Happy trails: Rediscovering my favorite runs in the Baltimore area — and beyond

Published 11/28/2022 6:01 a.m. EST

The Northern Central Railroad Trail is a converted railbed that covers 19.7 miles in Maryland.

One of the best things about returning to Maryland, besides getting a cool new job as an editor at The Baltimore Banner, has been rediscovering my favorite places to run, and discovering some new ones. The area is blessed with acres of amazing parks, miles of trails and many historical places to explore.

There’s also a lot of water — rivers, lakes, reservoirs — a feature included in nearly all of my go-to routes. I’ve lived around water all my life, having grown up on Naval bases in Virginia, Rhode Island and Guam, and then working in states on both U.S. coasts.

Here’s my list of my favorite places to run. Most are relatively close to my home in Lutherville-Timonium. A couple are a bit farther away, but worth the drive.

Northern Central Railroad Trail

Officially known as the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail, it is a converted railbed that covers 19.7 miles in Maryland, from Hunt Valley to the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line, and passes through historic communities such as Phoenix, Monkton, White Hall and Freeland. The trail continues for many more miles into Pennsylvania as the Heritage Rail Trail. It’s largely flat, wide and popular for running, hiking, cycling and even horseback riding.

I like to start at the Sparks Bank Nature Center, at 1237 Sparks Road in Sparks Glencoe, and head north, where the trail runs alongside Big Gunpowder Falls. A run from Sparks to Monkton Station and back measures about 6.75 miles.

Loch Raven Reservoir

Another Baltimore County gem, the reservoir — which supplies drinking water for the city of Baltimore and most of Baltimore County — is surrounded by miles of trails. My favorite is the Merryman’s Mill Trail on the west side of the reservoir. I park at a small lot on Dulaney Valley Road, just north of Old Bosley Road, and head north. It’s truly a run in the woods, with some climbs, great views of the reservoir and even an old, abandoned cemetery. The entire Merryman’s Mill Trail is more than 10 miles, but can be shortened considerably by making a smaller loop back to the parking lot.

Lake Roland

One of the features on the trails at Lake Roland is Art on the Trail, a program that gives local artists an opportunity to showcase their work.

Lake Roland is a 500-acre park that includes nature trails, paved walking paths and a dam, among other features. My favorite trail here is the Red Trail, an out-and-back route that runs along the west side of the lake and measures about 4 miles. I think it’s one of the most beautiful trail runs in the area and it features something called Art on the Trail, a program that gives local artists an opportunity to showcase their work. To get to the trail, there’s a parking lot at the end of Lakeside Drive, off of Falls Road, or you can also park at the Falls Road light rail station.

Patapsco Valley State Park

The Daniels Area Dam at Patapsco Valley State Park once helped supply power for nearby mills.

The more-than-16,000-acre park spans four counties — Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll. It is a popular spot for an assortment of recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, camping, climbing and — of course — running.

One of my favorite runs is the Alberton Road Trail, a relatively short, 3.3-mile out-and-back route that runs along the Patapsco River and features what remains of the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church and the Daniels Area Dam. The dam once supplied power for nearby mills. There is a small parking lot that leads to the trail at 8101 Dogwood Road in Windsor Mill.

Inner Harbor

Popular among residents and visitors alike, the Inner Harbor draws runners who take a variety of routes. Now that I work at The Banner offices on Pier IV, I can head in either direction. A run west and then south along the Harbor to Fort McHenry and back is 5.6 miles. A run east along the Baltimore Waterfront Promenade, through Fells Point and to and around Patterson Park and back is about 6 miles. Yet another slightly longer route runs from Pier IV along the water to Canton Waterfront Park and back.

The next two runs are a bit farther out, but worth the drive.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

The Murphy-Chambers Farm Loop Trail in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia offers sweeping views of the Shenandoah River.

About an hour drive from Baltimore, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, has so much to offer. It’s where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet, and it’s also roughly the midway point of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. It draws hikers and history buffs alike, who take in picturesque views, a Civil War Museum and John Brown’s Fort.

A quick, but very picturesque running option, is the Murphy-Chambers Farm Loop Trail, which measures about 3 miles and offers sweeping views of the Shenandoah River. The trail is most accessible from the large, paved parking lot on Shoreline Drive. Or you can take the Lower Town Trail, which is a 3- to 4-mile out and back route that takes you into Lower Town, where most of the historical sites are located. Note: It costs $20 per vehicle to enter the national park.

National Mall, Washington, D.C.

About a one- to one-and-a-half-hour drive from Baltimore, depending on traffic, this is one of my all-time favorite runs — a 4-mile loop from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. I try to run this route early in the morning, and usually on Sundays. That helps me avoid some of the traffic getting there and back, and the crowds that the nation’s capital draws year-round. Running early also gives me the best chance of finding good street parking close to the Mall.


  • The Trail Run Project: This site has a comprehensive list of trails, with detailed descriptions, trail elevations and — one feature I really like — what percentage of the route is runnable.
  • All Trails: My go-to app for finding and navigating trails anywhere I go. It includes a massive database of trails, with detailed route maps, user-submitted photos and starred ratings.
  • Great Runs: The site’s stated purpose is to answer the question “I’m going to (city name here), where should I run?” The site features running routes all over the U.S. and the world.

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