Catoctin Mountain Park | CHARCOAL TRAIL

Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Length: .6-mile loop
Time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy with a couple negligible hills

The Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park is a short loop trail that passes through an area where charcoal was once made. Charcoal was needed to fuel the nearby Catoctin Iron Furnace, which is located four miles south in what is now Cunningham Falls State Park. The furnace operated from 1776 until 1903 (it is a historic site today).

Charcoal production required an enormous amount of wood. During peak production in the mid-1800s, 11,500 cords of wood where used each year to produce 18,000 bushels of coal, an amount needed to fuel the furnace long enough to make 1,000 tons of pig iron. The Catoctin Iron Furnace burned charcoal up until 1873, at which time it switched over to coal.

First, a word of warning about hiking ANYWHERE in Catoctin Mountain Park in the summer: be prepared for gnats. I highly advise wearing a hat and mosquito net on your head—I had one in my bag just by chance. Even on the short Charcoal Trail, I had so many gnats flying around my head that I must have looked like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon. I saw dozens of people with mosquito nets during my four-day visit to the park, so it appears that the locals know to come prepared.

The Charcoal Trail starts at the Thurmont Vista / Charcoal Exhibit Parking Lot, the second parking lot north of the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center. Look for the Charcoal Trail wayside exhibit at the trailhead.

The trail is relatively flat for most of the way. There are two hills, but both are negligible and only worth mentioning to point out that the trail is not wheelchair accessible. The trail surface is about as smooth as you’ll find at Catoctin Mountain Park, though that’s not saying there aren’t a few rocks and roots here and there.

Typical terrain on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Along the Charcoal Trail are wayside exhibits pertaining to the making of charcoal as well as a few physical exhibits such as the remnants of a wood hauler’s sled.

Wood hauler's sled exhibit on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Wood hauler’s sled exhibit on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

At the far end of the loop is the location of a former hearth where wood was burned to make charcoal. Nothing remains of the hearth, but logs are stacked up to demonstrate how they would have been stored after being delivered by the wood hauler.

Wood stacking exhibit on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Wood stacking exhibit on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

One other exhibit along the Charcoal Trail is a reconstruction of a collier’s hut. A collier is a person who makes charcoal, and he had to live on the premises during the two weeks it took to make a batch. The collier may have a half dozen or so charcoal producing chimneys, called stacks, going at the same time that needed tending to at least every three hours. Near the reconstructed hut are a few stones from a former cooking hearth.

Reconstruction of a collier's hut on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Reconstruction of a collier’s hut on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Remnants of the cooking hearth on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Remnants of the cooking hearth on the Charcoal Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

It takes about twenty minutes to hike the Charcoal Trail if you read the wayside exhibits. The trail is family-friendly and worth the time if you want to learn a little something during your visit to Catoctin Mountain Park.

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on January 31, 2023
Share this article