[photo, Hikers in Catoctin Mountain National Park, Thurmont, Frederick County, Maryland]
  • Geology & Geography
  • Mountains (by county)
  • Physiographic Map of Maryland
  • Over 60 mountain ranges and hills adorn Maryland. In sharp contrast to the regions surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, which rest at and below sea level, these mountains rise thousands of feet above. Located in its western counties, the mountains of Maryland add to the geologic, geographic and historic diversity of the State.

    Hiker in Catoctin Mountain National Park, Thurmont, Frederick County, Maryland, April 2004. Photo by Elizabeth W. Newell.

    Located along the western boundaries of the early colonies, many of the Stateís mountains and hills are named after explorers, settlers, or surveyors. As people moved west, the geography frequently was named after the first to arrive there, or the one who left the biggest mark. Dans Mountain in Allegany County was named after Daniel Cresap, one of the early settlers in the area, while Savage Mountain honors John Savage, an eighteenth-century surveyor.

    The mountains of Maryland captured the nation's attention in September 1862, when Confederate forces crossed the Potomac River into western Maryland. The first clash between Union and Confederate forces north of the Potomac occurred at Sugarloaf Mountain, in Frederick County, when elements of the U.S. Signal Corps encountered a Confederate cavalry brigade under Brigadier General Wade Hampton on September 6, 1862.

    A week later, on September 14, Union and Confederate forces clashed at South Mountain in Washington County. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had divided his forces to seize objectives, including resources at Hagerstown and Frederick. In an effort to stall the approaching Union army, the Confederates blockaded the passes at South Mountain long enough for Lee to consolidate his force. In this, the Confederate Army was successful, and Major General George B. McClellanís Army of the Potomac encountered the combined Army of Northern Virginia three days later, at Antietam Creek.

    In the twentieth century, Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County was chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the site of a presidential retreat. Construction of the complex began in 1935. Formally named Naval Support Facility Thurmont, the retreat was called Shangri-La by President Roosevelt when he first used it to escape the heat of Washington, DC summer in 1942. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 renamed it Camp David for his grandson. Still used today, Camp David offers the serving President a natural setting for either rest or conducting the duties of Chief Executive.


    The mountainous region of western Maryland is composed largely of folded layers of sandstone, limestone, and other sedimentary rocks. It is divided into three geologic regions: the Appalachian Plateaus Province; the Ridge and Valley Province; and the Blue Ridge Province.

    The Appalachian Plateaus Province holds layers of sedimentary rock, and deposits of coal. This region, which includes Garrett County and part of Allegany County, contains most of the highest peaks in the State. These western mountains tend towards coniferous forest coverage, and even contain a number of small peat bogs in the higher altitudes. Although more common to Canada, and more northern latitudes, some bogs are found upon Maryland slopes due to elevation, and the cooler climate. The most notable is the Cranesville Swamp Preserve in western Garrett County. The bog is found at 2,547 feet above sea level. Also within the Appalachian Plateaus Province lies Hoye-Crest of Backbone Mountain, the highest elevation in the State, at 3,360 feet above sea level. Backbone Mountain holds Marylandís largest surviving remnant of old-growth forest at Potomac-Garrett State Forest along Crabtree Creek.

    [photo, Sideling Hill, west of Hancock, Washington County, Maryland] Though it contains fewer of the highest peaks, the Ridge and Valley Province still contains many heights more than one thousand feet above sea level. Made up of Washington County and part of Allegany County, the Provinceís highest point is Warrior Mountain, which climbs to 2,185 feet above sea level. Limestone outcroppings and shale are common throughout this region. This province is also the location of one of the most notable rock exposures in the State. With construction completed in 1968, the Sideling Hill Road Cut offers a cross section of Sideling Hill, exposing strata layering in sharp definition.

    Sideling Hill, west of Hancock, Washington County, Maryland, October 2014. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    The smallest of the geologic provinces, the Blue Ridge Province is made up of the western third of Frederick County, and a very narrow corridor along Washington Countyís eastern border. The tallest peak in the Blue Ridge Province is Quirauk Mountain. Quartzites and metamorphic rocks are found in this region, as are the common sedimentary components common to Maryland.

    (by county)

    Maryland mountains listed are those at least 1,000 feet high.



    [photo, Catoctin Mountain National Park, Thurmont (Frederick County), Maryland]

    Catoctin Mountain National Park, Thurmont, Frederick County, Maryland, May 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.



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