Catoctin Mountain Park | THURMONT VISTA LOOP HIKE

Thurmont Vista Loop Hike map (click to enlarge)

Thurmont Vista Loop Hike map (click to enlarge)

Length: 2.6 miles
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate with one very steep hill

A loop hike at Catoctin Mountain Park that includes a stop at the Thurmont Vista (a mountaintop view) begins at the Thurmont Vista / Charcoal Exhibit parking lot on Park Central Road. This is the second parking lot north of the Visitor Center. The vista itself is just a half mile away, so there is no need to do the complete loop just to see it. However, the view is not very good, so a trip specifically to the overlook and back isn’t worth the effort. The only reason to see it is if you are on a longer hike such as the one being discussed here.

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.

The trail begins at the far end of the parking lot. Look for a sign that directs you to Thurmont Vista / Wolf Rock / Chimney Rock. The Thurmont Vista Loop Hike does not pass Wolf or Chimney rocks, but the journey to all three destinations begins on the same trail. If you want to see Wolf and Chimney rocks, it is best to start at the Visitor Center. See the Chimney Rock – Wolf Rock Loop Hike review here on National Park Planner for details.

Start of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

Start of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

From the parking lot, you must first hike a tenth of a mile on a connector trail before coming to where the loop starts. At the intersection you can go either straight and hike around in the clockwise direction or right and hike around counterclockwise. Do not take a left, as that leads up to the Blue Ridge Summit Vista, a completely different hike (see the Yellow Trail Loop Hike review for details). For the record, I stayed straight, and this trail report is written from the clockwise perspective.

Start of the loop portion of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

Start of the loop portion of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

For the first third of a mile, the trail is a wide, gravel path that proceeds uphill, though the climb is gradual and hardly worth mentioning. The trail is marked with purple blazes. For those unfamiliar with blazes, these are splotches painted on trees that you follow like Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs. They aren’t all that necessary at Catoctin Mountain Park, for the trails are well marked with directional signage at each intersection, so it is hard to get lost in the first place.

(Note: the trails at Catoctin Mountain Park are named after their blaze color. In this case, the trail is referred to as the Pink/Purple Trail because halfway around the color changes. My theory for the change is that the National Park Service ran out of purple paint when initially creating the blazes, and the guy who went to the paint store for more unwittingly bought pink. Since the colors weren’t that different from each other, and nobody wanted to drive back to the paint store, they just went with pink. It’s the federal government after all. Such discrepancies should be expected.)

Terrain at the start of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

Terrain at the start of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

I saw a snake on the trail, though I have no idea what kind it is.

Snake at Catoctin Mountain Park

Snake at Catoctin Mountain Park

After at third of a mile the terrain gets much steeper—moderate in difficulty—which is to be expected when hiking to a scenic view on top of a mountain. The trail surface also gets a little rougher, but it’s not too bad at this point.

Rougher terrain on the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

Rougher terrain on the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

The Thurmont Vista comes a half mile into the hike and is located at the end of a short side trail. The detour is marked with a sign, so you can’t miss it. As mentioned earlier, it’s not much of a view, which is why I don’t suggest hiking specifically to see it. The view itself is of the town of Thurmont.

View from the Thurmont Vista overlook at Catoctin Mountain Park

View from the Thurmont Vista overlook at Catoctin Mountain Park

Beyond the vista, the trail has its share of hills, but overall it is quite level. The trail surface does, however, get a little rockier. These aren’t large rocks that you must step up onto and down from, just small ankle breakers, so watch your step.

Rocky terrain on the trail east of the Thurmont Vista at Catoctin Mountain Park

Rocky terrain on the trail south of the Thurmont Vista at Catoctin Mountain Park

Rocky terrain on the trail south of the Thurmont Vista at Catoctin Mountain Park

Rocky terrain on the trail south of the Thurmont Vista at Catoctin Mountain Park

The next intersection is with the Orange Trail, the trail to Wolf Rock. At this point you will have hiked 1.3 miles. Follow the sign towards Park Central Road to continue the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike.

Intersection of the Pink and Orange trails at Catoctin Mountain Park

Intersection of the Pink and Orange trails at Catoctin Mountain Park

This section of the trail is marked with pink and orange blazes, for it is part of both the Pink and Orange trails. Some sections are narrow, and the terrain stays rocky as before.

Terrain on the pink and orange blazed trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Terrain on the pink and orange blazed trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Terrain on the pink and orange blazed trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Terrain on the pink and orange blazed trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

After .2 mile from the intersection, the trail begins heading steeply downhill. 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 the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike.

Trail sign along the Pink/Orange section of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

Trail sign along the Pink/Orange section of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

The next intersection comes at the bottom of the hill, 1.8 miles into the hike. This is the intersection with the Yellow Trail. Follow the sign towards Thurmont Vista / Hog Rock to get back to the connector trail that leads to the parking lot. This section of the trail is marked with yellow and pink blazes.

Intersection of the Pink/Orange Trail and the Yellow Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Intersection of the Pink/Orange Trail and the Yellow Trail at Catoctin Mountain Park

Yellow and Pink blazed section of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

Yellow and Pink blazed section of the Thurmont Vista Loop Hike at Catoctin Mountain Park

The connector trail is .7 mile away. The terrain is hilly and the trail surface remains rocky the entire way.

Hilly and rocky terrain on the hike north to the Thurmont Vista Parking Lot at Catoctin Mountain Park

Hilly and rocky terrain on the hike north to the Thurmont Vista Parking Lot at Catoctin Mountain Park

When you reach the connector trail, take a left to return to the parking lot. Total distance is 2.6 miles. The hike took me two hours, but I stopped and talked to a few people along the way.

Intersection with the connector trail back to the Thurmont Vista Parking Lot at Catoctin Mountain Park

Intersection with the connector trail back to the Thurmont Vista Parking Lot at Catoctin Mountain Park

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Last updated on February 1, 2023
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