Winter Backpacking Series: Gathland State Park to Weverton Cliffs

This is part one in a three part series about winter backpacking. Click the links for part two and part three.

Winter Backpacking: unpredictable weather and harsh conditions can make winter backpacking a bit more dangerous than friendly summer camping, but with the right prep and equipment, you will often be rewarded with picturesque views and all but empty trails. Eric and I went on two trips this past December and the weather couldn’t have been any more different. In part one of this series, I will be discussing our out and back backpacking trip to Weverton Cliffs, Maryland. Part two will cover our loop around the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. Part three will be my gear guide for a safe and enjoyable winter backpacking trip.

It was mid-December and the weather had been very mild in the Washington DC metro area.

We checked the forecast for the weekend and we were shocked to see that it would be in the 60’s! We rounded up five of our friends and planned an easy 12 mile out and back trip to take advantage of the nice weather since we knew it would not last.

Seven of us in total met up at Gathland State Park a little after noon on Saturday. It was sunny, a bit humid, and everyone was comfortable in pants, a t-shirt and a light flannel. Gathland State Park has some very interesting buildings and history and it is definitely worth it to take some time to check out the park. It also has a rich civil war history and if you plan your visit correctly, you can catch a cannon demonstration!

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The War Correspondents Arch at Gathland State Park

The Appalachian Trail goes through the park, so we picked up the trail heading south. We followed the white blazes through a leafy mess while enjoying the views and the company. The trail is along the ridge-line the whole way and although you are in the trees almost the whole time, there are a few gaps to catch a glimpse of the rolling hills of Maryland farmland in the distance. After about 4 miles, we made it to the campsite. The campsite, as we know it, is called the Weverton campsite. It is kind of the overflow site for the Ed Garvey Shelter. There are impressive stone fire pits surrounded by stone chairs. Someone definitely took a lot of time to build this great getaway and it seems to get regular use.

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Andrew the Patagonia model leading the way

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Gathering firewood at the Weverton campsite

We took some time to set up camp and then hiked another 2 miles to Weverton Cliffs for sunset.

If you are ever near Harpers Ferry, WV, there are two hikes that I highly recommend, the Maryland Heights Trail, and Weverton Cliffs.

Both are short but steep climbs to magnificent view points. I have done the Weverton Cliff hike many times now and the view just never gets old. You can also get to the cliffs by parking at base of the cliffs right off of the highway here and then hiking north along the Appalachian Trail. Round trip is about 3 miles. My only complaint with the Weverton Cliffs lookout is the highway noise in the background.

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Weverton Cliffs in December 2015

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Weverton Cliffs in May 2015

Once the sun had set, with headlamps armed and ready, we headed back the two miles to camp. It was still rather warm and humid out, but cool enough that sitting by the fire was enjoyable. After some good food and laughs, we called it a night. It was so warm out that Eric, Andrew, and I all decided to hammock. I jumped in my 15 degree sleeping bag, but was almost too warm even with it fully unzipped.

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Morning view from my hammock

We woke up in the morning to another mild day. Slightly cooler, but still enjoyable for outdoor adventures. After a lazy breakfast, we packed up camp and made our way back to Gathland State Park, all glad that we took advantage of what would be the last good weather for the foreseeable future.

If you are interested in this hike, you can check out our route here.

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