Catoctin Mountain Park | SPICEBUSH NATURE TRAIL

Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Length: .3-mile loop
Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

The Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park is designed to educate visitors about the changes to the land made by humans over time. It is located at the Chestnut Picnic Area on the west side of the park.

The trail is relatively flat, and any hills are slight and negligible. Much of the surface feels as if you are walking on a rubberized playground mat. It is actually a synthetic surface called WoodCarpet. When built back in 2005, the surface allowed the Spicebush Trail to be wheelchair accessible, and the National Park Service still touts this accessibility on its Catoctin Mountain Park website. When I did the hike in 2022, the trail was covered in moss and very narrow in spots, so I don’t see a wheelchair getting through without some effort unless a good bit of maintenance is done (and it may well have been since I was there).

Typical terrain on the Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Typical terrain on the Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Narrow section of the Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Narrow section of the Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

The Spicebush Nature Trail, which is a loop trail, forks just past the sign located at the trailhead. However, this is not the start of the loop. In fact, I don’t know what it is. A left leads to nothing, so be sure to stay to the right. The actual loop starts a little farther down, and when I got there I took a right and hiked around in the counterclockwise direction. It doesn’t make any difference which way you go, but this trail report is written from the perspective of traveling counterclockwise.

Wayside exhibits along the trail point out changes to the area over time. One that caught my attention discussed the deer population. In Colonial times there were ten deer per square mile. Today there are anywhere from 100 to 200 per square mile. The exhibit doesn’t state why this has happened, but I suspect it’s either because people don’t hunt deer for skins any more, or people killed all the predators that eat deer, such as wolves. Regardless, the deer are now eating every plant in sight. Other wayside exhibits discuss the downfall of the park’s dogwood and chestnut trees due to disease, how fungus decomposes downed trees, invasive plant species, and how old farms have returned to nature since Catoctin Mountain Park was created in the late 1930s.

Wayside exhibit on the Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Wayside exhibit on the Spicebush Nature Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

A little over a tenth of a mile into the hike (near the invasive plant species wayside exhibit), the trail forks again. A right just leads to a small parking area along Park Central Road, so stay to the left. The only other intersection that you will come to is when you get back to where the loop starts.

The Spicebush Nature Trail is family-friendly, and there is a lot of interesting information on the wayside exhibits. It’s not a bad little hike if you have the time, perhaps when you are picnicking at the Chestnut Picnic Area.

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Last updated on February 1, 2023
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