Trail Trials: Sugarloaf Mountain
Located just outside of Dickerson, MD, Sugarloaf Mountain is arguably one of the most popular hiking destinations in the state. Its close proximity to major highway I-270 and its spectacular views entice nearly 200,000 visitors to come to the mountain each year. In addition to its natural splendor, Sugarloaf has witnessed numerous historic events on its grounds since the early 1700s. In 1744, British General Braddock marched his troops past the mountain to fight in the frontiers during the French and Indian War. Jump ahead 117 years, Sugarloaf played a strategic lookout point during the Civil War. Union observers witness the Army of Northern Virginia invade Maryland during the Antietam Campaign of 1862. Confederate troops would take the mountain in early September of that year, however the location would switch hands for the duration of the war. Additionally, at the base of the mountain stands a small log cabin that housed Union and Confederate wounded after the many battles and skirmishes that occurred in the area.
There are many different routes to take up the mountain. There are a few equestrian and foot paths at the base, but most people elect to drive up to the parking areas on the mountain. It will kill your gas mileage on the way up, but it will save you lots of time. I started my trip on the Orange "Sunrise" Trail near the East View parking lot, which is a rather difficult trail to hike. There are numerous other methods of getting up the mountain, some easier and some harder. There's even a spot where you can free climb up the rocks (something I do quite often when I'm there). But today, I decided to walk up.
Due to recent storms, there are some downed trees and branches near the paths and a lot of silt erosion from the trails, so exercise caution when hiking. That said, the walk up the Orange trail was a daunting task. Much of the trail had been washed out, leaving only the rock faces and tree roots for footing. Not to mention certain sections get very steep. I honestly found myself catching my breath when I made it to the top. Definitely worked out my legs today. The walk up took me about 20-25 minutes, but depending on which way you go, it can take up to an hour to walk.
The peak is nothing short of spectacular. At 1,282 feet above sea level, you can see clearly for nearly 50 miles. There are many natural rock formations and outcroppings scattered along the peak, so there is plenty of room to see the views on busy days. I stayed up top for about a half hour then took the Green Trail back, which dropped me off at the West View parking lot.
There is no excuse for anyone who lives in the DMV not to hike this mountain. The walk in total will take no more than 90 minutes if starting from the parking areas on the mountain. If you're starting at the base, try 3-4 hours. Nonetheless, Sugarloaf Mountain is the place to go for hiking adventures in Maryland!