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Good trails found here

Top-ranked hiking, biking adventures are nearby

Top-ranked hiking, biking adventures are nearby

October 01, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Good hiking and biking destinations are less than an hour's drive from Hagerstown, according to trail enthusiasts.

According to Trails.com, a Seatle-based company that ranks more than 30,000 trails, half of the top 10 most popular trails in Maryland are in or near Washington County. Also, trails in Maryland and other locations throughout the Tri-State area are among the top 20 on the Web site's National Top 100 list. Trails.com bases the rankings on reader votes, page views and the number of times a trail's map gets downloaded, said Doug Colbeck, the site's founder.

The site averages about 2 million unique visitors per month.

"It's kind of hard to beat Maryland when it comes to mountain biking," said Chuck Layton, 42-year-old Hagerstown resident who's biked in Utah, Southern California, Arizona and Wyoming, among other states. "You can't go anywhere in the country and find anything like it."

Layton said Western Maryland makes for good biking and hiking because there are so many options. Maryland has 266,000 acres of state parks and recreational areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 Statistical Abstract of the United States. There are also national parks such as the C&O Canal park and Catoctin Mountain Park. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail winds through parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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So, why not hit the local trails this fall?

Hiking trails are typically less crowded in the fall, as hikers tend to flock to the trails during the warmer months, the busiest season for hiking, Colbeck said.

"The last thing you want to do is run into 100 hikers on the same trail," he said.

For mountain bikers like Layton, fall is the best time to go.

"It's usually the season for mountain biking," said Brian Caron, 34, who manages Hub City Sports, where Layton also works. "In warmer months, there's a lot more bugs and undergrowth."

Local hikers might enjoy the Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia portions of the 2,175-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which begins in Maine and ends in Georgia. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, fall colors in this region of the trail should peak between Oct. 15 and Nov. 2.

Since bikes are prohibited on the Appalachian Trail, mountain bikers might opt for the C&O Canal or a local state park.

"I started biking in the mid '80s, on the C&O Canal," Layton said. "But you can only ride on the canal so long before you fall asleep. That's when I found Greenbrier (State Park)."

Greenbrier State Park

Layton and his friends meet at the park three to four times a week for a morning, hour-long ride before work. Greenbrier, northeast of Boonsboro, has several trails, which Layton and his friends said they prefer to combine, doing pieces of some and parts of others. They usually cover 6 to 10 miles in an hour, Layton said.

"I've seen more and more people on the trails, here, in recent years," Layton said.

Part of the appeal is the view. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the park lies in the Appalachians, one of the oldest mountain ranges on earth. The park also has a 42-acre man-made lake, great for canoeing and fishing.

Greenbrier State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. For more information about the park, call 301-791-4767.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Trail topped the list for Trails.com's most popular hiking trails in Maryland. According to the site, the 9.8-mile stretch from Crampton's Gap in Gathland State Park to Harpers Ferry, W. Va. was voted the best trail for hiking. A point of interest is the view of the Potomac River.

Gathland State Park lies in both Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland, about one mile west of Burkittsville. The site was the home of Civil War journalist George Alfred Townsend. The park includes all of Crampton's Gap, a region that was part of the battle of South Mountain, the first major Civil War battle fought in Maryland, according to DNR.

To hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from Crampton's Gap to Harper's Ferry, W.Va., start at Gathland State Park, off Md. 17, about 1 mile west of Burkittsville, Md., and travel south along the trail. End at Harper's Ferry, W.Va., by way of a foot bridge over the Potomac River.

For more information, call the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at 304-535-6331 or visit Appalachiantrail.org. You also can visit Trails.com for trail guides and more information about the trail's stretches in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park, west of Thurmont, Md., ranked second on the Trails.com list of popular hiking trails in Maryland. The national park in Thurmont is next door to Cunningham Falls State Park. There are 25 miles of trails that wind through both parks, according to the National Park Service. Blue Ridge Summit Overlook, Hog Rock, Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock offer good views. The Catoctin Trail, along the park's western portion, veers south and loops through Cunningham State Park. The Falls Nature Trail in Catoctin goes west and then south, into Cunningham State Park, near Cunningham Falls.

Catoctin Mountain Park is open from daylight to dark. For more information, call 301-663-9388.

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