Hiking to be Swiss

Life has been moving at breakneck speed lately.  So much faster than when we lived in Switzerland.  So fast that I feel like I’m dropping my Swiss-life intentions behind me as I’m rocketed along.

But I do try to keep all those life intentions clutched in my hands and tucked inside my head. One of those intentions was to go hiking regularly. And it’s one that we can actually do with minimal effort.

Actually, there is a great website called Hiking Upward that has extremely detailed maps to lead even novices through hikes for Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. Routes, topography, altitude changes, and a step-by-step guide through the trail. I not only have the page bookmarked, I pretty much have it open all the time.

There are loads of great hiking places around the DC area. Some right by DC. Some about an hour’s drive out. This time we went to the Catoctin Mountain, which is just outside of Frederick, MD on the east and next to the famous Camp David on the west. This is a link to the map we used.

catocin-map-1I marked out the route we took in red. We intended to go much further, but the boys were having none of it. Oh well. It gives us more places to see on the trail when we hike there again.

img_0254The hike was full of young, thin trees, which makes the forest seem younger than it is. This range of forest has been here forever.

Part of the mountain was mined. Both by the Native Americans for rhyolite to make tools and by modern Americans for coal and iron. You can even find remains of Depression Era Works Projects and even an Iron Furnace where they used to make car wheels. It’s rumored that this furnace made some of the cannon balls that were used in the Revolutionary War by the colonists.

The Catoctin Park (pronounced ca-TOX-in) was initially bought by the state of Maryland to demonstrate how eroded, over-mined land could be turned back into fertile forest again.

Then the federal government came in and the WPA came into make camps for crippled children and family camps for government employees.

The Feds also used part of it to create a vacation spot for Franklin Roosevelt. While he was rich and had his own home in New York state, the Secret Service started to get a bit jumpy about him going there so often. Especially after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.

And especially since he couldn’t stop talking about his yachting trips on the Potomac and all the time he spent at his home.

So, they decided to build something for him here. It’s close to DC so he could get back in a hurry if he needed to, but has the aura of peace that he wanted.

After the war was over and Roosevelt had died everyone wondered what to do with the land. Do we keep it all as a national park? Do we have Maryland take it over as a state park?

President Truman decided to split it up. Part of it would be used as the presidential retreat that we now know as Camp David. Part of it would be a public park operated by the National Park Service. The other part would be given back to Maryland as a state park.

Everyone’s happy!

img_0255The hike is really rocky at the start. The footpath is somewhat up-hill, but not too steep. By Swiss standards it’s darn near flat!  The boys, thinking they had left weekend hiking behind them, were not terribly thrilled at the start. But by the time we had lost sight of the parking lot they were jumping from rock to rock and telling us all about Pokemon and Superheros.

I’m not sure they paused long enough to noticed the beautiful nature, but I did.

img_0251I do have to admit, I was a little disappointed that I could still hear road noise for the first 30 – 45 minutes of the hike. The trail is somewhat near the road and this park is so popular you hear cars whooshing by at regular intervals. I couldn’t wait until the trail turned north and we headed further up into the mountains.

A lot of people come to the park just to hike up to Chimney Rock. It’s an easy hour-long hike up to one of the most beautiful views in the park. People bring lunches in their backpacks and sit on the rocks to eat and enjoy the view. We shared our lunch spot with about 10 other people and 2 dogs.


This is also the picture that everyone takes at Chimney Rock.  Or, if you are a bit bolder, you climb out to the rock with the reddish top to it and sit there looking over the sheer 500-foot drop.

img_0262I did not go out there. E and H tried to convince us they could make it. I said Hell would have to freeze over first. “Winter is coming,” they said.

It is a beautiful view. Perched high up away from the hum of cars and chirps of cell phones we enjoyed our ham and cheese sandwiches. I didn’t even mind all the other view-seekers since they had the same level of appreciation for the landscape’s beauty that I had.

And they also chewed quietly.

The boys were stunned to find that we were going to continue on with the hike rather than turn around and go back. What were we? Sadists?

Apparently, yes, since we continued on towards Wolf Rock.

Wolf Rock isn’t that far away from Chimney Rock, actually. It’s only about 15 minutes on and a little bit lower in elevation. Wolf Rock isn’t just one rock or even a bank of rocks. It’s an entire line of rockiness that ends in a rock that vaguely looks like a wolf’s head.


It is steep, but that doesn’t stop people from finding the hiking trail up and doing a bit of climbing to get to the view. It did, however, stop us. One boy absolutely refused and the other was so eager we were worried he’d accidentally fling himself from the top of the rock in an attempt to climb to the top.

img_0266As you can see the path down from Wolf Rock is wide and clear and sandy. It is an easy and entirely enjoyable hike. I could look at the sky and the leaves without tripping on a tree root. (And walk backwards to get a good picture of Mark and the boys.)

We are in October now, which is a perfect time to go and hike this trail. The park rangers actually have Fall Color Hikes during the weekends in October. The rangers give you history, botany, and biology to enrich the hiking experience. I think we might go on one of these hikes! They are free and open to the public and then it’s not us forcing the boys to keep walking!

I hope to see you there!

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