Gambrill State Park: The Yellow Trail

January 4th was an odd 60 degree day.  The warm air followed a rainy day and left a heavy fog that hung around for several hours.

January 4th was an odd 60 degree day. The warm air followed a rainy day and left a heavy fog that hung around for several hours.

Before setting out on some recent walks, I was surprised to learn how many parks and hiking opportunities there are within an easy driving distance of Boonsboro, Maryland.  We’ve managed to explore Gathland, Washington Monument, Catoctin Mountain, Cunningham Falls (partially), Greenbrier, Pen Mar, and–most recently–Gambrill.  The Catoctin and Appalachian Trails run through several of these parks, but when only a single car is available, one of the many “outer loops” makes perfect sense.  The Yellow Trail at Gambrill State Park is a moderate 7.1 mile loop that covers a large portion of the 1,165 acre park.  The loop part sounded pretty good, but would we be able to spot the car upon our return?

Actually, staying on the trail was pretty easy.  How could we possibly miss the bright yellow blazes?

Actually, staying on the trail appeared to be pretty easy. How could we possibly miss the bright yellow blazes?  On second thought, with my sense of direction…

There are roughly 16 miles of trails in Gambrill, and all but a stretch of the Catoctin Trail are a series of loops.  The Yellow Trail is well-marked. but there are a number of combinations available for longer or shorter hikes.  It’s possible to get confused at the many junctions, so given the weather, we opted for the simple route.

Early in the day, the field of vision may have been fifty yards

Early in the day, the field of vision may have been fifty yards

As stated, sixty degrees in January is a rare thing, and the fog kept things interesting.  In fact, I kept expecting to round a bend and see a hoard of torch-bearing peasants searching for Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.  Fortunately, we settled for two dog walkers, a pair of mountain bikers, and a jogger.  Nevertheless, there was a sense of anticipation upon leaving the trailheads parking lot.  I suppose everybody has his or her strengths: I know my way around the C&O Canal, but when we go someplace new, Candee generally serves as navigator   My sense of direction is average at best, but she seems to know which direction to take every time two trails cross.

This one has a kind of Blair Witch-y kind of look to it.  Knowing that Burkittsville is close by was kind of unsettling!  Am I going overboard with the spooky stuff?

This one has a kind of Blair Witch-y  look to it. Knowing that Burkittsville is close by was kind of unsettling! Am I going overboard with the spooky stuff?

The trek consisted of a few ups-and-downs to the tune of 900′ of elevation gain.  The trail is popular with mountain bikers as well as hikers and combines rocky sections with smooth, flat trail, much of which runs through a green tunnel of rhododendron.  That, combined with the lichen covered rocks, created one of our more-colorful winter hikes to date.

Oval holes are a sure sign that a pileated woodpecker has been busy.  Gambrill seems to be a great place for spotting wildlife--we also saw several deer

Oval holes are a sure sign that a pileated woodpecker has been busy. Gambrill seems to be a great place for spotting wildlife–we also saw several deer

As the day passed, we walked past a couple of promising overlooks without even bothering to check them out.  There didn’t seem to be much of a point!  We were also within earshot of traffic most of the way.  It doesn’t sound like much of a hike, but the creepy atmosphere of the heavy fog worked on many levels.  In an odd way, I think we saw more than we usually do, and all three of us (Jane included) hung pretty closely together, rather than walking at an individual pace.

Maybe some other day...

Maybe some other day…

In all, Gambrill State is a challenging and unique place to hike.  With the visitor center and other facilities closed, there weren’t many amenities, but I would like to see the park again on a warm, clear day.  I’m guessing it would look a lot different.

Four trails merging.  Fortunately, one of them is yellow.

Four trails merging. Fortunately, one of them is yellow.

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