Tunnel of Green: Appalachian Trail to Weverton Cliffs

The hike from Gathland State Park to Weverton Cliffs is a lovely walk in the woods, and is an ideal day hike that provides a taste of what through-hiking the Appalachian Trail is like. Plus, you’re likely to encounter some AT through-hikers, and they’re always interesting to chat with.

The plan for the hike was for my friend and I to drive separately there. We met at the Weverton Cliffs parking lot (getting there early, since it tends to fill up). Then we traveled together to Gathland State Park, where I left my vehicle. We picked up the AT at Gathland, heading south for the 6-mile (for the record, my fitbit claimed a total of 9 miles…) mostly level hike down to Weverton Cliffs. From the cliffs, we descended down to the parking lot, picked up his vehicle, and drove back up to Gathland.

While we were at Gathland State Park, we took a few minutes to explore it, look at the War Correspondents Memorial, and appreciate a little of the history of the place. Gathland State Park was once the mountain home of George Alfred Townsend, a Civil War journalist. In the late 1800’s, Gathland featured a unique collection of buildings and structures designed and constructed by Townsend. The War Correspondents Arch is a National historic monument. Constructed in 1896, the monument stands fifty feet high.

Gathland State Park is also known as Crampton Gap, and was the site of a September 1862 engagement that was one of several known collectively as the battle of South Mountain that led up to the more famous battle at Antietam.

The hike took us, going at a slow to moderate pace, about 4 hours. Although not strenuous, picking our way through a very rocky trail was slow going at times, especially since the remains of Hurricane Harvey had dumped an inch of rain on us the day previously, and the trail and rocks were wet and slippery.

Most of the trail was rocky like this.

Although we missed the hard climb UP to the cliffs from the Weverton Cliffs Parking lot by going south on the AT from Gathland, there were ascents that left me breathless a few times, but it always leveled out at just the right moment, allowing us to catch our breath and ease our leg muscles. My fitbit claimed I’d climbed 89 flights… It goes up and down, but never steeply. You basically hike along the ridge of South Mountain, occasionally there promises to be a view on the right, but leafed out trees obscure any view — it must be lovely in the winter, though. It was like walking through a tunnel of green, and that was good enough for a cool, last day of summer!

Whenever you’re climbing over rocks, be alert for snakes. At the cliffs, we encountered a nest of rattlers.

You pass by the Garvey Shelter, which offers a privy and benches to rest. You don’t see any historic sights or anything terribly of interest, until you come to the cliffs themselves, and they are awesome.

Alternatively, you can hike up to Weverton Cliffs with just a short, 2-mile long there and back by parking at Weverton Cliffs and picking up the AT trail head (going north) there. But doing it this way means an initial strenuous climb of about 500 feet in a mile-long series of 10 switchbacks. At the top of the hill, at the end of the switchbacks, you come to a T intersection. Turn hard right (signs to the cliffs were missing the day we were there) and follow the blue blazes maybe 1/3 of a mile downhill to the cliffs. Then stand in awe at the beauty.

Know before you go: you can skip the sunblock, because you’re hiking in deep shade the entire length. You will want hiking shoes or boots with ankle support, and a hiking stick or trek pole — the trail is frequently just bed rock, and it gets hard on  your feet after awhile. Also remember: the AT is blazed white, with light blue blazes signaling trails to shelters, springs, or interesting side hikes, including the cliffs themselves.

Getting there: Googlemaps easily found Weverton Cliffs parking lot. Gathland State Park is located in Washington and Frederick Counties, 1 mile west of Burkittsville, off MD Route 17. The parking lot is at 900 Arnoldstown Road, Jefferson MD 21755.

Websites: http://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/gathland.aspx

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