Patapsco Valley State Park is a hiker’s paradise — right near the thriving city of Baltimore.
More than just a public recreation area, Patapsco State Park enfolds several suburban developments in its more than 16,000 acres of land, so while you may seem to be hiking in a vast wilderness, civilization is close by.
The park caters to hikers with a number of hiking-only trails, although they offer multi-use trails for bikers and others.
The park’s proximity to town makes winding down with some delicious food, cold drinks, or a bit of entertainment after a long day of hiking easy.
Rules of the Park
This park has something for everyone — hikers, mountain bikers, disc golfers, anglers, hunters, swimmers, horseback riders, and more.
And the park service wants you to enjoy every inch of the park. While you’re a guest at the facilities, Patapsco State Park recommends you:
- Choose appropriate foot wear.
- Know the trails and prepare for emergencies.
- Hydrate and take a snack with you.
- Bring a first-aid kit and appropriate safety equipment.
- Dress appropriately for the weather.
- Let someone know your route and timeline – cell phones service is not reliable.
- Help keep the trails maintained by not using them while they’re wet. Please wait 24 hours after a rain before using the trails.
- Leash your pets at all times.
- Obey park signs and rules.
Now that you know the rules, let’s look at each area of the park and what it has to offer.
Hiking Patapsco By District
Patapsco has over 32 miles of parkland along the Patapsco River, which makes the Patapsco Valley State Park full of opportunities for hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, swimming, and birdwatching.
There are thousands of acres dedicated to outdoor activities, and the park features eight recreational areas, each with its own flavor and flair, that cater to people who love the outdoors.
Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove Area
This southernmost area is entered through South Street located in Baltimore County, and comprises three unique and distinct park areas.
The Avalon area once hosted the Avalon Nail and Iron Works, and some remains of the bustling mill town still endure.
You’ll see relics of the past half-hidden in the brush alongside trails, making hiking in Avalon a real learning experience.
Today, this section of the park allows hikers to traverse the valley along the river as well as uphill climbs that take you onto nearby slopes.
To visit the Orange Grove area, you’ll need to hike through Avalon.
Orange Grove was once home to a flour mill. In a nod to its history, this area has a replica swinging bridge — one of two in the park — that connects Orange Grove visitors to the Grist Mill hiking trail.
There are several great trails in Orange Grove, including one that takes you to the site of the historic Bloede Dam, the first hydroelectric dam that featured turbines inside the dam’s hollow core.
Finally, the Glen Artney area centers around Lost Lake, the body of water that once helped power the down-river iron works.
At Glen Artney, you’ll find an extensive picnicking area with playgrounds, shelters, and quick access to some of the most popular trails.
Pets are allowed in this area but must be leashed. Some of the hiking trails to choose from include:
- Morning Choice
- Rockburn Branch Trail
- Cascade Falls
- Ridge Trail
- River Road Trail
- Valley View
- Buzzards Rock
- Forest Glen
- Vineyard Springs
- Sawmill Branch
- Grist Mill
- Bull Run
These trail lengths range from .6 miles to 2.3 miles in length.
The Hollofield area is home of the most spectacular river views in the park. Located in the heart of Patapsco, Hollofield runs along Baltimore National Pike.
Since it’s centrally located, the Park Headquarters are here, as well as 73 camping sites for those who’d like to enjoy the river view for a weekend — or more.
With short, easy hikes and lots of large shelters for picnic groups or reunions, Hollofield is the perfect place for a gathering of family or friends.
These hikes range from 0.1 mile to 1.5 miles in length. Trails include:
- Ole Ranger
- Union Dam
- River Ridge
- Peaceful Pond
Dogs are allowed but must be leashed at all times.
The Hilton area is located within walking distance of nearby Catonsville. This draws locals and visitors alike to the trails for morning workouts and afternoon strolls.
Families find good hiking and lots of entertainment for the little ones.
A Nature Center with programs for children and a two-acre playground made from recycled tires round out the choices for younger visitors.
The hikes in Hilton range from family-friendly to downright exciting.
The Santee Branch Trail will let you access the challenging sections of Hilton as well as Orange Grove, Avalon, and Glen Artney areas for those wanting to make a day — or more — out of hiking.
Other trails forgo bridges on wet stream-crossings to use stepping stones instead. For those who like bouldering, Sawmill Branch Trail gives you the chance to boulder-hop your way across a stream.
For those looking to expand their stay, there are 12 primitive campsites or six small cabins.
- Forest Glen
- Santee Branch
- Pigs Run
- Sawmill Branch
- Charcoal Trail
Hikes on these trails range from 0.2 to 2. 4 miles, and leashed pets are welcome to accompany you.
The Daniels area is the most undeveloped part of the park, with access by trail only through Daniels Avenue or Alberton Road.
There’s a canoe ramp near the dam if you want to take a serene paddle on the river and the quiet quality of this area of Patapsco makes it perfect for a slow hike along the river followed by short canoe trip in the morning mists.
In fact, kayakers and canoers appreciate the two miles of calm, flat water that backs up behind the dam even during low water conditions.
With 4.7 miles of river to float down, an after-hike paddling excursion can fill the rest of your day nicely.
Swimming is also allowed, and there’s a single trail in this area of the park that meanders up the river.
The McKeldin area is in Carroll County and has many miles of trails specified as multi-use — for hikers, bikers, horseback riding, and more.
It has a more open feel than other areas of the park, and many hikers feel it’s slower-paced.
There are a lot of equestrians that use this part of the park, so if you’re hiking here, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for horses sharing the trails.
For hikers that want a bit of natural drama on their trails, McKeldin gives hikers access to the river, where the Main and South Branches of the Patapsco River merge into raging rapids.
Swimming, while allowed in some areas, is not allowed near the rapids for obvious reasons.
After a hike, you can play disc golf on the 18-hole course or reserve a shelter for an after-hike picnic. The Liberty Reservoir Dam is within view of some of the shelters and offers an interesting backdrop.
There are 10 shelters that accommodate from 10 to 175 people and six trails that range from 0.3 to 4 miles in length.
Some trails include:
- Rapids Trail
- Switchback Trail
- Plantation Trail
- Tall Poplar Trail
- Medicine Tree Trail
- Spring Glen Trail
Leashed pets are allowed, and swimming is allowed where posted only.
When to Visit Patapsco State Park
Patapsco is a popular park and on holidays and weekends in the summer, it can reach maximum capacity quickly.
You’ll want to get there before this happens, because once it’s at capacity, park personnel shut the park gates and begin turning traffic away.
In fact, even if you’re with a group that’s already entered the park, you won’t be allowed to join them once the park’s gates are closed.
To prevent this from happening, it’s a good idea to form a caravan of several cars so that all group members can arrive at the same time. That way, whether you’re in or out, at least you’re together.
On the other hand, if you have reservations for camping, the closed gates will be opened for you, since park personnel will have accounted for your vehicle’s parking space through their reservation system.
The park’s visitor history shows that Patapsco tends to fill up and close on the three major summer holidays — Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Labor Day weekends — as well as various weekends through the temperate summer months.
Patapsco — Wilderness Hiking in the Middle of Town
Patapsco has it all — hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, and canoeing — as well as simply relaxing at one of the many picnicking areas available in onsite.
And, with over 70 miles of well-maintained trails and 200 miles of hiking trails altogether, Patapsco is a hiker’s paradise.
The unique location of the park, nestled within busy suburban areas outside of Baltimore and Catonsville, make it perfect for hikers who want to enjoy the benefits of city living after a day spent marveling at nature.
With primitive and cabin camping available in certain park districts, you’ll be able to have a fantastic day or overnight stay at this stunning, expansive park.