Sugarloaf Mountain

Dickerson, Maryland

Owned and managed by Stronghold Incorporated, 7901 Comus Rd., Dickerson, MD 20842 Tel. 301-874-2024/301-869-7846, www.sugarloafmd.com. This area is in Frederick County, MD

Write-up assembled by Andy Hiltz and Donn Ahearn


About the Mountain

Southeast of Frederick, Maryland, Sugarloaf Mountain stands like a lone sentinal in the midst of rolling Maryland farmland.

Geologically, Sugarloaf is known as a monadnock, a mountain that remains after the erosion of the surrounding land. At SugarLoaf, that process took approximately 14 million years. At an elevation of 1,282 feet, Sugarloaf stands more than 800 feet above the farmland below. The rugged cliffs on the summit are composed primarily of quartzite, the predominant type of rock on the mountain.

The dominant tree species on Sugarloaf are the oaks of both red and white groups. These trees are being threatened by oak decline, a result of several factors of which the introduced gypsy moth is a part. Other trees include black gum, tulip poplar, black birch, and eastern hemlock. The more than 500 species of plants here include a variety of wildflowers, many of which can be found blooming during the warm weather months.

White tailed deer are abundant on and around the mountain. Other mammals include flying squirrel, red fox, eastern cottontail and raccoon. The forest birds include the great horned owl, pileated woodpecker, wild turkey and red shouldered hawk. During the spring and fall, many migratory species of songbirds can be found.

The only history I could locate concerning the mountain is from a write-up from the Comus Inn Restaurant:

"In 1862-63, Confederate forces occupied the mountain, which was fought over by both sides as a signal station before the newly invented telegraph reached here. Its use as an observation point is described in the diaries of a local family's Union Army ancestor. After the Civil War, the mountain was owned by William Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Art Gallery and Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.

The diaries of Interior Secretary Harlold Ickes describe his failure in the early 1930's to obtain SugarLoaf as a Presidential retreat from Gordon Strong, a Chicago Republican political rival who fell in love with the mountain after coming upon it during a bicycle trip at the turn of the century. As a second choice, Strong directed Franklin Delano Roosevelt's car towards "Shangri-La" (now known as Camp David) in the Catoctin Mountains at Thurmont. Comus Village, at the intersection of State Routes 109 and 95, was originally known as Johnsonville, from the name of Maryland's first Governor, whose youngest brother, Roger, owned SugarLoaf and burned its forests for charcoal to fire his iron furnace. The village was renamed Comus by the U.S. Postal Service when it briefly established an office there in the 1930's."

My father tells me that the mountain derived it's name from its appearance - it looks like a loaf of sugar.

About the area......

What an unusual mountain. Lying east-south-east of Frederick Maryland, and west of Germantown, this small mountain stands by itself in the Maryland piedmont. It surely seems out of place, almost as if it got separated from its parents located twenty-some air miles to the west. The very fact that it seems so out of place has caused it to be a mecca of sorts for thousands of Washington, D.C. residents and foreign visitors. It's not a large mountain - 1,282 feet at it's highest point - really no more than a sizable hill. There are certainly more beautiful mountains within easy driving distance, and many that climb higher to the sky with more impressive views. But the fact that it stands there so solitary in the midst of so much flat Maryland farmland proves too irresistable for some. Many discover their own answers to the oft quoted question, "Why climb a mountain?....."

This mountain is unusual for another reason - it's privately owned and managed. Unlike the other well-known privately owned hiking mountain well to the south - Grandfather in North Carolina - there is absolutely no fee charged for visiting the mountain or hiking the trails. It is privately owned, yet open to the public for hiking and recreation. The mountain is managed by Stronghold, Inc. through a trust fund set up by Gordon Strong in 1947. Very unusual.

Three views from near the summit: southwest towards Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; northwest towards Thurmont, Maryland; and east towards Rockville, Maryland.

The chief features of the mountain are its reasonably close proximity to Washington, D.C. (it's the closest mountain to the Metro area), its easy accessibility to the summit, and the VIEWS. For families with small children who are not willing to endure the two hour drive to Shenandoah National Park, South Mountain State Park, or Catoctin Mountain Park, Sugarloaf provides the perfect retreat for taking the toddlers on a mountain adventure. From the West View parking area, it's just a short (but in some cases, steep) 350 foot climb to the summit. Most toddlers above the age of five will be up to it, even if it might get the parent's heart pumping on the way up. From the highest summit (there is a major and minor peak on the mountain), there are exceptional views to the south and west on the readily accessible rocks. If you're not willing to make the climb, you can satisfy yourself with equally impressive views to the south and west from the West View parking area, or to the east at the East View parking area. There are also picnic areas, porta johns, and at the West View parking area, a "snack shack" serving cider and othe edibles. (The Snak Shack is operated by a local family, and the operating hours are "when business is to be had".) What a neat mountain to visit.

Trails worth hiking?

The complex of trails immediately surrounding the peak make for short, but in places strenuous, hiking. The green-blazed A.M. Thomas Trail ascends 1/4 mile from West View on stone steps laid by Thomas, Stronghold's first superintendent. The orange-blazed Sunrise Trail is steep. It goes up from East View, reaching the summit in 1/4 mile. The Monadnock Trail, again only 1/4 mile and steep in spots, is blazed red. It departs the blue-blazed Northern Peaks Trail on the north side of the mountain.

Two other trails permit more lengthy excursions on the mountain. The Northern Peaks Trail, mentioned above, is about 5 miles long. This trail leads into the relatively lightly-used northern hinterland of Sugarloaf -- an area reminiscent of Shenandoah National Park in both appearance and remoteness (but a much shorter drive from Washington). White Rocks provides an excellent vantage point along this trail. Finally, the southern portion of the white-blazed Mountain Loop Trail can be used to lengthen a Northern Peaks circuit hike around Sugarloaf from five to seven miles. The whole trail makes for a 2 1/2-mile circuit. The Mountain Loop can be reached via the Northern Peaks Trail, or indirectly from parking areas and road crossings. The Saddleback Horse Trailrings the entire mountain and can be hiked as a 7-mile loop.

As you can see, there are lots of hiking opportunties available on the moutain for all levels of skill and stamina. When you're finished with your hike, you can always stop by the always busy Comus Inn for lunch/dinner or their excellent Sunday brunch (entrees, $6.50 to $12.50 lunch, $11 to $21 dinner (1995), reservations are recommended, call 428-8593 local).

Permits and Camping

Not Required, and there is no entry fee. There are no campsites on the mountain, and all hikers must be off the mountain by sunset. The required departure time is scrawled on a chalkboard inside an interpretive case at each parking area.

Hunting

Not allowed. All natural features, plants, flowers and rocks -- must be left undisturbed.

Fishing

None.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is allowed only on the yellow-blazed Saddleback horse trail ringing the mountain and only at prescribed time periods. These periods are weekends, year-round, and week-days only during November through May. The exact opening dates for weekday travel varies from year to year. Check first before you visit.

Campfires

Not allowed.

Access

From the intersection of I-495 and I-270 in Maryland, take I-270 to the west. Drive 22 miles to Route 109 (Poolesville); head south 5 miles to State Road 95 (Comus Road - the Comus Inn is on the corner, and an excellent view of the mountain can be seen from their north parking lot.) Turn right onto State Road 95 and drive 4.2 miles to the Stronghold entrance "plaza". The route to the mountain is clearly marked by signs on the Interstate and local roads. The earlier you can get there the better; parking spaces close to the views are at a premium, particularly on weekends, but there's plenty of parking for all.

Click on the map to browse

Map

PC users can download a selp-expanding "Zip-compressed" version of the TRAIL MAP 108K. If you're a MacIntosh user, you'll need to download the Stuffit Expander first, than download this non-executable ZIP FILE (92K). The zip file contains a TIF image of the map at a resolution suitable for printing.