4/5/2020 – River Rd. – Water Bars – Rockburn Branch trail (purple) – Hop the snake – Nacho – Belmont trail – Log trail – Barley and Hops – Lewis and Clark – Garrett’s pass – Upper Cascade Falls trail – Garrett’s Pass – Bike Buster-Downhill – River Rd. – Ilchester trail – Ilchester Rd. – Grist Mill trail – Gunned – Gun Rd. – River Rd.
Elevation gain: 830 ft
Location: Patapsco Valley State Park Avalon, River road Halethorpe, MD 21227
Easiest to get here is from highway 1. We were cutting through the neighborhoods (Rolling Road) and it wasn’t easy to find it. Got lost twice.
Since Covid-19 started, in some of the parks we have visited, instead of people when entering there is a new system in place. You put the entrance fee noted in an envelope, drop it in the box, get a ticket which you display on your dash or mirror. Pretty smart.
The drive towards the parking lot is loooong. The road goes under the Thomas Viaduct (1835), the world’s largest multiple-arched stone railroad bridge with a curve. Then lazily winds through the woods next to Patapsco River for at least a half mile – it feels forever.
At the end we can turn both ways to end up in separate parking areas. To the right it’s much smaller but is at the Lost Lake at the beginning of Grist Mill trailhead.
We got here just before noon on a sunny Sunday so it’s not surprising that the place is already pretty busy. Lots of people, considering the new norm of social distancing rules. After packing our stuff and changing into my boots we start towards the river.
There are people everywhere – even though the pictures show otherwise – so instead of targeting the beginning of Riverside trail we climb back up towards River road on our left (heading north). In about a quarter of a mile we catch up to Ridge trail….
….and further to Water Bars trail. The path is nice and steep, feels good to move these old bones of mine. Thankfully Mag usually takes his time and I can rest and take pictures while we climb. Everything is awakening and the ground-cover is full of colors.
Our trail color today is purple. Rockburn Branch Trail purple….
The terrain is very versatile, changing from soil to mud to rocks pretty quickly. Oh….I just saw our first chipmunk of the season.
The little pink flowers – Carolina spring-beauty- at some places cover the whole ground like a shag carpet. The forest is gorgeous on this sunny and warm day. Birds conversing all around us while we snake through it. Hop the snake! Since that’s our next trail’s name which runs parallel to Rockburn Branch.
This is a wonderful location right here at the creek. Reminds me of Unicorn meadow (I am the only one who calls it this way) in Soldiers Delight. I guess the moisture in the air favors the wildflowers and ferns because there are so many of them and they are beautiful!
We get back to the trail and after letting a few bikers then some hikers pass by from the other direction, we proceed through exposed roots in a canyon like section. Tiny canyon….
Not much is going on in the next mile, it’s just us and the forest.
Out of nowhere we reach a Private Property sign in a 90 degree left turn….
….then a dead end paved road – Belmont Woods rd. – which goes up to Morning Choice Trail. Originally I wanted to go on Belmont Trail but got lost between all the small paths going through this muddy area and we ended up using a small portion of Nacho, short cutting back to Belmont ahead. We lose the trail for a minute somehow but I am able to catch it following a hunch. (When I look on the map it turns out that there is an unmaintained trail right here.) We come across quite a few people here, hikers and bikers alike.
We are really close to Landing road, which means we are also really close to communities. From here on – and it’s a pretty lengthy portion of today’s walk – we’ll hike next to private properties. It’s been a long time when last we had a hike like this.
The trail still have some wilderness to it though. I guess local bikers like the close proximity to their back yards. Pedaling through these creeks in the heat of the workout is sure has to be fun.
The scenery and elevation both changing often and surprisingly. Now we are cutting through farmland, ending in a funky, slight uphill pigtail. Spring’s fresh green color is visible on the top of the tall trees.
The piggy’s tail leads us to a fork with five tines. Belmont Trail becomes Log Trail when keeping straight. To the left we could end up on Landing Rd. (lots of people start their hike from here.) The first right is Nacho’s other end and the second right is Morning Choice Trail which runs parallel to Log Trail until they crash. We proceed straight on Log Trail until it becomes Barley and Hops next to the developments.
We have a small adventure when crossing Rockburn Branch which is a small creek but where the trail goes through it here it sort of deep. A family with three small kids from the other direction trying to build a dam out of rocks to cross it. I end up just wading through, luckily not getting the inside of my boots wet. I feel sorry leaving the fam there struggling to get over, but thanks to COVID-19 I don’t think they would take my help anyway.
The next mile goes by quickly without any interesting happenings. It’s just us slithering through the forest on Barley and Hops then keeping left on Lewis and Clark. Both run close to houses on Landing road. We encounter several bikers and hikers along the way. We also cross Norris lane (another paved road) which dead ends close to Ridge trail and Patapsco River.
Our next intersection is at Cascade Falls trail….
(Note: most people park on the street here, very popular starting point. No actual parking area.)
….but we keep straight onto Garrett’s Pass. It’s actually more scenic being on higher grounds and less trafficked because everyone thinks the Cascades are worth going in the valley. There are dozens of people down there, clearly visible from where we are. We haven’t had any big rain in the past few days and it’s hot. I doubt that there are any Cascades on that trail right now. I tried to look up the actual creek’s name but no info available online about it. Kind of weird….
This path is absolutely beautiful! We are up high, nature is just waking, the ground cover is a lush green with tiny pink and white flowers.
When coming across other trails we keep left except one time. In less then a mile we are slowly approaching – hopefully without tumbling down – Biker Buster-Downhill. This less then a half a mile portion is challenging even without a bike!
However, we make it down to Riva Road! There is a path down to Patapsco so Mag takes a cool down swim.
After the beach-party, we get back on Riva to reach our original destination on Ilchester road. Until we get there the trail winds next to the river. The further up we get the more unmaintained and neglected it gets. Mag spots some weird entrapments across the river and comes to a halt. Hammocks swing in the light breeze. He needs some convincing to get in motion again.
The road comes to an end in a form of a citadel but I am reluctant and we keep on going at the water’s edge because AllTrails shows a path. Good call! Following the sandy/rocky shore, the apocalyptic looking paved trail continues above the bouldery hill.
There used to be a dam here!
Bloede’s Dam was a hydroelectric dam on the Patapsco River. It was the first known instance of a submerged hydroelectric plant, where the power plant was actually housed under the spillway. It is also recognized as one of the earliest dams constructed of reinforced concrete. It opened in 1907 and was demolished in 2018. The area is still under construction.
At 7 miles and after three hours we have just reached our destination! The Grist Mill walking bridge. I’ve seen this while looking for the Cascades last year but wasn’t comfortable enough to park around. We had to hike here.
There is a small path next to the guardrail on Ilchester road to reach the bridge.
Lots of people here! We wait for our turn to walk through the bridge without colliding with anyone.
(Note: there are several small parking areas here next to the road but not one of them is legal. Signs are everywhere about tow away zones. I would not recommend to park here.)
The way back is quick – 3 miles – and busy with people and their pets. We make two more stops to emerge Mag into the water….
We discover another foot bridge – called Swinging bridge – across the river at 8.2 miles. Nice cut through if you don’t want to hike all the way up or down. I can’t take a pic because there are literally too many people around. (Cheating….pic from next week’s post.)
On the other side of the river there is also a big picnic area.
I still manage to take pictures of a seemingly empty trail.
There are also several tunnels under the railroad connecting to more trails on the hills. (See upcoming post.)
At the end of Grist Mill Trail there is the wonderful Lost Lake with sunbathing turtles. It’s surroundings are closed because of the virus right now but otherwise there are benches to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature.
A small parking area provides extra parking. We cut through it and hop on Gunned to stay away from traffic on the paved road leading back to the main area. Isn’t this quint? We reached Elkridge Landing.
Crossing over the bridge on our right will take us back to our car.
Absolutely amazing trail system! We loved it! Here is our route.
More to see and hike at Avalon, we’ll be back!
And don’t forget!