A Hike Through Snow and Ice to Chimney Rock

Nothing compares to the crisp, clean air of winter and the magnificent view of a snowy landscape — sometimes offering quite a nice surprise from the scenes you are more used to.

We were looking for a strenuous hike, so we decided upon the Chimney Rock – Wolf Rock Loop, frequently called the best hike in the park. We headed up the trail, leaving from the Visitors Center parking lot, but soon turned back because the trail was icy and slick.

Instead, we tried the there-and-back to Chimney Rock Trail, which travels within sight of the road below. Frequently you could hear the stream and falls on the other side of the MD Rt 177.

The Chimney Rock Trail is the most strenuous trail in the park as the trail is steep, narrow and at times can be slippery. Add some packed snow and ice, and it was extremely challenging in places; we were extremely grateful we brought our walking sticks. The trail also traverses through some springs, so was very muddy and in places, you were walking through ankle deep water. But there were numerous complete dry stretches, as well. Throughout, however, it was rocky, making me appreciate the ankle-supporting hiking boots I was wearing.

Chimney Rock reaches a maximum elevation of 1419 ft over the valley below.

There’s no better way to beat those winter doldrums! Sunlight and just being outdoors can do wonders for lifting your mood. Studies have shown that women who took a brisk, outdoor walk for 20 minutes daily had better mood, higher self-esteem and an improved sense of well-being at the end of the eight-week study.

Walking in a winter wonderland can help you burn calories and make up for some of that recent holiday excess. Outdoor walking through the park or around the neighborhood on a cold day won’t burn any more calories than walking on a warm summer day, but walking in the snow will. You expend more energy because it’s harder to move your feet in the snow, and you lift your legs a little higher. Although the snow wasn’t deep (or newly fallen), it offered some slippery places along the trail.

Winter walking can keep your old bones strong. Like bears, we tend to hibernate during the winter and, as a result, get too little sunlight. That’s too bad for bones. Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production in the skin, and bones need the “sunshine vitamin” to make the body absorb bone-strengthening calcium properly. Not getting outside during winter months slows down production and decreases the body’s store of vitamin D. Going for a winter walk and getting just 15 minutes of sun on your face and hands two to three times per week should suffice for getting enough sun for vitamin D production.

Any trip into the outdoors, even a day hike or a gentle walk, requires keeping an eye on the weather forecast. If there’s a storm coming, then wait, unless you go prepared for every contingency.The tips below aren’t meant for the serious winter weather hiker — or anything more than a mile or two walk on a day almost guaranteed to be pleasant.

  • Always check the weather and trail conditions;
  • Come prepared. Water, walking sticks, hiking boots (waterproof) and snacks for longer hikes.
  • Prepare for the worst conditions;
  • Dress according to the weather; 
  • Dress in layers that you can peel off or layer back on;
  • Don’t forget a hat and gloves — if it gets too warm to wear, you can always shove them into a pocket!

For additional hikes in Catoctin Mountain National Park: Wolf Rock Hike and Chimney Rocks Hike

Follow the MidAtlantic DayTrips on FacebookInstagramPinterest, and LinkedIn.

Updated January 2020