Running isn't just a great way to stay in shape—it also provides you with a passport for exploring the state's rich history and natural wonders. From low-traffic roads to towpaths to technical trails, here is a sampling of the best running spots across Maryland's five regions:
Garrett County boasts hundreds of miles of scenic running routes; no matter whether you're a running newbie or a seasoned marathoner, you'll never find yourself with a shortage of options in Maryland's western-most county. Experience small-town America with a run on the Oakland Recreational Trail, a 3-mile asphalt pathway that winds around parkland, residential areas, and independent shops and eateries, or test your skill against the double-track trails at the Savage River State Forest, which, at 54,000 acres, is the largest in the state forest system. For those vacationing at Deep Creek Lake and hoping to get in a quick run, try one of the many housing developments for quiet roads and a look at the regional timber frame style of architecture.
A perennial favorite for its flat, paved surface and countryside views, the Western Maryland Rail Trail in nearby Washington County spans over 20 miles from Hancock to Polly Pond.
If you find yourself in beautiful Allegany County, hop on the Great Allegheny Passage, which features a nearly level crushed limestone surface that's perfect for running. This 150-mile rail trail beginning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ultimately merges with the C&O Canal Towpath at the National Historical Park's visitor center in Cumberland, Maryland. Once used to shuttle coal, lumber, and agricultural products to areas along the Potomac River, the C&O Canal—and its 184.5-mile towpath—now provide runners and cyclists with unbeatable views and a wide trail that stretches all the way to the nation's capitol.
The Capital Region—made up by Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George's Counties—is home to a wealth of parks and shaded trails ideal for running; Rock Creek Regional Park (Montgomery County), for example, offers natural-surface trails along Lake Needwood and is the trailhead for the Rock Creek National Recreation Trail, a smooth asphalt pathway that runs 18.6 miles to Washington, D.C. Also situated in Montgomery County is Wheaton Regional Park. From here, visitors can run on 4 miles of paved trails within the park itself or access the 10.2-mile Sligo Creek National Recreational Trail, which stretches north and south of the Capital Beltway.
In Prince George's County, you'll find the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis (WB&A) Trail, once the site of a railroad by the same name. Presently, the trail, which has 5 river crossings and 2 bridge crossings, is only 5.6 miles long, but there is a proposal to expand it along the Patuxent River.
Not far from the WB&A Trail is the National Harbor, a 300-acre waterfront destination where numerous races are held annually. From the promenade, you can take the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail over the Potomac River to Alexandria, Virginia. This concrete pathway along I-495 features a plexiglass wall to block the sound of heavy traffic, as well as stations with benches and viewing scopes.
Finally, you can learn more about Maryland's storied past by going for a run down the streets of Historic Downtown Frederick. 50 blocks of Federal-style architecture and public art provide the perfect distraction from your morning exercise routine.
With trail parking lots seemingly filled every day of the week, it's no secret that Baltimore County loves running. Don't miss the ever-popular Torrey C. Brown Trail, formerly known as the North Central Railroad (NCR) Trail, a 20-mile crushed stone path along the Gunpowder River that starts in Ashland, near Hunt Valley, Maryland, and continues to the Mason-Dixon Line. Looking for your next weekend running destination? Head to Loch Raven Reservoir, a favorite of the Baltimore Road Runners Club; on Saturdays and Sundays, Loch Raven Drive, between Morgan Mill and Providence Roads, is closed to motor vehicles to give exercise enthusiasts access to miles of smooth pavement. On weekdays, though, this is a high-traffic area, so your best bet is to stick to the trails around the reservoir.
Baltimore City runners seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life might find some peace and quiet at either Druid Hill Park or Lake Montebello. Both offer paved paths around man-made lakes and draw athletes dedicated to their daily mileage. Druid Hill provides access to the 3-mile Stony Run Trail to the Roland Park neighborhood, and, if you get tired of circling Montebello, the adjacent Herring Run Park features sports fields, recreational areas, and woodland trails.
Be sure to visit Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which is surrounded by a 7-mile mostly-brick waterfront promenade from Fort McHenry, site of a key battle in the War of 1812 and inspiration for the National Anthem, to Canton, a neighborhood with some of the area's best shops and restaurants. This route is especially popular with local runners looking to get in some exercise before work or during their lunch hours, but its prominent signage makes it just as friendly to visitors of Charm City.
With 170 miles of trails, 70 of which are regularly maintained, you can't beat Patapsco Valley State Park (Howard County). Founded in 1907, this is one of Maryland's first state parks and offers visitors a mix of on- and off-road running, as well as areas for fishing, canoeing, camping, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
The miles will fly by in St. Mary's County, where you'll find a host of running trails for all skill levels, like the ones at the 78-acre Fifth District Park and Greenwell State Park, where paved and natural pathways meander through hardwood and evergreen forests and recreational areas.
Smallwood State Park (Charles County) has a shaded trail system just over 2 miles in length, but you can easily do multiple loops to get in a longer run. If you're feeling adventurous, jump in on the General Smallwood International Triathlon, which is held here in August every year!
At Calvert Cliffs State Park (Calvert County), approximately 13 miles of on- and off-road running are open to the public. Local runners suggest the gravel utility road, the slightly-more-technical Red Trail, or the less-traveled Yellow Trail for views of Maryland wildlife and the cliffs for which the park is named.
If you're tired of trails, take to the streets of St. Mary's City (St. Mary's County) or Solomons Island (Calvert County), both of which provide runners, walkers, and cyclists with lovely flat, low-traffic roads.
If you're one of the 8 million people who vacation in Ocean City every year, you don't have to leave your exercise routine at home. During the early morning hours, the 2.5-mile Ocean City Boardwalk, with its forgiving surface and views of the beach, is a prime place to run. Just be sure to swap your running shoes for a bathing suit before the mid-morning rush!
The picturesque Kent Island (Queen Anne's County) offers views of the Chesapeake wildlife and 5 miles of paved pathway well-suited for running, walking, and cycling in the Cross Island Trail. Formerly the site of the Queen Anne's Railroad, it begins at the Terrapin Nature Area, touches Old Love Point State Park, and ends—true to its name—across the island at Kent Narrows.
The Cross Island Trail isn't the only place to experience the sights and sounds of the Eastern Shore, though; in Wicomico County, runners have the opportunity to explore Maryland's natural habitats on 4.5 miles of trails through the forests, fields, and wetlands at Pemberton Historical Park, and the 2.5-mile Marshyhope Greenway Trail (Caroline County), which connects Federalsburg to the Delaware State Line, features waterfowl and animals unique to the region.
For more information on running in Maryland, get in contact with one of the state's chapters of the Road Runners Clubs of America, or check out our events page for local running-related events.
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