Frederick County, Maryland is a treasure trove of natural beauty and historical significance. If you're a history enthusiast and a fan of hiking, this is the perfect destination for you.
As an avid history and hiking fan, as well as a public historian who has worked in the Frederick area since 2013, I’ll take you through some of the best hiking trails in Frederick County, where you can immerse yourself in the region's rich history while enjoying breathtaking natural landscapes. Get ready to embark on your own adventure where the past and the present intertwine.
Monocacy National Battlefield
Kickstart your historic hiking experience at Monocacy National Battlefield. This iconic site preserves the memory of the "Battle That Saved Washington" during the Civil War. On July 9, 1864, an outnumbered group of US Army soldiers engaged a larger Confederate force on the banks of the Monocacy River just south of the City of Frederick.
While the US Army forces were defeated, their heroic stand on the Monocacy delayed the Confederates long enough to allow the capital at Washington, DC to be reinforced and defended.
Explore the self-guided trails that wind through the battlefield, allowing you to retrace the steps of soldiers who fought here in July 1864. The gentle terrain and interpretive signage also interprets the story of the enslaved people who worked on the farms in the vicinity and the role of nearby Monocacy Junction as a site where African American men joined the US Army during the Civil War.
The Worthington Farm at Monocacy National Battlefield
Jake’s Favorite Hike: Hit the Brooks Hill Loop on the Worthington Farm. This 2 mile loop trail provides one of the best views of the battlefield and surrounding area. You’ll start at the Worthington Farm, where Confederate soldiers amassed for their attack on US soldiers on the Thomas Farm on July 9, 1864, and where the Worthington family witnessed the battle while taking shelter in their basement.
Catoctin Mountain Park
Nestled atop the easternmost ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains in Maryland, Catoctin Mountain Park offers a blend of natural beauty and historic significance.
Catoctin Mountain Park's Visitor Center
As you hike along the well-maintained trails, you may come across remnants of charcoal hearths used to fuel local iron furnaces, showcasing the area's industrial past. On the Blue Blazes Trail, you’ll find information about an illegal whiskey distilling operation that bootleggers built during the Prohibition era.
On the western edge of the park, less frequented than the park’s eastern overlooks, you’ll find roads and trails that snake through what was once a training camp for the Office of Special Services (OSS), the World War II-era precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Brief documentary film from World War II showing OSS officers training at Catoctin Mountain Park in the 1940s
Jake’s Favorite Hike: I tend to prefer a longer hike - if you are looking for a challenge, try the 8-mile loop trail. This will take you to the many of the park’s best overlooks in one long hike.
Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Furnace
You’ll find a number of incredible trails over a variety of terrains at Cunningham Falls State Park. Broken into two areas, this state park has a variety of great hiking trails, a scenic lake, camping sites, and is home to Maryland’s tallest cascading waterfall.
Much of the land included in the state park was vitally important to the operation of Catoctin Furnace near Thurmont during its time in blast from 1776 to 1903. The forests you see today stand where massive old-growth forests once stood before they were cut down to make charcoal to fuel the iron-making operations at Catoctin. Remains of the charcoal furnaces and the scars of iron-mining can be found in the Manor Area of the park to this day.
Remains of Catoctin Furnace lie at the heart of the historic village
Jake’s Favorite Hike: Take the Iron Trail from the Manor Area of Cunningham Falls State Park to the historic village of Catoctin Furnace. This half-mile round-trip hike may be short, but the history is incredible. You’ll be able to explore the remains of Catoctin Furnace, see the village that survives intact today, and connect to the African American Cemetery Interpretive Trail, taking you to the final resting place of enslaved people who once toiled at the Furnace.
Learn more about the Museum of the Ironworker and the African Americans who toiled at Catoctin Furnace
South Mountain State Battlefield
Discover one the lesser-known pivotal moments of the Civil War at South Mountain State Battlefield, where the Battle of South Mountain took place in 1862. Located west of historic Middletown, this state park preserves two mountain gaps that saw heavy combat during the September 14, 1862 that proved an important victory for the US Army, setting the stage for the Battle of Antietam. Hike through the battlefield trails, and you'll encounter historical markers and interpretive signs that provide insight into the battle and the soldiers who fought and died there.
A sketch showing the fighting at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862
The diverse terrain, including wooded areas and open fields, offers a scenic backdrop for your hike.
Jake’s Favorite Hike: Start at Fox’s Gap, one of the areas of fierce fighting on September 14, 1862. Adjacent to the parking area, you’ll find monuments to two officers - one US Army, the other Confederate - who were mortally wounded near this spot during the battle. Head north on the Appalachian Trail to Washington Monument State Park. This 6.3 mile out-and-back hike will take you across two key locations in the Battle of South Mountain and to the first monument dedicated to George Washington. The monument was used as a signal station during the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.
Civil War Trails markers the monuments at Fox's Gap, part of South Mountain State Battlefield
Gathland State Park
Gathland State Park is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of history and natural beauty atop South Mountain. On September 14, 1862, soldiers from the US Army defeated a Confederate force here during the Battle of South Mountain. Fighting in this mountain pass, known as Crampton’s Gap, was among the deadliest combat seen during the important battle.
After the war, the mountain gap became the estate of George Alfred Townsend, a renowned Civil War-era journalist and writer. Explore the park's trails, which lead you through the remains of Townsend's estate, including a picturesque stone archway and the War Correspondents Memorial Arch, the nation’s only monument dedicated to journalists covering conflict zones. This peaceful setting is perfect for a quiet hike, surrounded by history and tranquility.
George Alfred Townsend - Library of Congress
Jake’s Favorite Hike: One of the best hikes from Gathland State Park is a shuttle hike from Gathland State Park to Weverton Cliffs. Park one car at the Weverton Cliffs parking lot and then take another to Gathland State Park. Explore the grounds of the historic battlefield and estate and then hike south on the Appalachian Trail. This 6.9 mile hike will take you to an overlook on the Potomac River at Weverton Cliffs. Descend the mountain to your car and head into Brunswick for a well-deserved beer at Smoketown Brewing Station.