Last week I was looking for (car) camping and a medium-hard hike close to our home in Takoma Park, Maryland outside Washington, D.C. I found nothing in the Maryland and Virginia State Park online database. There wasn’t much help when I called. September is, not surprisingly, a busy season for car campers. In a desperate moment, I looked for county parks, and found Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg, north of Germantown. It looked ok on the website, cost $21 a night in advance, and they had plenty of space. Best of all, it was minutes from Sugarloaf Mountain – a popular hiking spot. Despite the rain forecast, I reserved friday and saturday. The girls were really eager to go camping, so I was willing to try something new.
We left Friday afternoon and bought supplies at the soon-to-be-closed Safeway in Hyattsville. The car crawled up I-270 in the last vestiges of rush hour but we weren’t in much of a hurry. The check-in was easy. They sell, ice, firewood and makings for smores. The campground had ‘events’ the following day including a 7pm ice cream social! There are about 40 sites distributed in 5 sections. We were in Loop C, and it was half-empty. Like most car campsites that I remember, our neighbors were pretty close, but not so close that you could make out their conversation.
Our site (#46) was only 100 yards from the bathrooms, which are very nice and clean, although I heard someone say the shower water wasn’t hot (no surprise there.) They had a tent platform that was smooth but still sloped enough to notice when we slept. There was a picnic table, rusted charcoal grill, large steel firepit and 3 boulders for seats. Very nice! The girls and I were alone the first night and we roasted hot dogs, made macaroni and cheese and ate Hershey bars. Even without daylight, the gear checked-out. The night temp got to about 45 and we were comfy enough.
Trish joined us early the next day and we made french toast for breakfast before hitting the road. Our goal was to do an 8 mile hike around Sugarloaf Mountain. Sugarloaf is a monadnock, a mountain that evolves when the soil surrounding it erodes. It is, not surprisingly, very rocky. It was purchased privately in the 40’s and is managed by a non-profit called Stronghold that maintains the site and keeps it open for the public.
There are three main trails. The blue and white connect in a figure eight, and together make up the the primary hiking circuit. The yellow trail is longer and flatter around the base of the mountain and is designed for bikers and horseback riders. Stright up and down from the summit go three other short trails, green, red and orange. They are very fun but short.
The summit is only 800 feet above the surrounding exurbia and farmland, so you won’t have trouble getting there. However, don’t let the low elevation mislead you. The blue trail goes up and down quite a bit, and we were very winded after our ~7 miles of hiking. Sugarloaf has just a few panoramic viewpoints along the trail, but it’s fun hiking and it was a spectacular day. It was somewhat busy – nothing like Billy Goat Trail.
Our legs were giving out after 4 hours and we cut the final bit off our hike. 6-7 hour Old Rag hike will be challenging, as will the Amalfi Coast but we have time to build up our capacity. We piled in the car and the kids fell immediately asleep. Driving south to Rockville, we had just enough time to see a movie (Ponyo), eat at our favorite local Mexican chain (Guapo’s) and be back to the campsite in time to buy firewood. (8pm) We burnt marshmallows on a giant fire and collapsed in sleeping bags before 10 pm.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather. Our gear checked out (mostly). The girls loved sitting by the fire outdoors. The hike was memorable and challenging. The only thing missing was more company. Come with us next time.