Backpacking in Maryland: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in Maryland: River forking around two hills

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

Backpacking in Maryland offers a delightful and varied experience for outdoor enthusiasts. This Mid-Atlantic state boasts a diverse landscape, from the rolling hills of the Piedmont Plateau to the rugged terrain of the Appalachian Mountains.

Popular destinations like the Appalachian Trail, which winds through Maryland’s western region, and the Assateague Island National Seashore, where you can hike alongside wild ponies on the beach, are must-visits for any backpacker.

In this guide, we’ll provide you with essential tips and the TOP 5 multi-day trails to conquer in Maryland. Whether you’re a seasoned thru-hiker or a newcomer to backpacking, this state promises an adventure filled with scenic beauty, rich history, and a chance to escape into nature.

Intrigued? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Maryland

  • What to expect: When 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: You should be cautious of black bears in the west, venomous snakes like rattlesnakes and copperheads in rocky and wooded areas, and disease-carrying ticks in tall grass and woods. 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.
  • Best times to go are 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 4-season gear. Opt for drier months like late spring and early fall to minimize rain.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Maryland

Get ready to explore the awesome backpacking trails of Maryland:

1. AT: Pen Mar Park to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

A picturesque mountain park in Maryland featuring lush forests

Length: 39.8 mi / 64 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 5790 ft / 1765 m
Location: Pen Mar Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 14 600 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Take on the challenging 39.8-mile Maryland stretch of the Appalachian Trail from Highfield-Cascade to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. This popular route offers scenic overlooks, rocky terrain, and a total elevation gain of over 7,000 ft. Thru-hikers often attempt to complete the section in a 24-hour push. Campsites are maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and mid-April hikes provide great views. The final miles follow the towpath, passing through parks with historic sites.

2. C & O Canal Towpath Trail: Williamsport to Orleans Cross Roads

A lone boat rests peacefully at a dock

Length: 41.1 mi / 66.6 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 807 ft / 246 m
Location: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 10 700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Explore the 41.4-mile Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath trail near Williamsport, Maryland. This moderately challenging route offers historic waypoints, trailside towns, wildlife, and stunning scenery. Immerse yourself in the history and ambience of this American classic, taking time to explore and capture memories.

3. Catoctin National Recreation Trail

A babbling stream meanders through a forest, its clear waters cascading over smooth rocks and flanked by towering trees

Length: 26.6 mi / 42.8 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 4681 ft / 1427 m
Location: Gambrill State Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 10 100 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Explore the challenging 26.6-mile trail near Frederick, Maryland, traversing Catoctin Mountain, Cunningham Falls, and Gambrill State Parks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy streams, forests, and rocky overlook views on this well-marked route, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Though designed for mountain bikes, it offers a solid challenge for hikers.

4. Washington Monument to Annapolis Rock

Annapolis Rock, a stunning vista along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, offers breathtaking panoramic views of the rolling Appalachian Mountains, blanketed in a verdant sea of lush forest stretching out to the horizon

Photo by TYangMD

Length: 11 mi / 17.7 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1883 ft / 574 m
Location: South Mountain State Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 4000 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Take on the challenging 11-mile out-and-back Appalachian Trail section from the Washington Monument to Annapolis Rock near Boonsboro, Maryland. This popular hiking route, best visited from March through November, features the first monument honoring President Washington, built in 1837. The well-marked trail offers scenic views, springs for water refills, and shelters along the way, but bring a tent for backup. Complete the hike in two days for a rewarding experience, even in rainy conditions.

5. Great Allegheny Passage: Frostburg to Cumberland

A quaint farm nestles in the countryside, its lush green fields surrounding a tranquil pond that reflects the sky like a mirror, creating an idyllic pastoral scene

Length: 16.2 mi / 26 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 295 ft / 89.9 m
Location: Lions Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 3600 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Experience the 16.2-mile Allegheny Highlands Trail near Frostburg, Maryland, a moderately challenging route shared with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. While the trail itself may be somewhat monotonous, the unique opportunity to witness the steam engine’s journey on weekends adds an interesting element to your hike. Opt for a one-way downhill trip from Frostburg to Cumberland, or challenge yourself with a round-trip adventure. Come prepared for the weather and enjoy the nearby scenery, camping, fishing spots, and local amenities in the surrounding towns.

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):

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

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Maryland is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guide for Pennsylvania.


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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Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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