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another view looking west
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Sugarloaf Mountain

7901 Comus Road Dickerson, MD 20842
Park is open 8:00am until one hour before dusk.
301-874-2024 Half day
September 2016 Summer, Fall, Spring
$0-9 Dickerson Maryland
Website Recreation Hiking
First review
Sugarloaf Mountain Park is approximately 3,000 acres and is about an hour by car from Washington, DC. The park is best known for Sugarloaf Mountain, which has an elevation of 1,282 feet. Most of the park is forested with eastern Piedmont type trees such as oaks, tulips and maples. It's kept in a natural state, and hiking is the main activity here. Trails are generally moderate in difficulty and crisscross at many points, so one can hike for a few minutes or all day. Limited facilities include a few picnic areas and a horse center. There also is a former mansion and related buildings that belonged to the park's founder Gordon Strong. The mansion is available to rent for events like weddings.

Sugarloaf Mountain received its name from early European settlers who thought its shape resembled a sugar loaf. The mountain is called a monadnock, which is a fancy term for a land formation that sticks out from the surrounding area because it is more resistant to erosion. Sugarloaf Mountain is around 14 million years old. It played a minor role in the Civil War during which both Northern and Southern troops used it as an observation post.

The park’s existence is primarily if not exclusively due to Gordon and Louise Strong, who started acquiring land here in the early 1900s with an intention of using it as a country estate and to preserve it. Interestingly, Franklin Roosevelt sought to obtain the area as a presidential retreat, but Strong convinced him instead to select Catocin Mountain, which is where the Camp David presidential retreat is located today. In 1946, Strong set up a private nonprofit called Stronghold Inc., to manage the park and make it available for public recreation.

Visiting in early September was not an ideal time of year because it was excessively humid and the gnats were out in force and were constant companions on the hike. On the upside though, the park was relatively empty, so there were no issues with finding a parking space. The park does not have an entrance fee, but donations are accepted. A park trail map was available at the East View parking area. The map was clear as to routes, distances and elevations, and the trails were well marked so getting around here without getting lost was a breeze. The Blue Trail Loop seemed like a good choice for distance, elevation and views. It took about 4 hours to complete the loop while maintaining a steady but not grueling pace. Trail conditions were about average to slightly below average due to many rocks and tree roots. Just wearing sneakers did not help in this regard, so you will probably want to bring hiking boots and plenty of water too. The high point of the trail were the White Rocks scenic views located on the northwest section of the loop. The views were moderately good for an eastern mountain but did not compare to more scenic vistas in Colorado or California. A slight annoyance was that a few hundred yards of the Blue Trail was routed along Mount Ephraim Road, and the cars kicked up a lot of dust when they passed by. Elevation gains and descents on the Blue Trail were approximately 200 feet, so nothing too challenging. The ascent at the end of the hike up the Green/Red Trails and then back down the Orange Trail to the parking area was tougher. If you like a more difficult hike (difficult in a relative sense) then you will want to incorporate these trails in your route.

As a quick retreat from Washington, DC, Sugarloaf was not bad, but neither was it great. It's not really worth a special trip if you are on a limited time budget and checking out the area. However, if you are staying for a while and don't feel like driving all the way to the Appalachian Mountains to get your hiking fix, it's convenient enough to merit consideration for a weekend excursion. If you are not interested in hiking though, this park wont have much to offer.
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