Catoctin Mountain Park | DEERFIELD NATURE TRAIL

Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Length: .9-mile loop
Time:  30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy to moderate

The Deerfield Nature Trail is a loop trail that begins at the Owens Creek Campground. It uses the Horse Trail (Orange Trail) as part of the loop. The trail runs along Owens Creek on the way out, crosses the creek at the far end of the loop, and returns along the Horse Trail, still following the creek but now on the other side. While the hike is not exactly easy, it is not moderate in difficulty either—it’s somewhere in between.

One word of warning about hiking ANYWHERE in Catoctin Mountain Park during the summer: there are a ton of 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, so it appears that the locals know to come prepared.

The Deerfield Nature Trail begins and ends at two different places at the campground. The proper starting point is the trailhead near Campsite 30. Unfortunately, there is no parking at the trailhead. If you are camping, you’ll have to walk from your campsite. If you are not camping, you can park just outside the campground and walk in. The walk isn’t too far, but in truth, the trail is nothing that warrants any extra effort to get to, so skip it unless you are camping, and then only hike it if you have free time on your hands.

As with typical nature trails, there are stops along the route marked with signs that identify natural features. A brochure that is available in a box at the trailhead gives information about each stop. The focus of the hike is on natural materials in the area that Indians and European settlers used to survive.

Trailhead of the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Trailhead of the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

The hike out is north of Owens Creek, and it is uphill all the way to the far end of the loop. The first 200 feet are quite steep, but after that the hike is nothing more than a long, gradual climb, somewhere between easy and moderate in difficulty. The trail follows a ridge, and Owens Creek is a good ways below. There is an Owens Creek stop on the trail, and a very steep side trail leads down to the creek for those who perhaps have never seen one before and want a closer look. I’ve seen plenty. Plus I’m too old to climb up and down such a hill for no good reason.

The Deerfield Nature Trail runs along a ridge high above Owens Creek at Catoctin Mountain Park

The Deerfield Nature Trail runs along a ridge high above Owens Creek at Catoctin Mountain Park

The trail surface is very smooth for a Catoctin Mountain Park trail, which is typically covered with rocks of all sorts and sizes. There are some rocky patches, but these are few and far between.

Typical terrain on the first half of the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on the first half of the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

The only stop on the trail that is not nature oriented is at an old stone wall. Believe it or not, this used to be farmland. I don’t know what they would be farming other than rocks. Perhaps these are the guys who came up with the Pet Rock. Most of the walls are made of either greenstone or rhyolite.

Stone wall from a former farm along the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Stone wall from a former farm along the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

The Deerfield Nature Trail north of Owens Creek ends after .4 mile at a T-intersection. At this point, take a left and cross over the creek to the Horse Trail. If you miss the turn, you will keep on hiking north on the Horse Trail and will eventually end up in Canada, so be alert. The turn comes not too far after Stop 9 on the hike, the Sugar Maple.

Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park crosses Owens Creek

Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park crosses Owens Creek

The terrain at the start of the Horse Trail near Owens Creek is very rocky, almost like walking down the stream bed itself. The extreme rocks don’t last long, but the trail is a little rougher than the trail on the other side of the creek.

Extremely rocky section of Catoctin Mountain Park's Deerfield Nature Trail near Owens Creek

Extremely rocky section of Catoctin Mountain Park’s Deerfield Nature Trail near Owens Creek

Typical terrain along the Horse Trail portion of the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain along the Horse Trail portion of the Deerfield Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Starting about a quarter mile from the turn onto the Horse Trail, you’ll be hiking down a hill that is a little steeper than the one on the other side of Owens Creek. There is a 100-foot section that qualifies as strenuous, but other than that, the descent is gradual. Nature trails are typically family friendly, so the terrain never gets too difficult. As with the hike out from the campground, the return trip is somewhere between easy and moderate.

There is another T-intersection just before reaching the end of the hike that you need to be aware of. Take a left to get back to the campground (follow the sign to Deerfield Nature Trail). You do have to cross back over Owens Creek, but this time there is a bridge. The trail eventually comes out near the campground restrooms.

Intersection on the Deerfield Nature Trail near the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

Intersection on the Deerfield Nature Trail near the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

Bridge over Owens Creek on the Deerfield Nature Trail near the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

Bridge over Owens Creek on the Deerfield Nature Trail near the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

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Last updated on February 2, 2023
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