Frederick County's Sugarloaf rises above the ordinary

Geographic oddity rewards the visitor

Trips

Road Trips - Regional Events

February 17, 2005|By Ronald Hube | Ronald Hube,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Despite what the European explorers who named Sugarloaf Mountain thought, it doesn't really look much like a cone of crystallized sugar. And with an elevation of only 1,282 feet, it's not much of a mountain either.

But standing alone in the farmland of Montgomery and Frederick counties, more than 20 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sugarloaf is well worth visiting for the great unobstructed views it offers, especially in winter when the trees are bare (blooming wildflowers make spring a good time so see the mountain, too). There is also a sense of history on Sugarloaf - during the Civil War, Union and Confederate troops alternately made use of the summit as a lookout point and signal station. A log cabin that still stands at the bottom of the mountain served as a hospital for soldiers.

A designated national landmark, Sugarloaf Mountain (7901 Comus Road, Dickerson, 301-874-2024, www.sugar loafmd.com) is a monadnock, a mountain that has resisted the forces of erosion that have worn away the surrounding countryside. Sugarloaf owes its existence to its interior of hard quartzite, a slab of which (perhaps as much as 200 feet thick) sits largely exposed at the top.

Sugarloaf is privately owned but open to the public - Gordon Strong, a wealthy attorney and nature lover who was enchanted by Sugarloaf, bought the entire mountain bit by bit in the early and middle 1900s to preserve its natural state. The mansion he built there and lived in until his death in 1954 is now rented out for weddings and other events.

The easiest way to enjoy Sugarloaf's vistas is to drive to the parking and picnic areas that are more than halfway up the mountain - there is a different view from each of the three stops. To venture to the rocky summit and its cliffs 800 feet above the mountain's base, you can choose from several trails with different degrees of difficulty. The A.M. Thomas Trail provides an easy climb up stone steps; on the steep Sunrise Trail, you have to scamper over rocks to get to the top.

(Strong and architect Frank Lloyd Wright once had grand plans for an elaborate mountaintop observatory that would have been accessible by car, but those plans never materialized. Instead, Wright later adapted the design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.)

Enthusiastic hikers can continue several miles beyond the summit into the mountain's more remote northern areas and to the lower of Sugarloaf's two peaks. Hiking all the way from the mountain's base is also an option, and in the winter it is sometimes the only one, when snow or ice closes the road.

Lucky visitors might spot some of the animals that live on Sugarloaf, including eastern cottontail rabbits, red-shouldered hawks, flying squirrels and wild turkeys. If you come across a copperhead or rattlesnake, you are warned to keep your distance.

Sugarloaf Mountain is open from sunrise until one hour before sunset every day. There is no admission charge.

Where to visit and shop

Nearby sites include the historic, cable-pulled Whites Ferry (24801 Whites Ferry Road, near Poolesville, 301-349-5200), the last of what were once 100 ferries crossing the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. Ferries depart every 20 minutes.

In Seneca State Park, the one-room Seneca Schoolhouse (16800 River Road, 301-972-8588), which was in operation from 1866 to 1910, now presents lessons about its past - to schoolchildren during the week and anyone else on Sundays from March 15 to Dec. 15.

The town of Poolesville, eight miles south of Sugarloaf Mountain, dates to the 1740s and was a staging area for Union troops during the Civil War. A log cabin, one-room general store there, built in 1793 and later expanded, is now a small museum (the John Poole House General Store Museum, 19923 Fisher Ave., 301-972-8588). And you can still buy stuff. Foods, such as ginger peach chutney and strawberry rhubarb conserves, or gifts, including T-shirts, hanging metal chicken ornaments and antique magnifying glasses, are available.

Speaking of antiques, while in Poolesville, lovers of old things might want to check out Hearthside Antiques and Collectibles (19900 Fisher Ave., 301-605-3900).

Where to eat and drink

If you take a morning trek to the top of Sugarloaf, you can load up first on caffeine and carbohydrates at the Corner Cafe (19710-K Fisher Ave., Poolesville, 301-349-0010). Also in Poolesville, a good bet for lunch, dinner, or just drinks in the pretty bar is Bassett's (19950 Fisher Ave., 301-972-7443). The atmosphere at Bassett's could be called casual country (floral tablecloths; birdhouses and duck decoys as decorations), and the food ranges from chili to three-cheese ravioli to crab cakes. For an elegant meal, consider the Comus Inn at Sugarloaf Mountain (23900 Old Hundred Road, Dickerson, 866-349-5101, www.thecomus inn.com), where you can dine on such fare as grilled rabbit loin or curried winter oysters. Originally an 1800s log house, the restaurant - as its name suggests - has a nice view of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Getting there

Sugarloaf Mountain is 1 1/2 hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 70 west to Route 75 south, then Route 355 south. In Hyattstown, take Route 109 south to Comus Road and make a right to Sugarloaf Mountain.

More information

For more to see and do near Sugarloaf Mountain, contact the Heritage Tourism Alliance of Montgomery County, 301-515-0753, www.heritage montgomery.org.

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