The Best Appalachian Trail Hikes in Maryland

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a dream for many hikers, but if you’re like me and can’t carve out six months away from your everyday life, section hiking the trail is a more feasible option. More than 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through Maryland, following the backbone of South Mountain, providing countless hiking opportunities from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Potomac River.

And lucky for me, Maryland is home to several spectacular overlooks along the AT, all located about 60 miles from Washington, D.C. Depending on your hiking ambitions, you can plan a short hike, a day hike or an entire weekend of backpacking.

Maryland

Weverton Cliffs, Washington County

TOP CHOICE FOR BEGINNERS AND FAMILIES
Short hike with a big payoff (hiking northbound)
Not as busy as other sections of Maryland AT
Plenty of trailhead parking
Can be tricky to find where the AT starts the base of the mountain
Can hear neighbors/road traffic from parts of the trail — not as isolated as you may think

The three-state panoramic view from Weverton Cliffs, just off the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Maryland, is nothing short of spectacular, regardless of the season. It’s my favorite spot to enjoy stunning sunrises and sunsets with wide sweeping views of the Potomac River below, which overlooks Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Summer sunset hikes to Weverton Cliffs are the absolute best and winter sunrise hikes, when there’s a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, are equally breathtaking. In the springtime, beautiful wildflowers line the trail’s edge leading up the mountain. Don’t leave your camera at home for this hike. And if you use your smartphone to take photos, make sure you master its panoramic feature before you go!

Marked with blue blazes like all side trails, Weverton Cliffs is just a stone’s throw off the AT. Most hikers gain access from the south, heading northbound, which is a short but steep climb with a huge payoff at the top. From Weverton Road, the hike to the cliffs and back is only about two miles round trip. The short distance makes it a great hike for beginners and families who are willing to put in a bit of a workout. The trail terrain is rocky and narrow in sections with significant elevation changes but switchbacks help ease the climb. If you prefer longer hikes, I recommend starting in Harpers Ferry and heading northbound to Weverton Cliffs, or hiking southbound from Gathland State Park to Weverton. Not only will you rack up more mileage, but if you start in Harpers Ferry you’ll be able to say you were in four national parks units in one day: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The AT from Weverton Road up to the cliffs can get busy at times, especially on the weekends in the spring and summer. I recommend an early or late start time, or hiking during the week as opposed to the weekend if your schedule permits. Even though it’s a short hike, bring a snack or a journal. Once you see the view, you’re going to spend some time soaking it all in!

Hiking Appalachia...

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Weverton Cliffs, Washington County - good to know

Skill level

Beginner to intermediate hikers

Terrain

Rocky and sometimes narrow trail with lots of trees

Elevation

750’

Closest access points

Weaverton Road Park & Ride (for northbound hikers); Gathland State Park (for southbound hikers)

Trail markings

The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes, including the section that is on the C&O Canal. All side trails, like the Weverton Cliffs Trail, are marked with blue blazes. A wooden sign with blue letters directs people to the overlook

Best season

Any

Wildlife

Black bears, copperheads, ticks and timber rattlesnakes

Recommended sites to see in the area

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Gathland State Park

Post hiking fun

Big Cork Vineyards, River & Trail Outfitters, Rocky Point Creamery, Smoketown Brewing Station

Maryland

Annapolis Rock/Black Rock Cliffs, Washington County

TOP CHOICE FOR ICONIC MARYLAND VIEWS
Hike has some challenging sections but is mostly a gradual climb
Get there early! Trailhead parking fills during peak times
First-come, first-served limited campsites at Annapolis Rock
Trail can be busy and very crowded at times
Noise from highway traffic for a short time on the northbound hike to Annapolis Rock

If you’ve ever seen photos of an Appalachian Trail overlook in Maryland, they were probably taken at Annapolis Rock. Both Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliffs just one mile apart on the Appalachian Trail (AT) offer striking views of rural Maryland. My go-to route for access to both of these views is hiking the Thurston Griggs Trail to the AT, then heading southbound, first to Black Rock and then to Annapolis Rock. The Thurston Griggs Trail is a moderate, rocky climb any time of year, but it can be especially tricky in the fall when fallen leaves can betray your footing. There are also several small water crossings along the way, but if you enjoy peace and solitude on the trail like I do, this is definitely the route to take. The soothing sound of trickling water and wildlife are icing on the cake. I recommend starting early or hiking on a weekday because there are only a few parking spots at the Thurston Griggs trailhead, which is tucked away at the end of a residential street.

The vast majority of hikers heading to Annapolis Rock start at the parking lot off of Maryland Route 40, just east of the entrance to Greenbrier State Park. Despite the large lot size, it fills at peak times, especially on Saturdays and whenever the weather is good. This also translates to a very busy section of trail on the AT, excepting cold and bad weather days. The hike from Route 40 to Annapolis Rock is moderate and gradual with a few steep sections. There is also a low lying section that is frequently wet and muddy, depending on rainfall. That part of the trail often freezes and becomes a slick stretch of land during the winter months.

Once you work your way up the mountain, the blue blaze side trail to Annapolis Rock is well marked, whether you’re hiking north or south on the AT. Once you turn onto the blue blaze trail, you’ll pass through a small camping area before arriving at the top of the impressive rock formations, also popular with rock climbers. On a clear day, the southeast view from Annapolis Rock is beautiful, looking out over Greenbrier Lake.

Black Rock is located one mile north of Annapolis Rock on the AT. It’s not as well marked as the side trail to Annapolis Rock so you’ll want to be aware of the distance you’ve traveled and be on the lookout for a wooden sign with blue lettering. There’s a sign for hikers traveling both north and south but they’re on trees several feet above eye level. Black Rock isn’t at large as Annapolis Rock but the view from there is equally as impressive with a 180-degree panoramic view looking west. From the highest rocks you can still see Greenbrier Lake in the distance. Annapolis Rock is by far the busiest of the two overlooks when it comes to hiker traffic, so I think of Black Rock as the perfect spot to stop, rest for a bit and enjoy your favorite trail snacks.

Annapolis Rock Hike

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Annapolis Rock/Black Rock Cliffs, Washington County - good to know

Skill level

Beginner to intermediate hikers

Terrain

Fairly wide path with some rocky sections

Elevation

1820’ (trail to Annapolis Rock); 1800’ (Black Rock Cliffs)

Closest access points

Greenbrier State Park (for northbound hikers); US Route 40 Appalachian Trail Parking Lot (for northbound hikers); Thurston Griggs Trail (for southbound hikers)

Trail markings

The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes. All side trails are marked with blue blazes. The side trails to Annapolis Rock, Black Rock Cliffs and the Thurston Griggs Trail are marked with blue lettering on wooden Signs. Signage for Black Rock, which are up on trees, can be difficult to see and easily missed, especially when trees are fully covered

Best seasons

Summer, fall

Wildlife

Black bear, copperheads, ticks and timber rattlesnakes

Recommended sites to see in the area

Greenbrier State Park, South Mountain State Battlefield, Washington Monument State Park

Post hiking fun

Beaver Creek Fly Shop, Dan’s Restaurant & TapHouse, Heavy Metal Playground, Orchid Cellar Meadery & Winery, South Mountain Creamery

Maryland

High Rock, Washington County

TOP CHOICE FOR A CHALLENGING CLIMB
Rocky terrain with a steep climb to High Rock
Graffiti covered rocks at High Rock overlook
Highest Appalachian Trail overlook in Maryland
Often busy overlook because you can drive there
No trailhead parking lot unless you begin at Pen Mar

The entire 40-plus miles of Appalachian Trail in Maryland are considered easy hiking when compared to the terrain of the entire trail. However, compared to trails in the region, some sections of the AT in Maryland are considered moderate to difficult. If you’re up for a challenge and want to tackle a more difficult hike, I suggest hiking from Pen Mar Park to High Rock, the highest point on the AT in Maryland. You can even hike 0.2 miles north and carefully cross the railroad tracks to reach the Maryland-Pennsylvania border if you wanted to say you began your hike at the Mason-Dixon Line. The hike begins with a beautiful view from the country park and starts out easy, but this doesn’t last for long before the terrain turns rocky. It then leads to a 500’ ascent through a boulder field where you really have to pay close attention to the white blazes to stay on course. This section of the AT has the most elevation change anywhere in Maryland.

If you still want a good workout but you don’t want to climb through the boulders, you can hike to High Rock by starting at Raven Rock and then travel northbound. Parking is available on the wide shoulders of Maryland Route 491. This hike is definitely a more scenic route to High Rock, especially if you appreciate geology. It begins with a steep climb before leveling out and includes a beautiful view from Raven Rock. You can take a side trail to see Devil’s Racecourse, an impressive boulder field where you can hear the water trickling from below.

The blue blaze trail to High Rock is well marked with the typical blue lettered wooden signs when traveling northbound or southbound on the AT. High Rock has become an iconic overlook on the Appalachian Trail because of its large graffiti-covered rocks. If you can get past the less-than-natural-looking spray paint, the view is really beautiful. Located on Mount Quirauk, you can see Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and the Cumberland Valley with panoramic views of rural farm fields below. Be cautious, especially when the rocks are wet, because the paint has made the rocks slippery and there is no barrier at the edge. High Rock was once a popular hang-gliding launch site that can now be glided via permit only. The overlook can get crowded because of vehicle access direct to High Rock, but the satisfaction of hiking it is so much better! If you’re camping or having someone shuttle you from High Rock to your starting point, plan to be there at sunset. There’s nothing like it!

High Rock Lookout

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High Rock, Washington County - good to know

Skill level

Intermediate

Terrain

Rocky with large boulders

Elevation

1905' (trail to High Rock)

Closest access points

Maryland Route 491/Raven Rock Road (for northbound hikers); Pen Mar Park (for southbound hikers)

Trail markings

The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes. All side trails are marked with blue blazes. The trail to High Rock is marked with blue lettering on a wooden sign

Best seasons

Spring and fall

Wildlife

Black bear, copperheads, ticks and timber rattlesnakes

Recommended sites to see in the area

Catoctin Mountain Park, Cunningham Falls State Park, and Pen Mar Park

Post hiking fun

Misty Meadow Farm Creamery, Red Heifer Winery, Springfield Manor Winery, Distillery, Brewery

About the author

Charissa Hipp

Charissa Hipp

Avid Hiker | Girls Who Hike Maryland Ambassador

After a short stint working for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger and a Public Affairs Specialist, Charissa spent many years behind a desk championing Maryland's beautiful parks and public lands. Three years ago, after taking the leap into contract work, she hit the trails and began hiking. She started with trails she'd knew and then expanded to others in the Maryland/West Virginia/Virginia/Pennsylvania region. She hikes on a weekly basis, sometimes more, as much as her schedule as a wife, mother and entrepreneur allows. She's now in her second year as the Maryland ambassador for Girls Who Hike and is a hiking instructor for a local community college. She's on the trails every chance she gets, encouraging others to tap into the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of time spent in nature. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @hipphikergal.

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