11/28/2020 Forest Glen Trail – Sawmill Branch Trail – Buzzards Rock Trail – Grist Mill Trail – Buzzards Rock Reroute – noname trail through Ilchester Rock lookout – Buzzards Rock Trail – Sawmill-Ilchester Connector – Hilltop Connector – noname trail crossing S. Hilltop Rd. – several noname trails – Charcoal Trail – Santee Branch Trail – Pigs Run Trail – exit through the Youth Group Campground loop
Elevation gain: 892ft
Location: 1201-1299 Hilton Ave. Catonsville, MD 21228
We came across this entrance while hiking from the S. Rolling Road parking back in April (4/19/2020). Even tho – in my opinion – it’s pretty late (just after 9 AM) there are barely anyone in the parking.
I’ve counted at least 3 separate – now open – parking areas within this entrance. Several additional lots are closed at this time. Just within here there are 5 campgrounds (Bannaker, Barney, Leonard, Pindell and Hilton Youth). Two additional campgrounds are within the Charcoal trail. It’s another fantastic family oriented part of Patapsco Valley State Park.
We walk up to the Forest Glen trailhead to start today’s adventure. Just a beautiful, sunny day!
The trail starts out as a slithering snake, winding through the forest. Soon we start a slight descent toward one of the many creeks feeding into Patapsco.
Spending a few minutes here for Mag’s enjoyment to make sure he smells everything in our close vicinity. After jumping over to Sawmill Branch Trail (red) our hike continues uphill from the small gorge. This is an absolutely beautiful portion of our hike and we even come across a small but magical waterfall.
We take our time to discover the creek-bed, hopping from boulder to boulder, getting as close as possible to the cascading water.
We get our cue to head on when a few people show up to take their pics of the rapids. The trail here is tricky, filled with roots and rocks. I need to be careful with Mag running ahead chasing new smells. We are above the creek again, looking down from a 30 feet drop to a small bend.
We take two more opportunities within the next stretch to hunt for rocks with great success. Mag finds the biggest one to take a break on.
Moving on continuing towards North, rewards us with another small linn before we reach a trail crossing. Here the brook pools above the trail giving me a small challenge to reach these dramatic boulders.
After snapping some photos however, we cross back over to continue up on Sawmill Branch. A jogger with a dog in front of us encourages Mag to speed up. We fast forward to the next section where we finally lose the dog and his scent. We are on the top of this particular hill without a view. Turning left towards Buzzard Rock Trail (yellow) leads us to another small parking area. From here on, the trail is very generous, taking us back down towards Patapsco.
It’s an almost straight shot on the top of this ridge to Bloedes Dam Viewpoint. Down below us is the glistening river.
The downhill from here is very challenging and slippery, even tho it ends in a wooden staircase. Several times a have to rely on holding onto trees, otherwise I would slip. Be careful!
To get to the river we have to walk through this tunnel underneath the CXS train tracks. There are several of them on Grist Mill Trail connecting all the paths. They all dating back to the 1800s.
All these tunnels connect to Grist Mill Trail which runs right next to Patapsco. We turn right and head down to the rocky beach within a few hundred feet.
Even though I usually try to stay away from this mainly busy trail, today there are barely anyone out on it. I think people are still getting accustomed to the temperature change.
We pass on hiking up on Drugs Trail since it seems like a 45% uphill. Guy coming down on it makes me think I don’t want to roll back from the middle. Maybe a hundred feet away there is another, much easier connection to Buzzards Rock Reroute Trail. Even though the elevation change is obvious by the time we reach the top, it’s barely recognizable through the one foot wide snaking path. As soon as we are on the North side the wind is crazy! I try to take a pic of the walking bridge below us but it comes out as just a million branches.
I think we get to Ilchester Rocks faster with the back wind pushing us. Exactly below us is the train-tunnel connecting to the bridge carrying the CSXs over the river. Running up the generously sized wooden steps give us an extra workout.
On the top we turn left and continue on the lower trail closer to the edge. Shortly, it takes a 90 degree turn to the right taking us through a small parking area. The other side is Sawmill-Ilchester Connector Trail. It crosses S. Hilltop Rd. beyond yet another small parking area, becoming Hilltop Connector. After crossing back again we go too far at a T and after hopping over a tiny bridge….
….in about a quarter of a mile, the scenery seems familiar. Uurrggg, we have to turn back until we reach the T again and follow the path on the right. Eventually after crossing 3 or 4 small creeks we do a big U, heading south. We end up losing the trail here for a bit caused by flooding, maybe.
Funky how a small creek can swallow up then disappear again within a few hundred feet. This inviting pool makes me wanna jump in. Crystal clear water shimmers bordered with boulders.
Our path abruptly takes a turn and start going uphill. On the top we take a water break and a pano.
When getting to Charcoal Trail I choose to hike the longest route around a now closed parking and campsite. Yellow and orange color codes mix on this trail.
We are getting closer to end of our hike. I can tell because we are running into more and more people. Santee Branch Trail becomes Pig Run (purple) after running parallel to the paved road leading into the “abandoned” parking area.
Cutting through the campgrounds is a small shortcut to finish up about 10 minutes early. I can spend that time to check Mag for ticks.
Hope to see you out there! And never forget….we only have one Mother Earth.