- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

Every year at this time, the mountains beckon with their turning leaves, crisp air and breathtaking views. Gambrill State Park in Frederick, Md., which is part of the Catoctin Mountains, offers six trails with varying degrees of difficulty and has an overlook at more than 1,600 feet.

“You can see the farms and rolling hills of Frederick County from our beautiful overlook,” says Dave Lowman, park ranger at Gambrill State Park.

On a clear day, visitors also can see such Civil War landmarks as South Mountain to the west and Crampton’s Gap to the south.

The park’s three overlooks provide grand views of surrounding areas. For a closer look at leaves and an opportunity for exercise, visitors can pick one of six hiking trails that range from one to 26 miles and from easy to strenuous.

Visitors can stop by the ranger’s station at the park entrance to pick up a map, which outlines the trails, or visit the park’s Web site (www.dnr. state.md.us/publiclands/western/gambrill.html).

All trails except for the easiest one double as mountain bike trails. Many of the trails have an elevation change of several hundred feet and are very rocky, making mountain biking a challenge.

Some of the mountain bike trails are suitable for families, while others should not be used by novice mountain bikers, according to the park Web site.

Mountain bikers are advised to wear helmets at all times and to carry a small first-aid kit and water.

Aside from grand vistas and fall foliage, hikers and bikers also might spot some of the park’s rich wildlife, which includes white-tailed deer, wild turkey, red-tailed hawks, raccoons and the occasional black bear.

“But I don’t want to scare anyone. They’re very rare,” Mr. Lowman says of the bears.

Trees that sport fiery red, orange and yellow foliage during fall include chestnut oaks, red oaks, white oaks, sugar maples and mountain ashes.

The park also features a camping ground and cabins for rent in the Rock Run Area, close to the entrance of the park, and at the top of the mountain. The cabins feature beds, tables and electricity and are a stone’s throw from a bathhouse with showers, laundry tubs and hot water. This family-friendly camping ground also features a playground with swings.

The season for overnight stays, however, ends Oct. 18 and reopens in April 2005.

At the top of the mountain is the Tea Room, a lodge built with native stone. It is an example of the type of structures the Civilian Conservation Corps built during the Great Depression. The CCC was established in the early 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to provide jobs for young men while helping reclaim and improve damaged natural environment areas.

The Tea Room features a balcony and a large stone fireplace. It can be rented, has a kitchen and accommodates 75 persons.

The high elevation of the park means cooler air, which in turn means that the leaves will turn golden about two weeks before they do in flatter areas, such as the District or Frederick.

“It’s usually the second or third week of October,” Mr. Lowman says.

So today — Oct. 10 — just might be the day.

WHEN YOU GO:

Location:8602 Gambrill Park Road, Frederick, Md.

Directions: Take Interstate 495 to Exit 38 and merge onto Interstate 270 north. Take Interstate 270 to Frederick, where it turns into U.S. Route 15, and continue to Route 40 west. Exit to the Interstate 70 west/Route 40 split. Continue on Route 40. Turn right on Gambrill Park Road. The trip takes a little more than an hour from downtown Washington.

Hours:The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset April through October and 10 a.m. to sunset November through March.

Admission:Free except for the High Knob area, where parking costs $2 for in-state cars and $3 for out-of-state cars.

Information: Phone 301/271-7574 or click on www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/gambrill.html.

Miscellaneous:The campgrounds are open through Oct. 15, after which they close for the winter. They open again in April. Costs range from $20 to $45.

Other parks:

• Shenandoah National Park, 3655 U.S. Highway 211 East, Luray, Va. Phone: 540/999-3500. Web site: www.nps.gov/ shen. The park is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and its total acreage is 197,411.60.

• Rock Creek Park, 3545 Williamsburg Lane NW, Washington. Phone: 202/895-6000. Web site: www.nps.gov/ rocr. The park is about a mile wide and four miles long.

• Patapsco Valley State Park, 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, Md. Phone: 410/461-5005 or www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapscovalley.html. Patapsco Valley State Park, which has 14,000 acres, runs along 32 miles of the Patapsco River.

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