4/19/2020 Starstruck Trail – Soapstone Trail – Hilton Ave. (paved road) – Grist Mill Trail – Nun’s Run – Santee Branch Trail – College Loop – Santee Branch Trail – Bike Jumper – Bull Run Trail – Overgrown – Soapstone Alternate Trail
Elevation gain: 820ft
Location: Soapstone Trailhead – 1164 S Rolling Road Catonsville, MD 21228
We’ve come pretty early (9:15am) in hope of beating the crowds but even so, the roadside parking is pretty full. We squeeze between two other cars and get ready for our hike. After packing our backpack with necessities we start on Soapstone Trail (purple).
However as soon as a few feet we rather hop on Starstruck trail to make the biggest loop possible (still purple).
The path is very wild at the beginning almost unmaintained then it turns into a beautiful enchanted forest. Flowering Blackhaws and Dogwoods bring white into the lush greenery of the awakening surroundings.
The groundcover is also alive with patches of pink-white Slender Toothworts, the tiny flowers of Chickweeds and the secretive Jack in the pulpits. The rays of the early sun paint shadows on the ground, dancing through the forest.
I can tell that this trail is very popular among bikers. We actually come across a few of them in the bends of the path. From now on I’ll be looking out for them. They zoom by pretty fast and it’s hard to see or hear them approaching.
In the small valley we cross one of the several smaller creeks on a wooden bridge. I wonder why they don’t have names. I guess know one else cares to know.
I could spend hours wondering around in the woods just looking for pic worthy subjects – everything – but Mag is on a quest. We must proceed. In about 0.2 miles we catch up to Soapstone Trail in another valley.
A Cardinal is calling his mate above us as we slowly walk on the widened trail. At the next big bend we hit some traffic so I get Mag to sit on a fallen tree stump while everyone passes.
After a pretty little area where the creek splits, the trail becomes much wider. We even spot our second butterfly of the season, a Swallowtail dancing through Indian-apples. The road follows the stream until the next parking area and beyond.
Several wild rose bushes sweeten the path and provide visual interest. A fallen tree bridges across the creek, it’s huge rootball makes us feel small.
When we reach the east side of Hilton Avenue we must cross the outspread creek, it’s bed covered with bigger sized rocks. Basic balancing skills are needed.
The pavement continues up on our right for a bit longer, ending in another picnic-parking area. Soapstone trail keeps going straight but I’ve decided to follow Hilton to the south to catch up with Grist Mill trail at the bottom of it.
We take yet another small water break what Mag appreciates very much. He would rather walk in the creek but we are getting closer to the small tunnel at the end.
Here it is….one of the foot traffic tunnels below the railroad at the beginning of Grist Mill Trail.
Walking through it takes us to the end of Glen Artney road and Lost Lake. Since last week’s post there are several Red- buds flowering around the perimeter, adding vivid color to the neon greens of the .
The next 1.5 miles we stroll on Grist Mill trail which I have just blogged about last week. But today we are heading North on it until the footbridge then we’ll climb East towards the Hilton area.
Thankfully the route is not crowded, few people have already passed us while Mag smelled all the possible stolons of grass. At a small clearing towards the river a pair of Red-tailed Hawks circle above us screeching to each other. The trail is lined with huge Sycamore and other species of trees below the tracks. The left side is marshland.
We take a river break at a small island just before the next tunnel (Backside of Nun’s trail). The water is clear green with a rocky beach and a lot of driftwood.
We follow the beach until we have to climb up to reach back on the trail at the tunnel. In 0.6 miles the Swinging bridge is visible on our left and I can finally take a picture of it. (Last week there were so many people here and I couldn’t.)
There used to be a flour factory here and the workers used this bridge every day to cross the river in the 1800s. The “Patapsco Superlative Patent” and “Orange Grove” brands were well known for their fine quality and texture. The mill was destroyed in a fire in 1905 then the remains were additionally destroyed by hurricane Agnes in 1972. All is visible today are parts of the stone retaining walls.
This is the only trail leading up on the hill without a tunnel so we have to climb up through the ruins and then the railroad tracks to find the path.
On the other side the trail is unmarked but AllTrail shows it’s whereabouts. Pawpaw trees line the path up the steep hill.
Nun’s Run Trail goes up steep for about 0.5 mile. We take a water break in the middle. Listening to the birds around us I notice how species of birds change within the forest. There were lots of Cardinals at one spot, then woodpeckers and now a pack of Blue Jays communicate throughout the forest.
When reaching the top we are at the other end of Hilton Ave. we discover a huge property with a castle like structure. I had to look it up: All Saints Sisters of the Poor. Interesting. On our left is the huge Hilton area parking of the State Park. We probably will park here for our next adventure to discover the other trails leading out from here.
A Northern Flicker just flew by us landing on a tree, just before we would turn right onto the power line clearing. This is short distance (0.1) cut through to the north end of Santee Branch Trail.
These funky high grasses line the edge of the woods.
The upper portion of Santee is hidden below the power line tower. Sort of an inviting entrance to a fairytale.
We pass a few people and also pick up a trail of them so I urge Mag to hurry up to be able to get rid of them. After crossing this quaint little bridge we finally turn left on College Loop and they proceed to the right. Mission accomplished.
This is the white trail and is leading us to the Community Collage of Baltimore County: Catonsville through a wild serpentine path. It takes a sharp right turn when getting close to the stadiums then disappears into the forest again. This seemingly never ending stone wall is in the middle of it.
By the time we circle back under the power lines the trail is covered with Autumn Olive bushes. The fragrance would be almost nauseating but I find it absolutely wonderful! They are in full bloom in all the parks around here.
Higher up dogwoods are also blooming. We only peek out to the clearing, within few feet we are back in the woods on a tight, overgrown path. Hoping no one will come from the opposite direction since there is no space to step aside.
Even though we come across a few ladies we are lucky enough to be able let them by. The trail takes a turn to the left in a bit and runs next private homes for a short distance until we cross Foxhall Farm Rd. At the “intersection” of five trails we proceed on Bike Jumper to the left.
It starts out fine but then gets pretty steep. We stop for a few minutes to readjust my boots and to take my hoodie off. It was 42F (7C) in the morning and now it’s 58F (14C). Getting hot. Exercising is like throwing logs on the fire. Several bunches of Downy-Yellow Violets brighten my day even further, just sitting under a huge tree in the groundcover.
We’ve managed to get down the hill without rolling. Mag usually is very eager to lead me and I have to remind him to slow down. Yet another unnamed creek greets us on the bottom. There is a small rapid where Mag can swim just a little. Shaking himself while in the water is his specialty.
Since AllTrail is not exactly clear of the next step we should take there is a little confusion here. First we follow the stream then yet again head to the wrong direction the opposite way. Finally after about 5 minutes we are on the right track the orange trail.
We follow this for a while, snaking through the woods until we get to this red gate.
Passing by it we find ourselves on a messy clearing. Trails cross-crossing everywhere I pick one hopefully leading us back to our car. It is marked as Unmaintained Trail….it should be called Jungle. MAN it’s hot out here on the sun!
We manage to get lost yet again and have to turn back to find the trail that’s actually heading downhill just pick back up from the valley. Steep, water washed hill with several families coming downwards gives me the hope that it’s the right path this time.
Yeah! We actually get back to the information board at the beginning of Soapstone Trail. Our car however is situated to a little bit to the left so keeping on the trail we head towards it. After getting to it I make sure Mag drinks some water then I start taking off my clothes….
Here is the route map:
We usually don’t have so many dead end try on our hike but since AllTrail is not a 100% reliable, it could happen. That’s part of the adventure.
Hope you too will get out there to enjoy and discover our wonderful globe!
And don’t forget!