Maryland’s hiking, biking trails:
A good bet for seeing the state during autumn
BALTIMORE (Sept. 25) – Pleasant temperatures, colorful fall foliage and a wealth of trails and roadways that are well suited for hikers and bikers make October an ideal time to experience Maryland up close, State tourism officials say.
“Maryland offers an endless variety of routes and trails that showcase the State’s tremendous beauty this time of year,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “I encourage Marylanders and visitors alike to enjoy our many recreational opportunities by traveling along magnificent Chesapeake Bay coastlines, discovering places where history was made or venturing down pathways through areas of lush vegetation and natural habitats.”
Much of the state’s appeal for outdoor enthusiasts is forged in its mixed Mid-Atlantic geography, says Margot Amelia, executive director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. “From the mountains of Western Maryland – to the varied landscapes of the Capital, Central and Southern regions of the state – to the flat, open spaces on the Eastern Shore – we have some of the best hiking and biking opportunities on the East Coast.”
Here is a sampling of what’s available for hikers and bikers in Maryland:
The Maryland section of the Great Allegany Passage, stretching from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, Pa., is one of the state’s newest networks of hiking and biking trails. Both Cumberland and Frostburg are “trail town” communities – places along the Great Allegany Passage that are attuned to the needs of travelers passing through by foot or bike.
Connecting to the Great Allegany Passage is another significant route – the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath, a 184-mile corridor running along the Potomac River that starts in Washington, D.C., and extends to Cumberland. The C&O Canal Towpath is part of the C&O Canal National Historic Park.
In Washington County, bicyclists can veer off the towpath and within minutes arrive at Antietam National Battlefield – site of an epic confrontation in the Civil War that became the single bloodiest day on U.S. soil. The battlefield itself has pathways that allow visitors to tour the area by foot or by bike.
Western Maryland also includes a section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a route that stretches from Maine to Georgia. The 40-mile Maryland span goes across South Mountain between Frederick and Washington counties, where Union and Confederate troops skirmished just three days before the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
The Western Maryland Rail Trail, a 22-mile route for hiking and biking, traces the C&O Canal and the former Western Maryland Railway line. Hancock is the mid-way point. Once a Colonial-era village, Hancock is situated in the narrowest part of the state. Going east, the trail stops a half mile from Fort Frederick State Park, site of the restored star-shaped fort used in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
The Capital Crescent Trail is an 11-mile pathway that follows a former route of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad from the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., to Silver Spring in Montgomery County. Hikers and bikers pass over four historic bridges and through two tunnels along the Potomac River. It connects with other area trails, such as the C&O Canal Towpath and Rock Creek Trail.
Sugarloaf Mountain’s Northern Peak Trail in Frederick County provides hikers with a 5.5-mile up-and-down route. Used as an observation point by both sides in the Civil War, Sugarloaf is a monadnock, a small mountain that – unlike the surrounding countryside – managed to resist erosion.
Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, which includes parts of Cunningham Falls State Park, has approximately 10 hiking trails. One route – the Falls Nature Trail – leads to 78-ft. high Cunningham Falls, among the state’s highest waterfalls.
The Harbor Walk Trail at National Harbor in Prince George’s County connects with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, a hiking and biking route that crosses the Potomac River into Alexandria, Va.
The Baltimore and Annapolis Trail is a 13-mile rail-trail in Anne Arundel County that includes historical markers literally labeled from “A to Z” with site information and “Planet Walk” – a NASA-hosted linear museum of planetary displays. The trail follows the former path of the Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad.
In Baltimore County, the Northern Central Railroad (NCR) Trail extends north 20 miles from Hunt Valley to the state line. It goes through Gunpowder Falls State Park, which has more than 100 miles of trails. The NCR Trail accommodates hikers and bikers, and even offers access for fishing.
Carroll County has a collection of 10 looping bike routes made up of more than 150 miles. The routes – requiring a range of skill levels – allow cyclists to explore Carroll’s scenic and historical towns.
The three counties of this region – Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles – offer a diverse collection of a dozen bike routes that are described in a tri-county bike map. “Savour Solomons” is a 7-mile pathway that gives cyclists a taste of a waterfront village on the Chesapeake Bay, for instance.
The 30-mile “To the Point” trek starts in Historic St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s birthplace, and goes by the 1828 lighthouse at Point Lookout State Park. And, the “John Wilkes Booth Escape Route” traces the attempted escape of the presidential assassin.
Calvert Cliffs State Park has six hiking trails, none more than 3.6 miles. The park includes 1,400 acres of woods, ponds, streams and marshes, along with a mile-long shoreline. Cliffs that were formed more than 10 million years ago rise over the Chesapeake Bay. Visitors are welcome to dig for fossils on the sandy beach.
Bike routes on this side of the Chesapeake Bay provide riders with flat, rural travel – from the Bay to the beach. Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot counties, just beyond the bridge to the Eastern Shore, have a number of established bike itineraries that pass through historic small towns. Cyclists going through Kent County and the Upper Shore can visit an assortment of antiques shops along the way.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge – “the Everglades of the North” – has four land trails for walking or hiking and several trails designed for bicyclists. The 27,000–acre refuge is near Cambridge in Dorchester County.
Another place to see wildlife while hiking or biking is Assateague Island State Park and National Seashore. Bicyclists can also follow an 8-mile route from Ocean City and make their way to this barrier island off the edge of the Atlantic.
A noteworthy bike event on the Shore is the Sea Gull Century, an annual 100-mile ride that starts and ends at Salisbury University in Wicomico County. Established 21 years ago, it was named among the top 10 100-mile rides in the nation by Bicycling magazine. This year’s event is Oct. 10.
Statewide bicycle maps and other materials related to Maryland’s biking and hiking trails are available from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). This is the agency that administers the state’s National Recreation Trails Program by matching federal funds with local money for the development of recreational trail projects.
The SHA, Office of Tourism and Federal Highway Administration have also produced a Maryland Byways book that provides information about 19 designated byways, or routes, that reflect the state’s “scenic beauty, history and culture.” Several examples are: the Star-Spangled Banner; Mason and Dixon; and Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad byways. Many offer corridors for hiking and biking. Maryland byways are recognized in the National Scenic Byways Program.
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources also offers an assortment of state park and forest trail guides for hiking and biking.
Previous monthly themes
Last month, the Tourism Office spotlighted opportunities in the state for field trips – or, educa-tours – that provide students with itineraries for learning about Maryland’s culture, history, industry and technology. Previous monthly themes have focused on family fun, buying local, free things to do and Maryland wine.
To receive free Maryland travel information - Destination Maryland, Maryland Calendar of Events and a state highway map - by mail, call 800-719-5900. Information may also be found at www.visitmaryland.org.
About Maryland tourism
The Maryland Office of Tourism is an agency of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts within the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Maryland’s latest visitor data confirms that in 2007, the state welcomed more than 27 million visitors who generated more than $13.6 billion in visitor spending. That figure is up from $13.2 billion the previous calendar year. During 2007, the Maryland tourism industry generated more than $1.7 billion in state and local taxes and provided more than 140,000 jobs to Maryland residents.