City dwellers often counter the argument for county life and its more plentiful open spaces with some variant of the line, “But the entire city is my backyard!” While this rebuttal conveniently overlooks certain realities of city life—traffic; crime; noise, light, and waste pollution; having to occasionally, you know, share—there is also a lot of truth to it. Does a suburban backyard have free outdoor concerts, two zoos (yes, two), five golf courses, miles of hiking and biking trails, an ice-skating rink, Chesapeake Bay access, an arboretum, and literally dozens of pools?
Indeed there is much to celebrate in Baltimore’s park system, probably more than you know, and it’s all right outside your door. With summer bearing down on us, here’s our guide to exploring the best of your own backyard—all 4,905 acres of it.
Druid Hill Park
2600 E. Madison Ave., druidhillpark.org
Special Features: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, a disc golf course, and one of the city’s 29 public pools. Druid Hill Lake, aka the Reservoir, and Boat Lake also draw walkers, bikers, and birders to their scenic shores. The 125-year-old Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens is a jewel box of flora with five distinct greenhouses (including orchid and tropical rooms), plus a half-acre garden.
Summer Events: Every Wednesday from June through September, the park hosts an evening farmers’ market. The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and offers its much-loved Breakfast with the Animals program on select weekend mornings. The park lives up to its pagan namesake on June 21 with a Summer Solstice Celebration with hayrides, live music, tarot card readings, and storytelling.
E. Baltimore St. and S. Patterson Park Ave., pattersonpark.com
Special Features: The 1891 octagonal pagoda, open for climbing on Sunday afternoons through mid-October, is one of the city’s most photographed landmarks. The Boat Lake is stocked with catchable fish. Though an ice rink in the winter months, the Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro Family Skating Center hosts floor hockey rec leagues all summer. Two adjacent dog parks—one for small pooches, one for large dogs—get lots of use. For a measly $2 admission fee, gain access to the park’s recently renovated swimming pool.
Summer Events: Spy up to 200 species during Patterson Park Audubon Center’s twice-monthly free bird walks. Cast your rod in the Boat Lake June 7 at the kid-friendly Fishing Festival. The ever-popular Friends of Patterson Park Concert Series returns with two to three concerts a month in June, July, and August. And LatinoFest celebrates its 34th year June 21-22.
Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park
1901 Ridgetop Rd., friendsofgwynnsfallsleakinpark.org
Special Features: The 15-mile Gwynns Falls hiking and biking trail runs through the park. The Victorian Italianate manor house of railroad baron Thomas DeKay Winans still stands, as does his carriage house, and an American Gothic-style chapel built for his workers. For kids, a miniature steam-powered railroad with 3,400 feet of track provides free rides every second Sunday through November.Though smaller, the Carrie Murray Nature Center gives Druid Hill’s zoo a run for its money with fauna ranging from raptors to an albino Burmese python named Fluffy. (All animals are rescues or orphans.) A new “Rainforest Room” exhibit housing Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a Blue-fronted Amazon parrot named Cupid, and other exotic critters, opens June 7.
Summer Events: Carrie Murray offers nine weeks of summer camp for kids, plus regular kids’ programs focusing on owls (June 6), bees (June 21 and Aug. 30), and nocturnal insects (July 11 and Aug. 1).
2801 Harford Rd., bmgcgolf.com/-clifton-park
Special Features: The oldest of the city’s five municipal golf courses offers 18 holes for rates starting as low as $10. Elsewhere in the park, Civic Works’ Real Food Farm is making a go of urban agriculture with several hoophouses, an orchard, beehives, an herb garden, and field crops.
Summer Events: The golf course is open every day, weather permitting. Real Food Farm welcomes volunteers from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday, plus the first and third Saturday of the month from March through November.
4915 Green Spring Ave., cylburn.org
Special Features: Trees! From Kentucky coffeetrees to redwoods, Cylburn’s got you covered. Over three miles of trails will also take you through several gardens including daylily and rose plots. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future is conducting research in a cutting-edge agriculture practice called aquaponics on the premises. The farming method combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless plant farming) in a waste-free sustainable growing cycle. Regular tours of the project’s greenhouse are starting soon.
Summer Events: Enjoy outdoor yoga (June 7, 14, 21, 28); the Celebration of Art event (June 14-15) with exhibitions, lectures, and children’s activities; and a firefly walk (June 26).
Middle Branch Park
3301 Waterview Ave.,410-396-3838.
Acreage: Six miles of shoreline, marshes, and meadows.
Special Features: One of the city’s best-kept secrets, the park is the launch site for many area collegiate and high school crew teams. The two concrete boat ramps can accommodate anything from kayaks to large boats.The Gwynns Falls Trail runs through the park, and The Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial sits on a rise above the main parking lot.
Summer Events: The recs and parks department hosts periodic “open paddle” sessions, providing all equipment, a tutorial, and a guided tour for a nominal fee.
Mount Pleasant Golf Course
Acreage: approximately 110.
Special Features: In addition to the links, which have been played by the likes of Arnold Palmer, the park is home to the Mount Pleasant Ice Arena, the city’s only year-round skating pavilion.
Summer Events: Public skate times are held every day. Hockey and figure skating classes and clinics are held regularly, as well. Summer skating camps for ages 5 to 18 run from June 23 to July 25.
Canton Waterfront Park
3001 Boston St., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/ParksTrails/CantonWaterfrontPark.aspx
Special Features: A boat ramp and fishing pier provide stellar access to the water.The park is also home to Maryland’s Korean War Memorial.
Summer Events: WTMD’s popular First Thursdays concert series has relocated here from Mt. Vernon due to restoration of the Washington Monument. Upcoming shows will feature national acts such as Los Lonely Boys (June 5), Strand of Oaks (July 3), JD McPherson (Aug. 7), and The Hold Steady (Sept. 4)—all for free!
1221 W. 36th St., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/ParksTrails/RooseveltPark.aspx
Special Features: One of the nicest public aquatic centers in the city can be found here, boasting a large outdoor pool, adjoining splash pad with towering water features, and a renovated pool house. Last month was the official grand opening of the first phase of the Skatepark of Baltimore. The gaping concrete bowl is ready for skateboard use and development of a street plaza landscape is in the offing.
Summer Events: Roosevelt Park and Recreation Center keeps a robust calendar of events, including coed volleyball on Wednesday and Thursday nights, community movie night (July 18), family game night (Aug. 8), and an environmental camp for ages 5 to 12 from June 23 to Aug. 15.
2400 E. Fort Ave., nps.gov/fomc
Special Features: The city’s only national park is steeped in history. View the fort, barracks, the 1814 Guard House, and those immortalized ramparts.
Summer Events: Twice-monthly bird walks take advantage of the fort’s waterfront setting. As part of the ongoing bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812, the park is hosting Fort! Flag! Fire! Baltimore’s Star-Spangled Summer! with living history performances, cannon firings, fife and drum concerts, and lectures.
1500 Washington Blvd., friendsofcarrollpark.blogspot.com/
Special Features: Originally part of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll’s Mount Clare estate and Georgia Plantation, Carroll Park’s history traces back to its pre-revolutionary site for industrial factories.The park is home to one of the two oldest Federal-style mansions still standing in Baltimore, which is open for tours guided by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in traditional period dress.
Summer Events: Carroll is the closest golf course to downtown (about three miles), making it even easier to enjoy a quick round on a summer’s afternoon. (It’s an “executive,” aka nine-hole, course.) Don’t miss September’s The Shindig Festival (tickets on sale now) featuring Jane’s Addiction, Rise Against, Gogol Bordello, and Baltimore’s own J Roddy Walston & The Business, among others.
Cimaglia Park at Fort Holabird
Pine and Oak avenues
Special Features: While the park’s recreational history dates to the seventies, Fort Holabird was constructed by the U.S. Army and used for various purposes from the 1920s to the 1950s. Upgrades to the park completed last November improved the park’s aesthetic appeal with enhancements like pedestrian pathways. Further renovations include two new half-courts for basketball and lighting for the ball fields.
Summer Events: Grow your own fruits and vegetables—from park to table. The Baltimore City Farms program offers rental garden plots for city residents looking to plant their own produce, herbs, and flowers in personal, fenced spaces.
Federal Hill Park
300 Warren Ave., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/ParksTrails/FederalHillPark.aspx
Special Features: Named for The Federalist—a ship built by 4,000 local Maryland citizens to celebrate the state’s ratification of the constitution, Federal Hill Park boasts cannons and monuments in memory of the Battle of Baltimore, in addition to unrivaled views of the harbor. Also, be on the lookout for new, Under Armour-renovated basketball courts. Little known fact: There is an extensive network of tunnels within the hill, which are rumored to have once functioned as an “underground railroad” of sorts, with escape routes, storage for munitions, and a place to store cold beer from local breweries.
Summer Events: The American Visionary Art Museum will begin its annual “Flicks From the Hill” free outdoor movie series on July 10, and continue screenings every Thursday through August 28. Once named one of Travel + Leisure magazine’s “World’s Best Free Things”, the park’s steep slopes create a natural amphitheater for audiences to enjoy alfresco films.
2900 Hillsdale Rd, bmgcgolf.com/-forest-park
Special Features: A classic, 18-hole golf course situated amidst the hilly green landscape with a clubhouse perfect for special event receptions.
Summer Events: June 22 and 23 mark the qualifying rounds of the 2014 STX Baltimore Putting Championship, which features two competitive divisions—adult and junior. The top three qualifiers in each division will play the finals on June 25at Mount Pleasant Golf Course.
Herring Run Park
3800 Bel Air Rd., arcadia-baltimore.org/arcadia_herringrun_c.html
Special Features: Open, flowery fields, a running stream, winding paths, and playing fields. Considered the dog-friendliest park in the city, there is plenty of foliage to explore here with pets, family, and friends. The park is home to the Christopher Columbus monument erected in 1792, as well as bike paths, and softball and soccer fields along the length of the stream.
Summer Events: The park welcomes the first annual Herring Run Around—a 5K race on paved and dirt trails on June 28. Watershed alliance Blue Water Baltimore will host a picnic for volunteers and members following the race.
1518 Latrobe Park Terrace, sobosports.com/locs/latrobe.htm
Special Features: Highlights include illuminated tennis courts, two basketball courts, a playground, and the gated Locust Point Dog Park, which features AstroTurf (no muddy paws!) and a waterslide for more adventurous canines.
Summer Events: Construction began on the Under Armour-funded $1.5 million Banner Field project this April, which will enhance the park with a turf field lined for football, soccer, and lacrosse. The field, named for the national anthem, will feature a sound system, scoreboard, running track, lights, and seating for 150 spectators. The Locust Point-based athletic company will also be making improvements to the playground. In summer, the park is frequented by the ASA Softball Leagues for co-ed evening games against local teams split according to skill-level.
Pine Ridge Golf Course
2101 Dulaney Valley Rd., bmgcgolf.com/-pine-ridge
Special Features: Because nothing is ever simple, this county-situated course is actually owned and operated by the city due to its adjacency to Loch Raven Reservoir, which supplies much of Baltimore City’s drinking water. Home to many past PGA and LPGA tournaments, the 18-hole course also boasts a 45-station lighted driving range, which is open during the warmer months.
Summer Events: The Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation and House of Ruth Maryland will host the 4th annual High Heels for Hope Longest Drive Contest on June 7. Proceeds will benefit House of Ruth’s mission to provide victims of partner violence with services to rebuild their lives. The twist? All contest participants must hit their drives while wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes—minimum two inches and no wedges or platforms—which will be donated to House of Ruth at the contest’s conclusion.
Reed Bird Island/Cherry Hill Park
101 Reedbird Ave., issuu.com/baltimorerecnparks/docs/cherry_hill_splash_park_pool_schedu
Special Features: Twin green spaces bifurcated by the Patapsco River as it empties into the Middle Branch, the park was Baltimore’s first waterfront park.Its rolling topography serves as a recreation area with picnic groves, fishing piers, a stage, and a shelter. Winding walking and bike paths along the shoreline lead to nearby Middle Branch Park.
Summer Events: The active public pool is perfect for cooling off post bike ride and offers swimming lessons on Saturday mornings.
Robert E. Lee Park
1000 Lakeside Dr., relpnc.org/
Special Features: Another county-located but city-owned park, this popular bucolic spot just over the city-county line offerswaterfront activities including kayaking and canoeing, hiking trails, and the Paw Point Dog Park, which allows dogs water access, as well. Two pavilions, one overlooking the Lake Roland Dam and one perched hilltop, are ideal for family picnics.
Summer Events: The park, which, although owned by the city, is operated by Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, offers a variety of activities for families including kayaking and fishing lessons, night hikes, and day camps. A full schedule of events can be found here.
3100 N Charles St., wymanparkdell.org
Special Features: Designed by the Olmstead Brothers, Wyman’s sweeping lawn is home to two monuments erected in honor of the Civil War. The Union Monument Plateau, engulfed by cherry trees, features a vigilant Union soldier flanked by goddesses. At the park’s other end, the Lee-Jackson Monument honors Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
Summer Events: Enjoy Music in the Park on June 18 and 25 with a free concert and outdoor movie. On July 27 there will be a special performance by jazz, funk, and world-rhythms band, the Swingin’ Swamis.