Catoctin Mountain Park | ORANGE TRAIL SOUTH LOOP HIKE

Orange Trail South Loop Hike map (click to enlarge)

Orange Trail South Loop Hike map (click to enlarge)

Length:  2.5-mile loop
Time:  1.5 hours
Difficulty: mainly easy with a few moderate hills

The Orange Trail, also known as the Horse Trail, is located on the west side of Catoctin Mountain Park. It runs both north and south of the Owens Creek Campground, and combined with the Catoctin National Recreational Trail, hikers and horseback riders can embark on a very long loop hike that covers the entire west side of the park. I chose to break the hike into two shorter loops, and this report covers the trails south of the campground. See the Orange Trail North Loop Hike review for information on the other hike.

There are two things you should know about this hike, one of which applies to any hike within Catoctin Mountain Park during the summer. First, 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, so it appears that the locals know to come prepared.

Second, for those on horseback, think twice about riding on the Orange Trail. I encountered at least a half dozen downed trees (mainly on the north section of the trail) that horses are not getting over, under, or around. Some of the trees had fungus growing on them, which indicates they may have been there for a while. The campground host told me that nobody hikes the trails on the west side of Catoctin Mountain Park, which means very little maintenance dollars are sent this way. Perhaps I visited on a bad day. Perhaps the trees were removed shortly after my visit. Perhaps. Regardless, I wouldn’t ride a horse on the Orange Trail without first consulting with park Rangers about the condition of the trail (and it is doubtful even they would know since most likely none of them have been on the trail in recent times).

Hikers can start the Orange Trail South Loop Hike from either the parking lot just outside the entrance of Owens Creek Campground or from Campsite 29. Those on horseback must start any hike on the Orange Trail at the designated horse trailer parking lot across the street from the entrance to Camp Greentop.

I started the hike from the campground parking lot, which is actually on the road that leads into the campground, not on the main road (Foxville Deerfield Road). From the parking lot, start walking back out to the main road, but for a short-cut, take the foot trail that forks off to the right. When you get to Foxville Deerfield Road, look for the trailhead on the other side of the street and to your right at the two o’clock position. This will set you off hiking on the Catoctin National Recreational Trail in the clockwise direction around the loop.

Shortcut from the Owens Creek Campground road to the trailhead of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail on the east side of Foxville Deerfield Road

Shortcut from the Owens Creek Campground road to the trailhead of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail on the east side of Foxville Deerfield Road

Trailhead of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail on the east side of Foxville Deerfield Road

Trailhead of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail on the east side of Foxville Deerfield Road

From my previous experience hiking the westside trails at Catoctin Mountain Park, the Catoctin National Recreational Trail tends to be wider and in better condition than the Orange Trail, which is probably due to it being a “National Recreational” trail maintained by volunteer organizations, not some Catoctin Mountain Park trail that nobody cares about. The trail is marked with blue blazes, which are paint splotches on trees and rocks that you follow like Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs so that you don’t get lost.

The Catoctin National Recreational Trail is marked with blue blazes

The Catoctin National Recreational Trail is marked with blue blazes

The hike begins slightly uphill along what appears to be a shallow gully. This may be a former road going back to the pioneer days. Before pavement came along, a busy dirt road may have so many people, horses, and wagons traveling down it that the top soil wears away and a gully forms. I don’t know if that’s the case here at Catoctin Mountain Park, but it is a reasonable hypothesis.

The Catoctin National Recreational Trail on the east side of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park follows a shallow gully

The Catoctin National Recreational Trail on the east side of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park follows a shallow gully

Not far from the start, the gully turns to the right, yet it appears that you can continue hiking straight. No blue blazes are in sight, and no directional signage is at the fork. I followed the gully, but I’m not sure if that is the correct way to go. A fallen tree blocked the trail not too far down, and it seemed to me that it was left there for the purpose of keeping people from going farther. There was another obvious trail to the right, but no blazes. I took it and eventually came out on the correct trail (I saw blazes). My guess is straight was the way to go at the fork, but regardless, I eventually ended up at the right place.

As you proceed east, you’ll be heading up a moderate hill towards the dirt Manahan Road. When the trail reaches the road (.3 mile into the hike), it curves south, levels out, and follows the road. You’ll see it off to your left about twenty feet from the trail. The section along the road is much narrower and the path is fairly smooth with minimal rocks, which is rare for trails in Catoctin Mountain Park. Other than one very overgrown section, it is well maintained. Even so, I recommend long pants for the hike, as ticks live in the vegetation and poison ivy is supposedly prevalent in the park.

Typical terrain of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail as it follows Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail as it follows Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Overgrown section of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail along Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Overgrown section pf the Catoctin National Recreational Trail along Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

A third of a mile from the turn south is an intersection with an old dirt road that leads back to Foxville Deerfield Road. There is a building at the bottom of a ravine next to the trail. I do not know what it is, but I could hear some machinery chugging away inside. If you hear a bunch of screaming kids, it’s campers at the Poplar Grove Youth Group Campground located on the other side of Manahan Road. Keep straight to continue the hike on the Catoctin National Recreational Trail.

Building next to the section of the Catoctin National Recreation Trail that runs along Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Building next to the section of the Catoctin National Recreation Trail that runs along Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

The trail continues for another quarter mile before coming to a T-intersection. The hike is uphill, but it’s so gradual that you’ll think you are walking on flat ground. Other than a stream crossing, the trek is uneventful.

Typical terrain on the section of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail that runs along Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on the section of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail that runs along Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Stream crosses the Catoctin National Recreational Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Stream crosses the Catoctin National Recreational Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

The T-intersection comes .8 mile into the hike. To the left is Manahan Road (within sight of the intersection). Take a right to continue on the Catoctin National Recreational Trail, which at this point turns into an obvious former road. However, just 50 feet down is a fork. The road continues to the right, but you must take the fork to the left onto the narrow foot trail marked with a trail sign.

Take the left fork to remain on the Catoctin National Recreational Trail

Take the left fork to remain on the Catoctin National Recreational Trail

Continue south for another .3 mile until reaching the intersection with Manahan Road. To continue on the Catoctin National Recreational Trail and on to the Camp Greentop parking lot, walk or ride out to the road and follow it south for a quarter mile, at which point the trail branches off the road to the left. For those doing the Orange Trail South Loop Hike, take a right (a very sharp V-shaped turn). This will set you off hiking west on the Orange Trail back towards Foxville Deerfield Road, which is .7 mile away.

Intersection of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail and Orange Trail near Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Intersection of the Catoctin National Recreational Trail and Orange Trail near Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

The hike on the Orange Trail starts off downhill, moderate at first but then so gradual that you might as well call it flat. The trail, while narrow, is smooth and easy to walk on.

Orange Trail just west of Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Orange Trail just west of Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

As I mentioned earlier, the Orange Trail is not very well maintained, and after a quarter mile from the turn at Manahan Road you’ll find yourself in an overgrown thicket of vegetation. Be sure to check yourself for ticks whenever you brush up against any greenery. I never did pick up a tick during my visit to Catoctin Mountain Park, but there are signs warning of their presence. Also be aware that there are plenty of briars on the trail.

Overgrown section of the Orange Trail a quarter mile west of Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Overgrown section of the Orange Trail a quarter mile west of Manahan Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Things clear up after another quarter mile, and while there are still some overgrown patches, the trail is acceptable. The surface does get a little rocky as you approach the road, but it’s mild compared to many of the trails at Catoctin Mountain Park.

Orange Trail east of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Orange Trail east of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Rocky section of the Orange Trail just east of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Rocky section of the Orange Trail just east of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

The Orange Trail comes to another T-intersection 1.8 miles into the hike. A left leads to the Owens Creek Picnic Area. A right, which is the way you want to go, takes you to Foxville Deerfield Road just up ahead—you’ll hear the traffic noise. When you reach the road, continue straight across to remain on the Orange Trail.

Intersection of the Orange Trail and Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Intersection of the Orange Trail and Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

From the road back to Owens Creek Campground, the Orange Trail is much improved. While there is an overgrown section here and there, for the most part the trail is wide and relatively smooth, and the terrain, at least for a while, is flat.

Typical terrain of the Orange Trail west of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain of the Orange Trail west of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

A minute’s walk from the road is a creek crossing. Hikers can use the footbridge while those on horseback must ride across the creek.

The Orange Trail crosses a small creek just west of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

The Orange Trail crosses a small creek just west of Foxville Deerfield Road in Catoctin Mountain Park

Not far beyond the creek crossing, 2.1 miles into the hike, is one last hill to climb. It peaks just about at the intersection with the trail that leads to the campground. The turn is another sharp U-turn to the right on what is technically called the Deerfield Nature Trail—a sign points the way.

On the way to the campground, which is just a tenth of a mile farther ahead and downhill all the way, you’ll cross Owens Creek once again. When you get to the campground at Campsite 29, take a right on the road and walk a quarter mile back to the parking lot.

Orange Trail footbridge over Owens Creek just south of the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

Orange Trail footbridge over Owens Creek just south of the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

Owens Creek just south of the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

Owens Creek just south of the Owens Creek Campground at Catoctin Mountain Park

As with all hikes at Catoctin Mountain Park, the hike along the Orange Trail and Catoctin National Recreational Trail south of Owens Creek Campground is for exercise purposes only. The hike is nothing more than an uneventful walk in the woods. I will say that it is better than the Orange Trail North Loop Hike, which I don’t recommend at all. The South Loop Hike is half the distance, flatter, and the trails are in much better shape. If you find yourself on the west side of the park, this is not a bad way to spend a couple hours if you want to go for a hike.

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Last updated on February 2, 2023
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