Did you know that some of the most beautiful vistas, the quaintest small towns, and best hikes in the Blue Ridge are well north of the Shenandoah Valley? It sure was a surprise to me when I discovered South Mountain in Washington County, MD where the Appalachian Trail strings together several magnificent parks like pearls.
Washington County is worthy of weeks of exploration, but on a recent late summer day, we decided to hike to Annapolis Rock which we’d been told gives an impressive view of Maryland farmland, forests, and lakes and an opportunity to stretch your legs for 5-6 miles on the Appalachian Trail.
Before setting out on our hike, we stopped to see Washington Monument State Park, where we visited (after a short ¼ mile hike) the original Washington Monument built in 1827 by the citizens of Boonsboro. The Monument was recently struck by lightning so we couldn’t go in, but the view is why most people go there anyway. We stood and admired rural Maryland which sprawled impressively below us. It was hard to imagine that we were only an hour outside Washington DC.
Just off Route 40 not far from Greenbrier State Park, we left our car in a well-marked lot for hikers, and set out towards Annapolis Rocks. The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot and the first part is rather noisy since it runs parallel to busy Route 70, but then the forest closes in and the traffic roar begins to disappear as you begin a steady hike upward.
One of the best known hikes in Washington County, the hike to Annapolis Rocks is full of happy-faced families, groups of teenagers, and couples with dogs. The trail is rocky and rugged at first, but about a half hour in, it levels off and becomes sandy and surrounded by bird song. And after a pleasant, lazy ramble, it turns left to lead you to the white rocks of the overlook and Greenbrier State Park’s lake shining like a jewel in the distance. Bring your lunch or snacks so you can sit and ponder the view for a while; you’ll be glad you did.
After hiking back, we headed to Boonsboro, MD for $4 bloody Mary’s and fish and chips at Dan’s Restaurant and Taphouse on Main Street. And then we wandered around in this wonderful small town, visiting the local book shop owned by famous writer Nora Roberts, and several galleries and gift shops. And to top the visit off, we stopped for fresh corn and tomatoes at Cronise Market Place on our way out of town. It’s always nice to take some of the flavors of smells of the Blue Ridge home.