DC: Hike the Northern Peaks Trail at Sugarloaf Mountain

If you’re looking to escape DC for the day, get your nature fix, and test your endurance, this challenging trail will do the trick. An hour outside of the city, Sugarloaf Mountain is a wonderful place to explore, especially if you’re seeking vibes similar to the Shenandoah Mountains, but at half the distance. 

Woman at top of Sugarloaf Mountain

While the views overlooking Monocacy Valley are beautiful year round, October and early November are the most rewarding months to visit thanks to the colorful foliage. Fall is also typically the busiest time of year, so arrive early to secure a parking spot close to the trailhead. There are plenty of local animals who claim this mountain as their home (deer, raccoon, red fox, wild turkey, red shouldered hawk, timber rattlesnake, copperhead snake, etc.) as well as over 500 species of plants, so you’ll have plenty to look at throughout your hike. To catch the blooming wildflowers, visit in the spring. 

For a half day hike, I recommend a 6.1 mile loop trail that provides plenty of rock scrambling opportunities. If you want to get the infamous steps out of the way first, start clockwise:

If you have more time to spend outdoors, extend your trip by adding one of the connecting trails, checking out the horseback riding options, or packing a lunch and picnicking at one of the many overlooks. Dogs are allowed on the trails so long as they are leashed, so bring your pup along if they enjoy exploring with you.

Forests at Sugarloaf Mountain

Pro Tips for hiking Sugarloaf Mountain:

  • Bring trekking poles or a walking stick to help your knees with the climb.
  • Take breaks when you need it. This trail includes a 1,200 ft elevation gain.
  • If you visit in the summer, pack a hat, sunscreen, and bug spray.  

Before you hit the road, check the forecast. The gate hours change from season to season (4 pm in fall/winter, 6 pm in spring/summer), and the drive down the mountain can be quite dark after sunset. A voluntary donation of $5 is recommended. 

Katie Gaab
Katie Gaab
Katie Gaab is a professional writer and avid gardener based in the DMV. She loves to get outdoors and explore hiking trails for inspiration, motivation, and fresh air.

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