I have a long list of posts waiting to be written about some excellent adventures around the area. (So many great places, so little time…) Patapsco Valley State Park has topped it for awhile, a local spot well overdue for a write-up here on the blog. I guess since it was included among the original recommendations for good Walks in the Woods with kids over 10 years ago, I just never made a full post a priority. But these Covid times when everyone is looking for more outdoor activities, plus a couple of fantastic visits during the socially distanced months, have inspired me to get Patapsco crossed off that list.
Patapsco Valley State Park is located about 40 minutes from DC in Maryland, its 16,000+ acres sprawling through both Howard and Baltimore counties. It’s so big there are eight recreational areas, all of them offering different opportunities for outdoor recreation during all seasons.
The forested area is full of trails, many for hiking only, but some of them allow mountain biking and horseback riding, too. Of course, the river for which the park is named has to be mentioned. Over 32 miles of the Patapsco flow through the park, and visitors are welcome to swim in some areas during the warm months and paddle in others.
The trails vary, which keeps the hiking interesting. There are easy, flat routes along the river and rooty paths that wind through the woods, some leading to waterfalls or crossing over footbridges. We usually head in at the Avalon or Hilton entrances and hit the trails from there. Both also offer the best access to swimming areas, and the Cascade Falls loop trails that leads to the pretty waterfall. I recommend checking the Patapsco website or Trails.com to find the right hike for your family and detailed info.
Where you go in the park may depend on what you want to do, as the various areas have different offerings. There are the nice swim spots mentioned above. Hilton and Pickall have playgrounds. There’s paddling, tubing, and fishing in the Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove areas. Disc golf and basketball are in the McKeldin area. And just about all of them have picnic spots and pavilions, so you can easily make a Patapsco day of it. You can find more specifics on the website.
The park is also well known among mountain bikers as a great place to ride. Levi has been riding the trails for years, and Owen is getting in on the action now, too. Both recommend it for older kids/riders with some experience; it’s not a place for newbie mountain bikers. They start at the Patapsco Trail Head at Landing Road, parking nearby along the road, but there are plenty of other areas to ride — you can find some recommendations here.
Like most outdoor places, Patapsco became a much more popular weekend destination during Covid, with some of the areas reaching maximum capacity by 10am! Both times we went, we tried the Avalon entrance first, then rerouted to Hilton when we learned our first try was full. I recommend checking Maryland State Parks on Twitter — they usually post when parks/areas are full, so you can plan accordingly.
Winter may be around the corner, but don’t let the cold stop you from enjoying the outdoors at Patapsco (or anywhere, for that matter). As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! Also, I read that Patapsco is a local destination for cross country skiing — a hobby we’re hoping to pick up this Covid winter.
Patapsco Valley State Park
Where: Howard & Baltimore Counties, Maryland
When: Open daily year-round, 9am – sunset
Admission: April- October: Weekdays: $2/vehicle MD residents, $4/vehicle non-residents
Weekends/holidays: $3/person residents, $5/person non-residents
November – March: $2/vehicle residents, $4/vehicle non-residents