This weekend I joined the Capital Hiking Club on a day hike along the Appalachian Trail. The route passes several great viewpoints, including the original Washington Monument and Annapolis Rocks. Besides the obvious draw of the outdoors and meeting new people, I was excited to try out my new trekking poles on this hike. I bought some inexpensive carbon fiber poles from Cascade Mountain Tech so I could try out hiking with trekking poles in general. I’ve never spent much time with poles on the trail but I wanted to see if they would be useful for my thru-hike of the John Muir Trail later this summer.
Spoiler alert – I’ve decided I will continue hiking with poles! The Cascade Mountain Tech pair are a great set to begin on. They’re lightweight and the cork grips are very comfortable. I’m not a huge fan of the snap locks, but they’re not a deal breaker.
This hike is a point-to-point day hike along the Appalachian Trail, so you’ll need a way to get from one end to the other before or after the hike. The route is depicted in its entirety on the PATC #5 map. No permits are required for day-hiking or overnight trips, but all the usual leave no trace rules apply. Take extra care on this popular section of the trail to minimize your impact.
Day Hike to Annapolis Rocks
June 3, 2017 | 12.3 mi | +2100′ / – 1900′
I meet a bus full of Capital Hiking Club members at a nearby Metro station (parking is free on the weekends!). The group includes a wide range of people, from young 20-somethings to seasoned hikers enjoying their retirement. The bus ride to Washington Monument State Park lasts about an hour and we arrive at about 10 AM. On a usual June Saturday, the temperature would be rising through the 70’s up into the 80’s or 90’s. Thankfully, today is not a usual June day and it’s cool and breezy.
A short road walk from the bus leads to the Washington Monument, an old stone tower perched on a knoll. The Appalachian Trail passes nearby and, after spending a few minutes admiring the views from the top of the monument, I begin hiking north on the AT.
The first section of trail descends gradually from the monument and winds through a dense forest. The sweet scent of Mountain Laurel wafts along on the cool breeze and carpets of ferns surround the trail. In a departure from my usual long pant hiking attire, I am wearing running shorts instead; I expected it to be much warmer. I try to avoid brushing too many of the plants hanging into the trail, to evade both poison ivy and Lime disease-ridden ticks.
Several miles later, the Appalachian Trail crosses I-70 via an enclosed bridge. While I appreciate the close proximity of the AT to Washington DC, I also wish it was more removed from civilization. Road crossings like this ruin the illusion of solitude. Still, it’s entertaining to walk over the interstate. I wonder how many people threw things off of the bridge before engineers settled on a completely enclosed design?
After crossing the highway, the trail enters more isolated woods. This section is popular with day hikers, most of whom seem to be converging on our lunch spot: Annapolis Rocks. By the time I reach the cliffs, I’m ready for a good break and some food. The views from Annapolis Rocks are similar to many the others you’ll find in Maryland and Virginia: endless trees and farmland scattered in the mix. I’m sure the scenery is fantastic in autumn when the trees transition to hues of red, orange, and yellow. I munch on a tortilla, hummus, and an extra sharp cheddar cheese stick and admire the views.
The trail north from Annapolis Rocks is more sparsely populated and I enjoy a little solitude despite the fact that I arrived with a group of 45 other hikers. A particularly rocky section of trail requires extra concentration to avoid a turned ankle, but otherwise, the trek is relatively easy with few elevation changes. On the slopes that do exist, I take advantage of the trekking poles. They’re incredibly effective at reducing the load on my knees on the downhill segments, and I can see how they’d be helpful in the snow, during stream crossings, and on uphill climbs.
The hikers I meet on this stretch of trail seem to mostly be section- and thru-hikers completing portions of the Appalachian Trail. The Maryland section of the AT is popular as a multi-day trip. One gentleman I meet hiked the southern half of the AT last summer. He’s just begun the second half at Harper’s Ferry and is making his way to Mt. Katahdin.
At the end of the hike, I join others that hiked faster than me and wait for the bus. A pair of chickens are pecking around the gravel parking lot, providing entertainment while we wait for our ride.
When the bus arrives, we enjoy chips, sodas, and cold beers and then crowd back on board. There is significantly more traffic on the way home and it’s nice to be able to sit back and relax while the bus driver navigates the crowded roads. With another great hike in the bag, I relax and enjoy the ride home.