Catoctin Mountain Park | CHIMNEY ROCK – WOLF ROCK LOOP HIKE

 Chimney Rock - Wolf Rock Loop Hike map (click to enlarge)

Chimney Rock – Wolf Rock Loop Hike map (click to enlarge)

Length:  3.9-mile loop
Time: 3.5 hours with time to enjoy the sites at Chimney and Wolf rocks
Difficulty: A mix of moderate to very strenuous hiking. Segments of this trail are the steepest at Catoctin Mountain Park.

A loop hike at Catoctin Mountain Park that passes both Chimney Rock and Wolf Rock is best started from either the Visitor Center or the Park Headquarters parking lot on Foxville Road. If you just want to hike to Chimney Rock and back, starting at Park Headquarters is the quickest way to get there. If you are doing the entire loop, it doesn’t matter where you start. For the record, I began at Park Headquarters and hiked the loop in the counterclockwise direction towards Chimney Rock. Keep in mind that the visitor parking lot at Park Headquarters is very small, so the Visitor Center may be a more viable starting point on a busy day.

Parking lot at the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters on Foxville Road (Hwy 77)

Parking lot at the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters on Foxville Road (Hwy 77)

First, a word of warning about hiking ANYWHERE in Catoctin Mountain Park during 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. 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.

I also suggest wearing long pants for this hike. There are a few narrow and overgrown segments where there could be poison ivy, briars, and ticks, but of more concern are the rocks at Chimney Rock and Wolf Rock that you might have to climb over or slide down from to proceed farther, and bare legs can get skinned up.

Boulders at Catoctin Mountain Park's Wolf Rock

Boulders at Catoctin Mountain Park’s Wolf Rock

Park Headquarters is not on the actual trail. You must walk 200 feet west (right out of the parking lot) down the main road to reach the trailhead. Follow the sign to CHIMNEY ROCK TRAIL. A worn path runs alongside the road, so you don’t have to walk in the traffic.

Path to the Chimney Rock trail from the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters

Path to the Chimney Rock trail from the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters

When you reach the trailhead, take the fork to the right towards Chimney Rock—a sign points the way. This sets you off hiking around the loop in the counterclockwise manner, which is how I went.

Start of the hike to Chimney Rock from the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters

Start of the hike to Chimney Rock from the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters

Right from the start the trail heads steeply uphill, with the first 200 feet being quite difficult. After that, the next .2 mile is just moderately strenuous. Other than a short reprieve here and there, the hike is uphill all the way to Chimney Rock.

While it is nearly impossible to get lost on the Catoctin Mountain Park trails due to the directional signage at all intersections, the National Park Service has still painted colored blazes on the trees. For those unfamiliar with blazes, these are paint splotches that you follow like Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs. On the first segment of the hike, the trail is marked with orange and white blazes. The two colors are used because this section of the trail is shared by the White Trail that heads east towards the Lewis Area (eastern most section of the park) and the Orange Trail that leads to Chimney and Wolf rocks.

White and orange blazes mark the first segment of the trail from the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters to Chimney Rock

White and orange blazes mark the first segment of the trail from the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters to Chimney Rock

As you hike to Chimney Rock, the trail intersects with the White Trail in two places, the first being at the crest of a hill .2 mile from the start of the hike. After the intersection, the terrain levels out for the next tenth of a mile before coming to what the National Park Service claims is the steepest section of trail within Catoctin Mountain Park.

The first intersection on the hike to Chimney Rock is with the trail to the Lewis Area of Catoctin Mountain Park

The first intersection on the hike to Chimney Rock is with the trail to the Lewis Area of Catoctin Mountain Park

The strenuous part of the climb begins just after a sharp V-shaped turn. Hand-posted signs alert hikers to the turn, though there’s really no other way to go. The terrain along the curved portion is extremely rocky, almost like walking through a landslide—and it may well be a landslide. Perhaps that’s the reason for the signs, as there is no worn dirt path to follow due to the abundance of rocks.

Start of a very steep section of trail on the way to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Start of a very steep section of trail on the way to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

What you are about to hit for the next tenth of a mile is a section of trail with an average grade of 17%; short segments reach 27%. Most hikers consider a grade of 15% to be where strenuous hiking begins. Just for reference, the average grade from the first Nepal base camp to the summit of Mount Everest is 17%, though of course that goes on for many miles in the snow.

At the top of the hill is a very short level area that is followed by an even steeper section of trail. The average grade is 20% with short segments topping 30%. I call this tippy-toe steep because you must push off on the balls of your feet to move forward, and your heels never touch the ground. On top of that, the rocks are crazy. This is one of very few sections of trail in the entire Catoctin Mountain Park where you must rely on the blazes to stay on course because there is no discernable trail. The climb and the rocks last all the way until the second intersection with the White Trail. I hadn’t seen this many rocks since hiking in Acadia National Park.

Extremely rocky section of the trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Extremely rocky section of the trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Where's the trail? Extremely rocky section of the trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Where’s the trail? Extremely rocky section of the trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

The second intersection with the White Trail comes at the .7-mile point on the hike. There is a very short-but-steep hill just before the actual intersection.

Climb to the second intersection of the Chimney Rock and Lewis Area trails at Catoctin Mountain Park

Climb to the second intersection of the Chimney Rock and Lewis Area trails at Catoctin Mountain Park

Second intersection of the Chimney Rock and Lewis Area trails at Catoctin Mountain Park

Second intersection of the Chimney Rock and Lewis Area trails at Catoctin Mountain Park

The next .3 mile of the hike is a lot easier. There are plenty of level areas, and even the steepest hills only reach a grade of 14%. There are still rocks on the trail, but nothing like before. In fact, there are some sections that are completely smooth and void of any obstacles. Also, the trail is now marked with orange blazes only.

Typical terrain of Catoctin Mountain Park's Orange Trail north of the White Trail intersection

Typical terrain of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Orange Trail north of the White Trail intersection

Smooth segment of Catoctin Mountain Park's Orange Trail north of the White Trail intersection

Smooth segment of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Orange Trail north of the White Trail intersection

About a tenth of a mile from Chimney Rock, things take a turn for the worse. This section of the trail is steeper than anything that came earlier—22% average grade. Chimney Rock itself is not on the main trail, so you must take a 250-foot detour on a side trail that is also extremely steep. The turn comes 1.1 miles into the hike.

Side trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Side trail to Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Chimney Rock is actually a neat overlook. The view is of the mountains, and there are a lot of interesting rock formations. I don’t think it’s worth hiking just to see it, but it is definitely better than the views at the Thurmont Vista and the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook, two other touted scenic views within Catoctin Mountain Park. A sign warns hikers that people fall and are injured here all the time, so be careful if you choose to climb out onto the rocks for a better view. (Note: Rock climbing and bouldering are allowed in the park, but not at Chimney Rock.)

View from Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

View from Chimney Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

The next destination is Wolf Rock, .4 mile farther down the trail. Half the trek is downhill and half uphill, but other than one extremely short-but-steep downhill section (150 feet, -24% grade on which I slipped and fell backwards), the climbs are never anything more than moderate in difficulty. The trail surface continues to be cluttered with small rocks—like hiking along a dry creek bed—but there are also patches free of rocks.

Typical terrain of Catoctin Mountain Park's Orange Trail between Chimney and Wolf rocks

Typical terrain of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Orange Trail between Chimney and Wolf rocks

Like Chimney Rock, Wolf Rock is not on the main trail. However, you can see the beginning of Wolf Rock before coming to the turnoff.

View of Wolf Rock from Catoctin Mountain Park's Orange Trail

View of Wolf Rock from Catoctin Mountain Park’s Orange Trail

The side trail to Wolf Rock comes 1.5 miles into the hike. As with the trail to Chimney Rock, it is very steep but only a couple hundred feet long. Wolf Rock is essentially a long and flat slab of quartzite (as you can see in the previous photo). The approach trail follows along the base of the rock. Getting to the top requires climbing up a landslide.

Intersection of the Orange Trail and the side trail to Catoctin Mountain's Wolf Rock

Intersection of the Orange Trail and the side trail to Catoctin Mountain’s Wolf Rock

Climb to the top of Catoctin Mountain Park's Wolf Rock

Climb to the top of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Wolf Rock

Wolf Rock is even cooler than Chimney Rock. There are huge boulders to climb up and over and wide crevices in the rock that you must step (or jump) across, and if you fall down into one, you’ll probably be dead—I couldn’t see the bottom of some of the crevices. I hiked along the top of Wolf Rock as far as I could get before the trees became too thick, the boulders too common, and the crevices too wide, but the more young and daring can go farther. Keep in mind that there is no scenic view from here; it’s the rocks that are the attraction. Roped rock climbing is permitted at Wolf Rock.

Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

From the Wolf Rock side trail, the next destination is the intersection with the Pink Trail that leads to Thurmont Vista. Follow the sign towards PARK CENTRAL ROAD, away from Chimney Rock. You aren’t actually hiking to the road, but that’s the way to go to continue around the loop. You’ll be heading uphill, and it gets very steep—tippy toe steep—right before the intersection, but the majority of this segment is only moderate in difficulty. The trail surface remains cluttered with small rocks.

Typical terrain on the Orange Trail west of Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on the Orange Trail west of Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park

The trail forks at the Pink Trail intersection, so stay left and continue towards Park Central Road. This stretch of trail is marked with pink and orange blazes. Some sections are narrow, and the terrain stays rocky as before.

Intersection of the Orange and Pink trails just west of Catoctin Mountain Park's Wolf Rock

Intersection of the Orange and Pink trails just west of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Wolf Rock

Terrain on the Pink and Orange blazed trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Terrain on the Pink and Orange blazed trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

The trail begins heading steeply downhill .2 mile from the intersection. A short ways later is a sign located where the trail makes a sharp turn to the left, almost a U-turn. There also appears to be a former trail that is now blocked with logs—I suspect a shortcut blazed by hikers to cut the corner of the U-turn. Just keep heading in the same direction as you were to continue on the Chimney Rock – Wolf Rock Loop Hike.

Trail sign along the pink and orange blazed section of trail west of Catoctin Mountain Park's Wolf Rock

Trail sign along the pink and orange blazed section of trail west of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Wolf Rock

At the bottom of the hill is the intersection with the Yellow Trail, which runs from the Visitor Center all the way to Hog Rock. Take a left towards the Visitor Center. Again, because this section of the trail is shared by two trails, you will see two blazes:  yellow and orange.

Intersection of the Orange and Yellow trails north of the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center

Intersection of the Orange and Yellow trails north of the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center

From the intersection all the way to the Visitor Center, the trail heads downhill, save one short and level reprieve between the two drops that make up the journey. The grade of the first hill averages a little less than -15%, but the hill closer to the Visitor Center is as steep as any in the park, averaging -23%. Its saving grace is that it is only a tenth of a mile long. When you reach the bottom you will have hiked roughly three miles.

Typical terrain on the Orange / Yellow trail north of the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center

Typical terrain on the Orange / Yellow trail north of the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center

If you have a reason to stop at the Visitor Center, take a right at the next intersection, otherwise turn left to head back to Park Headquarters. A few minutes earlier, I came across a guy coming the other way. I asked him if he was having fun yet. Gnats were swarming, the temperature was over 90° F, and the humidity was just as high. He asked me if things could get any worse. I told him no. I lied. Five minutes later it started pouring rain. I made a beeline to the Visitor Center and waited out the storm. In truth, I didn’t get any more wet from the rain than I had from sweating. This was the most miserable I had ever been in my entire life when hiking.

The hike back to Park Headquarters is hilly, and the very last 500 feet before reaching the end is very steep. Other than that hill, compared to the earlier sections of the trail, you might as well consider it to be level. It follows Foxville Road, so there is plenty of traffic noise. The trail is marked with orange and white blazes.

Typical terrain along the Orange / White Trail between the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and Park Headquarters

Typical terrain along the Orange / White Trail between the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and Park Headquarters

Orange / White Trail between the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and Park Headquarters follows Highway 77

Orange / White Trail between the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and Park Headquarters follows Highway 77

The trail surface starts out nice and smooth for the first tenth of a mile, but things turn rocky after that. Some sections are as bad as the extreme rocks encountered earlier in the hike, and once again you must look for the blazes to find your way. Fortunately, this terrain doesn’t last long.

Extremely rocky section of the Orange / White Trail between the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and Park Headquarters

Extremely rocky section of the Orange / White Trail between the Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor Center and Park Headquarters

The hike concludes back at Park Headquarters. Total distance is 3.9 miles. With stops to explore Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock, it took me 3.5 hours, but I am a slow hiker and take a lot of photos. A faster person could easily cut an hour from this time.

Chimney Rock - Wolf Rock Loop Hike ends back at the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters

Chimney Rock – Wolf Rock Loop Hike ends back at the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters

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Last updated on February 1, 2023
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