This well-signed and blazed 3.6-mile loop includes the opportunity to visit two rock out outcroppings with great views of the mountains of Central/Western Maryland. If you are up for a bit more hiking, you can easily add two more views to your hike - Hog Rock Vista Trail
and Thurmont Vista Trail
This loop begins with a steep ascent to a mountain top/ridge. Once the ascent is complete the trail rolls along the mountain top leading to Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock. After leaving Chimney Rock, it is a steep descent to Route 77. The loop ends with one mile of moderate hiking through woods back to the visitor center.
The park is free! The visitor center parking lot can fill up quickly during peak seasons. If that lot is filled, there is a parking lot at the park headquarters 1 mile down the road from the visitor center. From the HQ parking lot, you'll see a sign for the visitor center (1 mile). Head past that sign and you'll see the trailhead on your right. From there you can start the loop. Hiking to the left will take you 1 mile to the visitor center and then up to Wolf Rock. Hiking to your right will take you on a steep ascent to Chimney Rock.
This loop trail intersects with multiple other trails. This provides you with the opportunity to create larger loop trails, go on detours hiking out and back to different overlooks, and gives you the flexibility to add or subtract distances throughout your hike.
The loop officially starts and ends at the visitor center which is well marked and easy to locate driving in either direction on Route 77. If the parking lot is full, there is another parking area 1 mile away on Route 77 at the Park HQ with easy access to the trail. The Park HQ and visitor center are two different buildings in differing locations.
When facing the entrance to the visitor center, the trailhead will be on your right at the end of the parking lot. The trailhead is marked with signage for the loop. Turn left following the sign for Wolf Rock. It is well marked with red blazes, and the trail begins with a series of stone steps and a steady ascent for about 1 mile. During the ascent, the trail switches back 3 times.
Once the ascent is complete, the trail flattens out on the ridge/mountain top. There is a trail sign indicating directions and distances to Wolf Rock (.3 miles) Chimney Rock (.7 miles), Thurmont Vista (.7 miles) and Park Central Road (1.2 miles). To stay on the Wolf Rock/Chimney Rock loop, follow the Wolf Rock signage. The Thurmont Vista Trail
is an optional add-on and is about 1.4 miles out and back from this point.
Continuing on the loop towards Wolf Rock is a pleasant hike with rolling topography on the ridge/mountain top. The approach to Wolf Rock is relatively flat, and you'll begin to see the Wolf Rock outcropping forming a long rock wall in front of you. The trail cuts off and leads to the rock formation where you can scramble around and explore, drop your pack and relax, or do a little of both. You'll be relaxing on a quartz rock that was sea bottom sand 500 million years ago. Earthly forces compressed and crystallized the sand into rock, and it was then uplifted 200 million years ago when the Appalachian mountains were formed.
Leaving Wolf Rock, you'll begin a gentle descent with about a 1/2 mile to go to Chimney Rock. The trail continues to roll with the topography and begins to ascend through a small rock formation/ridge. Once on the ridge, you'll soon see signs for Chimney Rock. Unlike Wolf Rock which is long and wide, Chimney Rock is a narrow outcropping with multiple boulders reaching out to the edge of the mountain. It is another great spot to relax and take in the views. Be careful rock hopping and climbing around the rocks as there are significant drop offs and ledges offering opportunities for falls and injury.
From Chimney Rock there is signage for the Park HQ (1.1 miles). Continue hiking in the direction of the sign to continue on the loop. (At this point you can also retrace your steps creating an out and back hike instead of completing the loop.) Also note that the Park HQ is not
the same as the visitor center where the loop begins/ends. To finish the loop from Chimney Rock and return to the visitor center is about 2 miles.
Following the trail towards the Park Headquarters, the trail will begin to descend gently away from Chimney Rock. Eventually the trail will begin a steep and rocky descent. The top of this descent is marked with a sign for Chimney Rock (.5 miles) - where you just departed from - Lewis Area (1.2 miles) and MD route 77 (.6 miles). Follow the trail to MD route 77. From this sign, the descent is steep and you'll hear cars/trucks as you make your way down. There are about 3 switchbacks during the descent. Towards the bottom of descent, you'll pass a sign for the Park HQ (.2 miles) Visitor Center (1.2 miles) and Lewis Area (1.7 miles). Continue hiking towards the visitor center.
The descent will end at the parking lot for the Park HQ, and the trail will pop out next to the shoulder of 77 for 25-50 feet. There will be signage for the Visitor Center (1 mile) Chimney Rock (1.1 miles) Wolf Rock (1.5 miles) and Lewis Area (1.9 miles). Continue towards the visitor center to complete the loop. The blazes change to red and white for this section of the loop. The trail is in the woods several 100 feet away from Route 77. The trail parallels 77 from the Park HQ to the visitor center, but is nicely tucked in the woods and away from the road. The trail gently rolls up and down. There are 2 wooden bridges crossing drainage ditches along this section. The trail will terminate at the visitor center.
The Catoctin Forest is classified as a mid-latitude deciduous forest. In general, the forest is an oak-hickory-tulip poplar forest. Tree species such as chestnut oak, table mountain pine and pitch pine can be found on the drier ridge tops. On lower slopes and ravines, where soil is richer, white oak, tulip poplar, red maple, black birch, American beech, sour gum, and eastern hemlock can be found. For more information, visit the park's website