chaptico park

An ongoing series in TheBayNet.com featuring hiking trails throughout Southern Maryland.

Chaptico, MD – For hiking enthusiasts, there is nothing more exciting than finding a new trail.

Chaptico Park in northwestern St. Mary’s County is a fairly recent amenity, having opened in 2005. While lacking in some features, such as a pavilion, there are picnic tables, a playground, nine soccer and lacrosse fields with practice areas, restrooms and a concession area. The Southern Maryland BMX group, a private, non-profit organization, manages and operates a BMX track in the park.

Toward the back end of the park, thanks to a local Boy Scout troop, is a challenging but rewarding hiking trail of a mere 1.5 miles. I don’t know if I’d recommend this hiking trail to a young mother with small kids—not unless you really want to challenge them.

No place are the ravages of the Ice Age that ended 14,000 years ago in Southern Maryland more evident than in Chaptico. The hills in this region of St. Mary’s County are severe and in order to carve a hiking trail from the 250-acre park, the steep terrain had to be considered. The trail descends on either side down a formidable grade, yet beyond the hills lies a wonderful trail.

chaptico parkCoffee Hill Run weaves through the valley once the hills bottom out, and one gets to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. Moss-covered knolls line variating stream beds that wind their way through a hearty woodland of beech, oak and pine. Coffee Hill Run is a broad stream with a surging current strong in places. It is one of many local creeks that eventually drain into Chaptico Creek near the village, turning downstream into Chaptico Bay. During colonial times, the bay was a deep and thriving waterway. Agricultural practices of the late 19th and early 20th century, along with a devastating hurricane in 1933, silted over the estuary, creating the marshland that dominates the bay today.

Again, for mothers of small kids, Coffee Hill Run might be more than you want to expose them to, but for adult woods walkers, the stream is a great accent to the trail. Hundreds of natural stones line the shorelines of the waterway.

chaptico parkThere are benches along the way for viewing wildlife and birds and for taking a breather on the steep hills. At the beginning of the trail is a sign with “easier” and an arrow pointing to the right and “harder” which is the path to the left. I went left and that sign does not lie. The hill to the right of the sign is very steep and challenging if you’re coming back the other way. Going down that way is not necessarily a piece of cake either, but it certainly isn’t as hard coming back the other way. On the steeper grades, the benches are exceedingly welcome.

The park is not far from the traditional homeland of the Choptico Indians. Except for the fact that this is not an old growth forest, you can almost get a glimpse of the world as it must have looked 500 years ago. If you don’t mind a rigorous and invigorating hike, that is.

The park is located at 26600 Budd’s Creek Road, Mechanicsville, and is open from sunrise until sunset (except for special evening and night activities). From Leonardtown take Route 234 west to Chaptico. The park is located on the right if coming from Leonardtown or Mechanicsville Road; park is located on the left if coming from Charles County or Route 236. Call 301-475-4200, ext. 1800 for more information; or call the St. Mary’s County Parks Division at 301-863-8400, ext. 3570 for maintenance-related issues.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com