Hiking and Backpacking in Maryland: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Maryland: River forking around two hills

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Maryland offers excellent opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly in the western mountains along the Appalachian Trail (AT), where you can hike through scenic ridges and forests with backcountry camping options.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at backpacking in Maryland from a lightweight standpoint, providing useful tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor expedition.

We’ll showcase the finest 5 trails in Maryland, divided into two segments. The initial portion focuses on day hikes spanning less than 25 miles, perfect for exploring the region in a single outing. The latter part presents multi-day hikes, providing opportunities to replenish supplies every few days.

Key Tips for Hiking and Backpacking in Maryland

  • What to expect: When hiking and backpacking in Maryland, prepare for variable weather conditions across the state’s diverse regions. In western Maryland, trails in the Appalachian Mountains and forests like Green Ridge and Potomac-Garrett have rugged, hilly paths with scenic overlooks. Trails on Assateague Island provide flat sandy paths surrounded by beaches, marshes, and coastal forests.
  • Essential gear: Pack moisture-wicking clothes, extra layers, and rain protection. Don’t forget bug spray and a good water filter.
  • Wildlife: In western Maryland, there are black bears that look for food, so keep food and trash stored properly. Venomous snakes like timber rattlesnakes and copperheads are found in wooded areas. Stinging insects such as yellow jackets, hornets, and bees are common in warmer months. Backcountry water may have bacteria, so use proper filtration. Poison ivy is abundant and should be avoided.
  • Wild camping: You can camp in the backcountry at various public lands in Maryland, but there are rules to protect the environment. Some places have designated sites and shelters, like state forests, the Appalachian Trail, and Assateague Island, where you need permits. In specific areas like Green Ridge, Savage River, and Potomac-Garrett State Forests, camping away from trails and roads is allowed. Usually, you can’t have campfires, dig trenches, or build structures. Despite regulations, there are plenty of chances for wilderness camping when backpacking in Maryland.
  • Best time to go: For the best Maryland experience, choose spring, summer, or fall. Spring and fall offer moderate temperatures (around 60-70°F) and beautiful foliage. Summer is warm but can be hot and humid. Winter backpacking is challenging due to cold temperatures and snow, requiring special gear. Opt for drier months like late spring and early fall to minimize rain.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 25 Miles)

We’ve selected what we consider to be among the top day hiking trails in Maryland, where employing ultralight gear can greatly enhance your overall enjoyment:

  1. Catoctin Mountain Extended Loop Trail (8.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Black Rock via the Appalachian Trail (7.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Washington Monument to Annapolis Rock (11 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Dahlgren Camp to Bear Spring Cabin via AT (8.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. AT: Raven Rock to Pen Mar (10.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Explore the scenic trails of Maryland, where you’ll come across resupply points conveniently spaced no more than two days apart:

  1. AT: Pen Mar Park to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (39.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. C & O Canal Towpath Trail: Williamsport to Orleans Cross Roads (41.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Catoctin National Recreation Trail (26.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Appalachian Trail: Raven Rock Rd to Ridge Rd (26.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. C & O Canal Towpath Trail: Williamsport to Shepherdstown (26.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Maryland has a varied climate with four distinct seasons:

  • Spring (March to May): Temperatures range from 40°F to 70°F (4°C to 21°C). Enjoy blooming flowers and milder temperatures.
  • Summer (June to August): Expect temperatures between 70°F and 90°F (21°C to 32°C). Summers can be warm and humid with occasional rain and thunderstorms.
  • Fall (September to November): Temperatures range from 40°F to 70°F (4°C to 21°C). Experience cooler weather and vibrant foliage.
  • Winter (December to February): Cold temperatures between 20°F and 40°F (-6°C to 4°C), with the possibility of snowfall. Some trails may be less accessible.

Prior to choosing your equipment and embarking on the trail, review the year-round weather averages for Maryland (Salisbury):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F454857677584878579695950
Low °F283037455463686659483932
Rain/Snow (D*)8899101011108778
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Where in Maryland can I get on Appalachian Trail?

The northern endpoint is Harpers Ferry, with parking and trails on the Maryland side as well as crossing into West Virginia. South Mountain State Park has several trailheads that connect to the AT, such as Raven Rock Cliff. Pen Mar Park on the Pennsylvania border has parking right near the trail. High Rock and Annapolis Rocks in Washington County also have popular trailheads. Some other key points along the AT in Maryland are Weaverton Cliffs, Dahlgren Backpack Campground, and the Pine Knob, Ensign Cowall, and Crampton Gap shelters.

Is it allowed to have a campfire while backpacking in Maryland?

Campfires are permitted while backpacking in Maryland, but follow certain restrictions. Use existing fire rings only at established campsites within state forests and parks. Fires may be prohibited during high fire danger conditions. In wilderness areas, fires may be limited to portable stoves only. Check regulations before your trip and confirm if campfires are allowed where you plan to backpack.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Maryland?

Backpacking through Maryland’s forests and mountains is an adventure into nature, but take precautions to stay safe. Before your outdoor camping under the stars, pick up a detailed trail map and share your route with friends. Wear bright clothes in case you get turned around on winding wooded paths. Make noise and keep food sealed against curious wildlife. Bring plenty of water since adventure leads to thirst. A whistle, first aid kit, and flashlight are handy in case you need to signal for help or get caught after dark in rugged natural terrain. With the right preparation, you can revel in the beauty of nature while backpacking and enjoy tasty meals along your Maryland adventure, as long as you make safety your priority.

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