You might not realize this but there are tons of great hiking opportunities right here in Charm City! I just moved from what I considered a hiker’s mecca, Los Angeles. But this returning Marylander has been visiting the many area trails — and loving it! I need to my give props the dozens of locations because I didn’t know they existed here.
Beside the physical exercise from hiking, being out in the fresh air and sunshine helps me to clear my mind. It soothes and renews my spirit from all the ills of the world. I think Morpheus from the movie “The Matrix” said it best — “You need to free your mind!”
For me, Mother Earth is my doctor, and nature my priest. To prove my point, during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, how many of you felt better when you got out of the house and took a walk?
So, to help you further free your mind, here are 10 of my favorite hikes I’ve taken since returning to Maryland.
The majority of these trails are close. I based all the hikes on an hour’s drive from the Inner Harbor. Each of these amazing hikes can be found by searching the trail name on the AllTrails app. I think they offer the best scenic views within a reasonable driving distance, and I rate the hikes on a scale of easy, moderate and hard.
Preparing for a hike
Rule No. 1: Always plan ahead for your hike, no matter the difficulty. Here are a few things I think are essential to have before you lace up those hiking boots and hit the trails:
1. The route: Familiarize yourself with the route you will be taking.
2. Headlamps: if you are planning a very early or late in the evening hike.
3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun protective clothes and sunscreen.
4. Hydration: Bring more water than you think you may need.
5. Layers: On cooler hikes, wear noncotton, moisture-wicking garments.
6. Knife: This ex-Boy Scout recommends being prepared!
7. First aid: Even if you’re leaving it in the car, have a kit handy.
8. Emergency shelter: Those thin silver blankets may look cheap, but they do the job.
9. Nutrition: Can you say granola bars?
10. Navigation: Carry your mobile phone for navigation apps and emergency calls.
Lastly, let’s be a little respectful to the great outdoors so future generations also get to enjoy nature as we do. We are but visitors in nature and these beautiful places need our help. Leave the trails in better shape than the way you found them. Leave no trace. If you pack it in, pack it out.
Let’s hit the trails.
Lake Roland loops
Location: Lake Roland Park, 1000 Lakeside Drive, Baltimore
Distance from Inner Harbor: 20 minutes (8.3 miles)
Hike distance: 4.7 miles Red and Yellow Loop (depending on the trail loop taken)
Elevation gain: 275 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to easy (depending on the trail loop, eight different loops available)
Right in our own backyard, Lake Roland Park offers the best hiking trails for the casual and serious hikers. There are eight wonderful loops varying from easy to moderate climbs and distances. The trails offer a great variety of views for birding, hiking and walking.
It is unlikely, during weekdays, that you will encounter many other people while exploring the park. The weekend is a vastly different story during peak hiking season. I am told by local avid hikers that April through September, when the foliage is lush and green, are the best months for these trails, although I did love the changing leaves during the fall. The autumn colors are phenomenal and the weather a bit brisker and more suited for a longer hike. Dogs are welcome and must be on a leash while in the park.
Merryman’s Mill Trail
Location: Parking lot, 2583 MD-146, Cockeysville
Distance from Inner Harbor: 28 minutes (18.4 miles)
Hike distance: 10.9 miles
Elevation gain: 1309 feet
Lutherville-Timonium offers a trying 10.9-mile hiking loop in the Merryman’s Mill Trail. Even though I have given the Merryman’s Mill Trail a moderate hike rating, it is a bit more challenging because of the distance. In April, parts of the trail can be a bit muddy due to those April showers. I am told that the trails are open year-round, making it popular with snowshoers and mountain bikers alike. The chances of encountering other hikers are higher. The lake is used quite a bit for fishing, and you may spot a few anglers off the lake banks. Dogs on a leash are also welcomed on the trails. This trail receives high marks from the AllTrails app for its water view and wildlife.
Lake to Lake Trail
Location: 10275 Wincopin Circle, Columbia
Distance from Inner Harbor: 28 minutes (18.4 miles)
Hike distance: 2.9 miles (if you’re feeling frisky, do it twice for 5.8 miles)
Elevation gain: 62 feet
This trail, which can be found south of Baltimore, is a shorter and easier one to test your mettle. It’s a mere 2.9-mile trail from Lake Kittamaqundi to Wilde Lake Loop. It should take you a mere 55 minutes at a leisurely pace. This trail is great for road biking, running and walking. I would suggest that you park at Lake Kittamaqundi pier, adjacent to the Mall in Columbia, where there is plenty of parking.
You will most likely encounter lots of other people out exploring the community’s trail. The best time of year to go is April to September, and dogs are welcomed on a leash. Just remember to consider this trail is like a hobbit’s tale — you have to get “there and back again!” — it is not a complete loop and you will have to backtrack to return to your car.
The best part about this trail, though, is not the trail, the views or even the people you encounter along the way — it’s the many pubs and restaurants in the area. So, grab a couple of mates, hit the trail and hoist a few cold ones after the hike. Think about bringing a designated driver or using a ride-hailing app if you decide to drink later.
Wilde Lake Loop
Location: 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia
Distance from Inner Harbor: 29 minutes (21.8 miles)
Hike distance: 1.3 miles (Need some extra steps? Do the loop three times for 4.8 miles)
Elevation gain: 49 feet
We are going to stay in Columbia for this next easy hike. The Columbia Association built the 22-acre Wilde Lake in 1967 as part of their planned neighborhoods. The trail features a small meadow of grass and streams. Parking at the location is off Hyla Brook Road in The Birches neighborhood off Little Patuxent Parkway.
The trail around the lake is a paved 1.3mile course and should take approximately 20-25 minutes depending on your pace. So, if you are in need of 10,000 daily steps, consider three laps around the lake. I am not sure if dogs are officially permitted, but I have seen a few on a leash during my hikes. For additional miles, consider combining the Lake to Lake Trail with the Wilde Lake Loop.
Avalon Loop Trail
Location: 5120 South St., Halethorpe
Distance from Inner Harbor: 15 minutes (8.8 miles)
Hike distance: 21.1 (estimates 8 hours of hiking fun)
Elevation gain: 2011 feet
Put on your big boy hiking boots and bring plenty of water and a snack, because this hike is 21.1 miles. This trail is super fun and starts off very scenic. The trail can be a little hilly, but all in all it’s an excellent mixture of terrain with an incredible variety of trees and wildlife.
There are areas of tall grass and marsh hills, and the trail thins at certain spots. Another fortunate thing about this loop is there are plenty of opportunities to turn off and head back if you’re not feeling the full 21.1 miles and 8 hours it will take to master this hike. The early parts of this trail did get a little crowded, but after the sixth mile, the crowd thinned considerably, and we separate the weekend hikers from the die-hards.
Avalon is family friendly, and dogs on a leash are permitted. There is a small waterfall, and I will not ruin the surprise of its location. So, keep your eyes peeled for it, and mum’s the word. There is a park entrance fee of $2, or you can use Maryland’s $75 annual state park pass (which is well worth the purchase).
Baltimore Waterfront Promenade: Canton to Fells Point
Location: 1401 South Linwood Ave. Baltimore
Distance from Inner Harbor: 14 minutes (2.4 miles)
Hike distance: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 59 feet
Grab a couple of friends, meet up at the waterfront and check out this urban trail that is popular with road bikers, runners and walkers alike. This trail is also wheelchair-, kid- and stroller-friendly for the total family outing exercise. Dogs on leashes are permitted. The promenade trail is open year-round and sports great views of the Baltimore harbor. Try not to be tempted to stop into the many bars and restaurants that dot the route. The total route is just about 4.7 miles out and back again, for a estimated 90 minutes of hiking time. Easy peasy!
Druid Hill Park
Location: 900 Druid Park Lake Drive, Baltimore
Distance from Inner Harbor: 10 minutes (4.2 miles)
Hike distance: 4.9 miles
Elevation gain: 255 feet
One of the more popular in-town hiking trails is located in Druid Park. This paved loop is a nice stroll around the park and the zoo. The trails are open for walking, hiking and biking. While I rate this trail as easy, there are a few hilly areas, but nothing too strenuous. I did experience a lot of other walkers and hikers during a few trips to this park. I was told by a few other hikers that there are moments of solitude on weekdays; this is a very popular trail on the weekends. I’m looking forward to hitting this trail, which is open year-round, during the autumn months to see the spectacular foliage colors.
Forest Glen, Pigs Run, Santee Branch, and Backside of Nun’s
Location: Patapsco Valley State Park Hilton Area, 1101 Hilton Ave., Catonsville
Distance from Inner Harbor: 20 minutes (11.4 miles)
Hike Distance: 3.6 miles (about 2 hours)
Elevation Gain: 492 feet
Before I start rating this hike, can someone please tell me who named this trail? It’s a mouthful, my goodness!
There is a large parking area at the Hilton area on Park Drive, near the ranger station. The park was very crowded in day I went for my hike. The park rangers explained that this trail is very popular.
There are fishing spots, and you will see plenty of walkers, hikers and bikers. I hear the spring and summer months are the most popular times for this trail. There is a $5 per person entry fee to the park from Memorial Day through Labor Day. After Labor Day the fee switches to $5 per vehicle. Again, I would recommend purchasing the $75 annual Maryland state park pass if you plan on hiking in and around the parks. The park and trail are family-friendly and allow your four-legged family memberaccess while on a leash.
The actual hike started off on a crowded path that thinned after the first 2 miles. There are a few different loops that you can take. I would suggest bringing a GPS or guidance app, such as TrailLink or AllTrails, with you. I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack to the main trail. Bring water! With the warmer weather rapidly approaching, I was sweating more that I expected. Some of the trail’s areas were a bit steep. About a mile or so of the trail that runs along the river is paved. All in all, it was a good hike, and it got the old heart pumping!
Stony Run Walking Path
Location: Inside Wyman Park (I parked on the 3100 block of Remington Avenue), Baltimore
Distance from Inner Harbor: 10 minutes (8 miles)
Hike distance: 5.5 miles (There and back again. Not a loop.)
Elevation gain: 262 feet
One of the most kid-friendly hiking trails is Stony Run Walking Path. This paved path is not a loop — there and back again is just about 5.5 miles. And, with kids, you have the option to turn back at any point when the little ones get tired. There is minimum elevation climb, so I will give this trail a rating of easy. Weekends tend to be very busy with family hikers. Your furry friend is welcome on this family nature outing — but please keep them on a leash.
This trail is open year-round and features lush green vegetation. I did not see much wildlife or birds on this trail. I believe that the abundance of two-legged animals kept the wildlife at bay. The trail follows the Stony Run stream that is, in my opinion, more of a babbling brook.
I was not so adventurous, but I did notice a lot of hikers getting off the beaten trail and hiking along the water’s edge. And a few were hopping on rocks across the river. All in all, this was a excellent workout. I got in my step goal for the day and met more local Baltimoreans; it’s always a bonus spending time with my people.
Jones Falls Trail
Location: 3914-3700 Clipper Road, Baltimore
Distance from Inner Harbor: 13 minutes (5.1 miles)
Hike distance: 2.6 miles (There and back again. Not a loop.)
Elevation gain: 216 feet
This popular trail features an extremely easy and paved path that is well marked; it’s great for the kids, and the furry companion. As with most parks, please keep your dog on a leash.
This felt like more of an afternoon stroll; I would consider this trail the perfect Sunday afternoon family outing. I will admit that the day I decided to take this hike, nature decided that I needed a bath and it poured on me — and, no, I did not have rain gear.
For those extreme hikers who want more of a challenge, consider the more difficult Jones Falls Trail: Inner Harbor to Western Run Park option. It’s 12.1 miles point to point, and 24.2 miles round trip. Elevation gain is minimum, only 918 feet. This took me just over 9 hours to complete. Bring a light backpack with water and snacks. It’s a true day hike!
So, that’s my top ten hikes that I have enjoyed thus far. How did I do Baltimore? Was your favorite on my list? What’s your favorite hiking trail? Can you recommend a few trails for me to try?
It’s good to be back home and in the Baltimore area. Holla back at ya boy, pick a spot and let’s go hike!