One bright spot in a year of social distancing and meet-ups with friends and family mostly taking place outdoors, is that more people discovered the local parks and trails, “stopped streaming and went to the streams.”
If there’s a downside, it’s that a lot of parks and trails are now so crowded, cars are being turned away and many parks are considering a reservations system to limit capacity. When we witnessed a tubing logjam on the Gunpowder Falls and saw a line of cars stalking tubers to grab their parking spots as they left, we knew it was bad.
But there’s help.
Download the All Trails app on your phone or visit the All Trails website and you will be amazed at how many trails are available for hikes. You’ve probably been driving past trailheads and didn’t notice them.
Here are three suggestions. One takes you out of the city to the rolling hills and forests of rural Maryland, one is convenient to wherever you live in the Baltimore area, and the other one lets you see the city in a different light.
PRETTYBOY RESERVOIR DAM HIKE
Everyone knows about the NCR Trail that follows the Gunpowder Falls River, but further upstream there is another less-used section that follows the river from Falls Road in Parkton, Maryland to the Prettyboy Dam – a 2.6 mile hike up and back. It is a moderate hike, without much elevation, but wear hiking shoes and be prepared to scramble over some rocks at the beginning. And the trail will be slippery if it has rained. Users rave about the scenery and views of the river.
Another lightly used trail in the area is the 0.7 mile trail from Kidds Schoolhouse Road in Parkton, Maryland out to a view of Prettyboy Reservoir. It’s rated easy, and wide and clear for running.
CROMWELL VALLEY RESERVOIR TRAIL
The Cromwell Valley Reservoir Trail starts at Cromwell Valley Nature Park, 2002 Cromwell Valley Road in Towson, Maryland, and lets you pick loops for various distances, from an easy one around the parking lot up to almost 9 miles. The Cromwell Valley Nature Park has 460 acres of diverse habitat, with a variety of wildlife and native plants, and is an excellent location for bird watching. Check out the Willow Grove Nature Center at the park for educational and interpretive programs for all ages.
Dogs on leashes are welcome. Parking is said to be ample at the park – hope that remains true.
THE JONES FALLS TRAIL
This Baltimore City gem of a trail currently has three parts. Part 4, from Cylburn Arboretum to Mt. Washington is under construction.
Part 1 is in the city and goes from the harbor to Penn Station, following and crossing city streets. The scenery will be buildings and city skyline, but don’t skip it – it will take you past iconic buildings and you see the city from a different perspective.
Part 2 takes you through the 19th-century mill areas that depended on the Jones Falls River for their power. It is an interesting juxtaposition of gritty industrial landscape, neighborhoods of mill houses, and nature.
Part 3 is mostly natural landscape, follows the stream and takes you through dense woods, ending at Cylburn Arboretum, where you can picnic on the grounds.
The area, Jones Falls, is named for a river that descended in a series of falls from far north of Baltimore to the present day inner harbor. On their website, it’s described as “not the Rockies, but not Kansas either.” So if you want an easier hike, take the downhill north to south route. Check the trail map for areas where metered parking is available, park for free at Cylburn Arboretum, or access the trail by light rail.
What are your favorite trails and hikes?