Catoctin Mountain Park Information

Last updated March 2, 2008



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This page shows some interesting information I found when I researched the Catoctin Mountain Park area. Most of it was taken directly from the Catoctin Mountain Park history and culture page or Wikipedia. All I did was organize the information into small chunks that I felt would be good to read at each stopping point along the 7.5 mile Catoctin counterclockwise loop. Feel free to use this information if you are leading a hike. I found it most helpful to print it out then attach it to 3x5 notecards. Enjoy!

Also check out my February 9, 2008 and March 1, 2008 Catoctin and Cunningham Falls hike trip reports.


Etymology is the study of the history of words. What is the etymology of "Catoctin"?

Before the first Europeans arrived, many small Native American tribes farmed, hunted and fished the area. Tradition says the name Catoctin came from the tribe, the Kittoctons, who once lived at the foot of the mountains near the Potomac River.

In the 1930's, the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration area was created to provide recreation for federal employees. One of the camps eventually became Camp David, the Presidential retreat.

In 1954, the area was divided into two parks, divided by Maryland Route 77. The northern 5000 acres is now Catoctin Mountain Park, a unit of the National Park Service. The remaining 5000 acre parcel was named Cunningham Falls State Park.

Today, Cindy, Norma, and I will lead you on an approximately 7.5 mile circuit hike in Catoctin Mountain Park, covering many of the most scenic parts. Near the end, we will take you to Cunningham Falls in Cunningham Falls State Park. At 78 feet, these falls comprise the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland.


This area is part of the Weverton Formation. The Weverton Formation, named because part of it is near the town of Weverton, is the main ridge-making formation in the eastern mountains in Maryland. The formation is composed of quartz cemented together by a secondary, less developed quartz. At Chimney Rock there are also numerous joints (fractures) in the rock. Melting water that filled spaces then froze and expanded breaking away pieces of rock, a process known as frost wedging, formed these joints.


Catoctin is part of the ancient Appalachian Mountains that were formed 250 million years ago. Geologically speaking, these mountains are very old and worn due to erosion over time. Most of the rock visible in Catoctin dates from at least 500 million years ago. It was formed from a lava flow of molten rock. This lava cooled and was then covered by sea-bottom sediment. Yes, sea-bottom sediment! Next, the heat and pressure of mountain building changed the original lava into a metabasalt (to be defined later). Younger rocks were once present, lying on top of the rock we see today, but over millions of years they have been eroded away by wind, rain, running water and ice. A few thousand feet below Catoctin remains an intrusive granite basement rock that is over one billion years old!

In the eastern half of the park at Chimney Rock and here at Wolf Rock, the rocks have been transformed into a hard, weather-resistant rock called quartzite. Quartzite is a metamorphic rock which was originally sandstone. Sandstone is converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression.

Rough outcrops of weathered metamorphic rocks, primarily Weverton quartzite and Catoctin Greenstone (also to be defined later), typify the geology of Catoctin. These tough materials provide a protective cap for the mountains, and can be easily viewed at Chimney Rock, Wolf Rock, and Hog Rock.


Thurmont Vista is a good place to observe a geologic occurrence in the landscape. More than 180 million years ago a great border fault occurred when the area now occupied by the valley slid down about one mile, probably over millions of years, from the area now occupied by the mountain top. The Loudoun formation lies between the Weaverton and Catoctin formations on the slope to the east of park Central Road and Catoctin Hollow Road. This formation is composed of conglomerate (a sedimentary rock of irregularly sized gravel) and phyllite (metamorphosed shale). The Loudoun formation is less resistant to weathering and has worn away to create a valley between the two hills of more resistant rock. Park Central Road north of the Visitor Center, follows part of this eroded valley.

Iron ore was found at the base of the mountains by early settlers. Between 1776 to 1903, the Catoctin Furnace heated the iron ore along with charcoal and limestone to produce nearly pure iron. This was the first important industry in the Mechanicstown, or Thurmont area which we can see in the distance.


Charcoal is the blackish residue consisting of impure carbon obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by heating wood, sugar, animal bones, or others substances in the absence of oxygen. The soft, brittle, lightweight, black, porous material resembles coal and is 85% to 98% carbon with the remainder consisting of volatile chemicals and ash.

Historically, production of wood charcoal in districts where there is an abundance of wood dates back to a very remote period, and generally consists of piling billets of wood on their ends so as to form a conical pile, openings being left at the bottom to admit air, with a central shaft to serve as a flue. The whole pile is covered with turf or moistened clay. The firing is begun at the bottom of the flue, and gradually spreads outwards and upwards. The success of the operation depends upon the rate of the combustion. Under average conditions, 100 parts of wood yield about 60 parts by volume, or 25 parts by weight, of charcoal.

The massive production of charcoal was a major cause of deforestation, especially in Central Europe. In England, many woods were managed as coppices (a grove of small trees or shrubs), which were cut and regrew cyclically, so that a steady supply of charcoal would be available (in principle) forever. Complaints about shortages may relate to the results of temporary over-exploitation or the impossibility of increasing production. The scarcity of easily harvested wood was a major factor for the switch to the fossil fuel equivalents, mainly coal and lignite for industrial use. Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is the lowest rank of coal and used almost exclusively as fuel for steam-electric power generation.

A person who manufactured charcoal was formerly known as a collier. The word "collier" was also used for those who mined or dealt in coal, and for the ships that transported it.

The charcoal briquette, first invented by Henry Ford, was first made using wood and sawdust scraps from his automotive assembly plant.

CAMP DAVID (read at Blue Ridge Summit Overlook)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was accustomed to seeking relief from hot Washington, D.C. summers and relaxing on weekends, aboard the presidential yacht. But with WWII in full bloom, the Secret Service became very concerned about the Presidentís safety on open waters. Both the health and safety of the President were a concern. The muggy climate of Washington, D.C., was considered detrimental to his health, affecting his sinuses. A new retreat within a 100 mile radius of Washington, D.C. and in the cool mountain air was sought. Several sites were considered but Camp Hi-Catoctin in the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was selected after the President's first visit. A camp was already built on the site and the estimated conversion cost was a mere $18,650. It was also almost 10 degrees cooler than Washington. This camp for federal employee's families became the camp of one federal employee, the President of the United States. Roosevelt quickly renamed the camp to "Shangri-La" from James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.

In 1952, Truman approved a compromise under which the land north of Maryland Route 77 would remain Catoctin Mountain Park operated by the National Park Service and the land south of Maryland Route 77 would become Cunningham Falls State Park. The official transfer took effect in 1954.

President Eisenhower renamed the retreat, after he took office in 1953, to "Camp David," after his grandson.

Camp David lies almost due west of our current location.


Here at Hog Rock, which is located in the center of the park, the Catoctin metabasalt formation is the bedrock. This metabasalt is dark greenish-gray metamorphosed igneous rock, which is highly resistant to weathering. It is known as the Catoctin Greenstone.


Q: What is etymology?
A: The study of the history of words.

Q: What was the name FDR gave to his Presidential retreat?
A: Shangri-La

Q: Quartzite is a hard, metamorphic rock which was originally ________.
A: Sandstone

Q: What is a collier?
A: A person who manufactures charcoal.

Q: What is brown coal?
A: Lignite

Q: Who invented the charcoal briquette?
A: Henry Ford

Q: Metabasalt is dark greenish-gray metamorphosed igneous rock, also known as _________.
A: Catoctin Greenstone

Q: A sedimentary rock of irregularly sized gravel is called ________.

Q: How high is Cunningham Falls?
A: 78 feet