in the fall, it had to be postponed due to the weather. Now it is winter, so let's see what the mountains look like in this season. After our hike, we will head to the famous Mountain Gate Restaurant, and have an all-you-can eat buffet that includes the beverage, the tax, and the tip for only $15. Yes; $15 is the total cost, and we can sit there all day and socialize while we have a delicious meal with so many choices of home-made food that it is beyond belief.
Since this is such a popular hiking location, due to the spectacular views, we have to get to the parking lot and the trail head early. So, prepare the day before the hike, come to the meeting place early, have a cup of coffee, and let's head up the mountains safely and in a relaxed manner.
At our last hike, we were very careful to stay on the trail - wherever it was
You are most welcome to bring your pet, but you may not allow your dog to run free and it must remain on a leash that is six feet or less at all times for the safety and well-being of the pet. There have been several rabid animals identified in the forest, and this is the prime reason for this requirement - it is also the law.
The address of the Mountain Gate is 133 Frederick Road, Thurmont, Maryland. Here is the web site for the restaurant and meeting point:
Everything at this restaurant is comprised of down-home country cooking, which is good food and plenty of it. The cost is $15 and it is all you can eat - you will definitely get your money's worth. I will be dreaming of their bread pudding until the day of our event!
Directions to the Mountain Gate restaurant (133 Frederick Road, Thurmont, MD):
From Washington, D.C. take Route 270 North to Frederick, MD.
Then take Route 15 North towards Thurmont, MD.
Make sure that you pass the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo.
Take the exit for Route 806 (Thurmont) and the sign will read: "806 Catoctin Furnace Rd. To Frederick Rd. Thurmont" where you are to exit.
Turn at the 1st Right on Thurmont Blvd (There will be a green sign in front of you that will point you towards Thurmont).
Turn at the 1st Left on Frederick Road which is also Route 806 (Catoctin Furnace will be on the right side).
The Mountain Gate restaurant will be on your left (Make sure that you park in the Mountain Gate restaurant and not in the Cozy restaurant).
This will be a cold weather, winter hike, so hikers should dress accordingly. Please read the entire activity write-up, and read the documents located by way of the links within the narrative.
It is requested that attendees post a profile photo, so that we know who you are, and we can look for you at the event. This event is appropriate for all ages, and members may bring guests as well as young'uns.
We are meeting at 8:30 AM in the parking lot of the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant, consolidating cars for carpooling, leaving for the trail head at 8:45 AM, and then beginning the hike at 9 AM. There is no admission fee to the national park.
This activity is appropriate for folks of all ages and hiking abilities, provided they can walk unassisted for 4-5 miles in an outdoor, mountainous setting. No special equipment is needed; waterproof hiking boots or mountain shoes or running shoes made for hiking are okay. Dress in layers do that you can peel off your clothing as the hike progresses..
The mountain's name is derived from the Kittoctons, an American Indian tribe, which once lived between the mountain and the Potomac River. It means "a place of many deer."
Our meeting place in Thurmont
At the trail head, we will start our walk at elevation 840 feet, by the Catoctin Mountain National Park Service Headquarters (do not enter that facility, as it is the Superintendent's home). There are no public rest room facilities right there, or along the trail, as it is the wilderness, so please plan accordingly. Some of our members on past hikes found that bringing zip lock bags with baby wipes were convenient, if the need exists. So, stop along the way to the meeting location if you are shy about using nature. During the hike, though, your shyness will have to be dissipated. Regarding the climb, Wolf Rock's elevation is 1401 feet, and Chimney Rock's elevation is 1419 feet. Accordingly, since we will start at 840 feet, the total extended elevation climb for our entire walk is solely 579 feet.
The pictures shown below are from the same hike that our group did in the past, and they can provide our members an idea of what it is like up here and what folks wore on the trail.
At the base of the mountain, our adventurers definitely seemed ready for the challenge ahead
When we got to Chimney Rock, we could see the mountain range for many miles. Will we will have an early snowfall this year?
At the crossroads of several trails, we were still doing well
Some have to buy their coats while others have natural coats
The city slickers wondered why this was called copperhead crevice
The colder it gets up here, the happier the hikers seem to be
Yes, the crevices were quite deep, and one could even see Pennsylvania beyond the mountains
Everyone made it safely to Chimney Rock at this hike
Each hiker likes to lay a claim to a personal rock
The very large boulders, though, they can be shared
Meditating on the buffet meal is a definite driving force for us
We will be just Southeast of Camp David, and we will stay on the trail, or else we will be greeted by well-armed strangers
In the cold mountains, the air is fresh and clean; one feels reinvigorated, and can get healed up here.
As noted, children are welcome, but must be kept under supervision at all times. Pets are welcome on the hike, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times.
Be aware that the trails may be treacherous and slippery, which is why we do not rush on our hikes.
This will be an up-and-back loop hike. Remember that off season hiking demands twice the energy as fair weather hiking; that is, one mile in the cold with wet terrain equals two miles in the warmth with dry terrain.
Yes, the area is serene and resplendent as well as remote in its wild nature. However, allow me to say this, so that there is no misunderstanding later on. Our entire hike will take place on Federal property. We will be east of Camp David (i.e., the Presidential Retreat, originally called Shangri-la, which is actually a US Navy installation), and south of Area "R" (i.e., Raven Rock, otherwise known as the Alternate National Military Command Center, or the "Backup Pentagon"). Of course, since the sensitive facilities are all in an underground complex, it will not be visible. The perimeters therein are nonetheless prohibited locations. It is therefore important that none of us venture in areas that are off-limits. Accordingly, we will stay on the trail, so that no stray sheep become part of a Federal catch and release program. This is one of the few parks where riflemen are trained to shoot people.
There are no parking fees, and no park entrance charges, and no costs whatsoever in the park. Your only cost will be in gas for the trip and for food at the restaurant.
Here is what our hike will consist of. We meet at 8:30 AM at the restaurant. Then we carpool to the trail head. The walking will start on the trail head at 9 AM, so all will need to arrive before that time, as the parking lot fills quickly. If you miss the 8:30 AM meeting, you will have to somehow catchup. We will do a 4-5 mile loop to the mountainous outlooks, and visit two of the most well known and most scenic rock formations in the entire national park, Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock. While the initial ascent is classified as "the most strenuous, narrow, steep, and slippery trail" in the park, and it is "very difficult to identify without a map and compass," we will be okay. Regarding the ascent, if you can walk up several flights of stairs, you will do just fine. The park rangers tell visitors that a compass and map is strongly advised, as so many get lost there, so this hike will test our trail tracking skills. We will keep our eyes open to ascertain where the trail is. The views are stupendous in the Catoctin Mountain, which is the easternmost mountain ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and which in turn is a part of the Appalachian Mountain Range.
As well as having radio contact capability with the park rangers, we will have at least one first responder with us trained in first aid and CPR.
And after the hike, we will enjoy a well-deserved repast, and eat to our heart's content at this excellent family restaurant.
When you RSVP, make sure you answer the corollary question that will magically appear asking you if you want to eat the buffet lunch after the hike so that I know what size room to reserve on that day.
At the Mountain Gate, we will share stories that you don't read about in booksl
Please note that we're giving ourselves three hours for a four mile walk, and it includes extended breaks at two overlooks. No one will be left behind, as we will have a sweep and be in radio contact at all times. The activity is dependent on safe weather, as hiker safety is the top priority. If the event is canceled due to inclement weather, all will get an email the evening before, no later than 9 PM. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at any time.
Here is the weather report for our event location updated in real time:
Based on what we have learned from prior winter activities, we have made a document for our hikers that can be life-saving during the cold weather season, and it lists sensible clothing to wear in the winter:
Letter to Hikers - Winter Hiking Gear - What to Bring and Wear
As is true on all our outdoor hiking and kayaking activities, no smoking, no alcohol, and no illicit drugs. It is quite rude for a group to be walking single file with one person smoking away thus having everyone behind him coughing and wheezing. This has not happened yet on my hikes, mainly because all know what to expect before the event.
This document contains a map of the area:
Catoctin Mountain Park Map
Below shows the exit where you get off from Route 15:
Here is the parking area at the trail head (remember that we are first meeting at the Mountain Gate Restaurant to carpool):
Here is what the beginning of the trail looks like:
Here is me on the trail early this morning (the snow is about 4" deep and I was the first one on it after the recent snow storm):
And here is a local resident wondering what all the fuss on the snow is about: