Ever heard of Catoctin Mountain Park? If you're not from the surrounding parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia then the answer is probably no.
Tucked away in the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, this lesser known park is also often over shadowed by its famous neighbor about 30 minutes north, Gettysburg. I grew up camping around the area and worked for two summers in the park at Camp Greentop, one of the oldest summer camps specifically designed for children and adults with disabilities. They were some of the most exhausting but wonderful summers of my life. It had been over 10 years since I was last in the area, but so glad I was able to make a quick stop recently.
While Catoctin Mountain Park may lack name recognition, there are many reasons to stop by, even if just for an afternoon, like I did:
You can see some of the oldest rocks visible in the United States. The Appalachians are old (How old are they?). So old, they used to be Himalaya-sized but have been worn down to basically large hills, exposing much of the ancient rock formations that were hidden beneath.
It has all the good stuff you want in a park- hiking trails, scenic vistas, picnic areas, fishing, and camping.
It's quiet and uncrowded- being a bit on the obscure side has its benefits sometimes.
It's a great example of how the National Park System can work. The area where the park is now located was a charcoal and iron industrial area in the mid to late 1800s leaving much of the land destroyed and trees gone when everything was said and done. The NPS replanted the forest and created the recreational area enjoyed today, helping repair the local ecosystem and create many jobs, including during the Great Depression.
Did I mention it's free?
You might see a president. Camp David is located in the park. It's not on any maps or marked for obvious reasons, but I'll give you a hint. If you're walking or driving through and see barbed wire and a bunch of signs saying 'no pictures' and 'no trespassing' then you've found it. But you didn't hear that from me.
There's a Sheetz right outside the park. If you've never experienced the wonderment that is a Sheetz gas station, trust me, you'll want to stop for a quick bite. Don't forget the Boom Boom sauce.
The area is great for history buffs. As I mentioned, there's Gettysburg to the north, as well as Antietam and Harpers Ferry to the south for those who like a battlefield. Just a few miles away is Emmitsburg, which besides being an adorable small town, is a Catholic pilgrimage site and the final resting place of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The park itself has a whisky still walking trail and as I mentioned the camp areas have their own historical significance too.
And guess what? You get all of this and more for free. The next time you get the urge to go camping, see some Civil War reenactments, eat at a gas station, and make some moonshine, put Catoctin Mountain Park on your list. It's what Smoky the Bear would want.
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