Fellow blogger J. Hammer graciously agreed to guest blog for the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog about hiking along the Appalachian Trail.
So I’ve been trying to chip away at sections of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, and since I’ve done a couple of the middle sections, including the hike to Annapolis Rocks, and a hike from the Washington Monument to the I-70 bridge, I thought I’d do a border crossing this time. There was also the challenge of climbing Quirauk Mountain, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland (as well as the highest point on South Mountain).
The northern terminus of the AT in Maryland is at Pen Mar, in the northeast corner of Washington County, MD. The town of Pen Mar sits just south of the Mason-Dixon line.
So, to get up on top of South Mountain, you first have to travel to Pen Mar Park.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Pen Mar Park was quite the destination for tourists. The site hosted an amusement park and resort, served by the Western Maryland Railroad. People rode the train from Baltimore to enjoy all that Pen Mar had to offer. Pen Mar once hosted huge crowds: up to 20,000 people on a summer weekend!
The park eventually began to lose money, and was torn down in 1943, and the city that profited from the amusements became a quiet town on the Mason-Dixon line. The Pen Mar County Park as it is today (more or less) was established in 1977.
I arrived at Pen Mar and parked in the gravel lot across from the Park. The sign denoting the Appalachian Trail is near the overlook, visible from the entrance.
Clearly if you’re going to drive all this way, you should head north into Pennsylvania, just to cross the border. You can always tell people you walked from Maryland to Pennsylvania and back!
The path north takes you about 100 yards to a T-intersection of sorts. Turn left and be careful crossing the train tracks. There will be a sign showing where the AT is.
I have to admit that this was another ‘feature’ of this hike that drew me. I’m very interested in history, and this boundary between the “North” and “South” is definitely an important historical marker. The line has its origins in a boundary dispute between the colonies of the Penn family and the Calvert family…which of course are now Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Who knew that the Mason-Dixon Line had a post box?
There’s a guest book inside the box, but I didn’t leave my name.
From here, the AT turns to the right, and goes by a sign and under a power line cut before a road crossing.
I didn’t cross the road here, so this is as far as I went into PA. I turned around and headed back toward Pen Mar Park.
The hike from Pen Mar Park to High Rock on South Mountain is approximately 3.1 miles (one way) and for the most part, is relatively easy. However, for the last 0.8 mile, there’s an approximately 500-foot ascent which will test your legs and endurance.
Unfortunately for you, I didn’t take any pictures while on the trail itself, because I was busy navigating rock fields and then climbing the mountain. Fortunately for you, I did pull my camera out once I reached the High Rock Overlook. The last mile might be really difficult, but the view is definitely worth it.
View from High Rock on Quirauk Mtn.
A couple of notes: the climb up to High Rock is very rocky and steep, so make sure you have good footing and go slowly. The platform at High Rock used to be a launch point for those brave enough to take to the sky in a hang glider, but I’ve found out that hang gliding without a permit from High Rock is now illegal. I think I’ll keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. Otherwise the platform is tagged with all kinds of graffiti, and I’ve heard it gets slippery when wet, so be careful!
For additional great hikes, check out Hammer’s blog at hikingwithhammer.blogspot.com.