Eleven years ago—following the lead of Blue Hills State Reservation in Massachusetts, which hosted the inaugural First Day Hike in 1992—the America’s State Parks alliance launched First Day Hikes as a nationwide program that offers free, guided hikes in all 50 states on the first of the year.
The initiative encourages everyone, from fitness enthusiasts to photographers, to start the year by experiencing the great outdoors—and it’s certainly made an impact. According to the American Hiking Society, in 2020, 55,000 people walked 133,000 miles on a First Day Hike in state or national parks. For Marylanders, this tradition has only become more popular, with a 40 percent increase in visitors in 2020, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Local First Day Hikes are back again this year, and for the second time, they’re spanning an entire weekend. The activities will last from Saturday, Dec. 31 to Monday, Jan. 2, with independent walks, bike rides, and guided hikes by rangers organized everywhere from the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area in Baltimore County to Calvert Cliffs State Park along the Chesapeake shoreline.
“We’ve decided to go with first weekend hikes, to extend the experience for folks,” Melissa Boyle, chief of interpretation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), told us in 2021. “It’s great. Our park staff gets very creative with putting together the First Day Hikes.”
One of the overall goals of the program is to educate participants about respect for public lands and sustainability.
“The first part of inspiring that respect is to inspire joy and appreciation,” said park service supervisor Alyssa Myers, who adds that it’s easy to sense the rangers’ enthusiasm. “During any of our hikes, we don’t just read off a script.”
Aside from experiencing authentic landscapes and native wildlife, parks across the country hope that the initiative teaches people the value of their state’s natural resources.
“Maryland is proud to be doing this with all 49 other state park systems,” Boyle said.
Here, we’ve rounded up a few hikes in the area to help you start 2023 on the right (and left) foot:
Gunpowder Falls State Park
This 18,000-acre wonder that stretches through Harford and Baltimore counties is offering hikes for beginners and experts alike on New Year’s Day. At 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., beginners can meet at the Black Marsh Trail head (8400 North Point Rd, Edgemere) for a two-mile, ranger-led stroll through the flat Black Marsh loop trail. More experienced hikers are invited to meet in the Hereford zone (Bunker Hill Road parking lot off of York Rd, across from Hereford High School) for a 4.5-mile hike along the Bunker Hill trail at 11 a.m. Leashed pets are welcome, but remember to bring them water.
Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area
Take in the final sunset of 2022 along this 2.5-mile hike in Baltimore County on New Year’s Eve. Meet at the visitor’s center off of Deer Park Road in Owings Mills at 2 p.m. to embark on the Serpentine Trail with a trained ranger. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear and dress for the weather.
North Point State Park
Calling all birdwatchers. This ranger-led hike along the Black Marsh Wildlands hosts sights of multiple species that call the wetlands home. Plus, the Black Marsh Trail is ideal for history buffs who will get a kick out of learning about the historic Bay Shore Amusement Park, as well as seeing the 1900’s trolley car powerhouse. The DNR advises locals who choose to traverse this route to bring binoculars and water resistant boots. 8400 North Point Road, Edgemere
Patapsco Valley State Park
The 16,000-acre park will provide a beautiful backdrop for multiple events planned throughout the first weekend of the year. Kicking things off will be a kid-friendly gathering in Catonsville (Hilton Area, Shelter 201, 1101 Hilton Ave.) from 4-5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Little ones are encouraged to bring their own flashlights to partake in a special sunset countdown well before bedtime.
On Jan. 1, novice hikers can embark on a ranger-led walk of the Orange Grove area (5120 South Street, Halethorpe) from 2-5 p.m. Leashed pets and strollers are welcome, but be advised the terrain gets a bit rocky around the half-mile mark. In Howard County, another ranger-led stroll will step off from the Hollofield Shelter (8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City) at 11 a.m. This one is more strenuous—with varied terrain—and not advised for beginners, so get ready to push yourself to the limits while contemplating your goals for the upcoming year.
Sandy Point State Park
Visit this state park for picturesque views on this self-guided stroll along the Chesapeake Bay. Perfect for families with children, this trail offers a choose-your-own-adventure path where you can go at your own pace. (Leashed pets are welcome!) 1100 E. College Parkway, Annapolis.
Find more information and other planned hikes, here.