By Ron Cassie

Illustrations by Alicia Corman

Winter Wonderland

The Best Trails for a Winter Run Around Baltimore

Get off the pavement and hit these hiking spots for a brisk run.

By Ron Cassie

Illustrations by Alicia Corman

A Brisk Run

The season is the reason to get off the pavement and hit the plethora of local trails for a run.

It may seem counterintuitive, but Troy Workman, Charm City Run’s ultramarathon and trail running coach, prefers to hit the trails in winter. “There’s less vegetation, which makes it easier to see the terrain, and there’s just more visibility overall. But there are also less bees, no insects at all really—or poison ivy. It’s also easier on your body,” he adds with a laugh. “You sweat less than in the summer.”

Besides avoiding bug bites and excessive sweat, winter trail running is simply more fun than pounding an indoor treadmill, says the 51-year-old Workman, who trains runners for the annual Hinte-Anderson Trail Run 50K at Susquehanna State Park in March. “To me, one of the best things about living in this area is all the great parks nearby, and the beauty of Maryland is that you can watch the seasons change as you go.”

For runners, or would-be runners, it’s worth keeping in mind that the race calendar doesn’t end with the various 5K Turkey Trots and Reindeer Runs. And that not all trail runs are of the hardcore 50K variety. (Check the popular February 3 Froggy Hollow 5 & 9 at the Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksville.)

Looking for something more low-key? Check weekly Saturday morning 5K trail runs at Leakin Park and the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail.




Check out some of these favorite local winter trail runs.

Gunpowder Falls State Park

2791 Dalton Bevard Road, Baldwin

The Sweet Air Loop at Gunpowder is just one of many options all the way to Hereford. This 2.8-mile wooded trail, a mix of open and wooded terrain, follows the river, and there are plenty of adjacent trails to tack on if you’re up for a longer jaunt. The first mile heads downhill until you reach the river; after that, a flat section will carry you along the river for some great winter views of the water before it turns back uphill near the 1.5-mile mark.

Lake Roland Park

1000 Lakeside Drive

A go-to destination for city trail runners, the Red Trail, one of six trails here, makes for a quick yet quiet scenic 2-mile jaunt around the park’s dam. It’s easy to combine the Red Trail with the Yellow Trail loop, for example, for a 3.1-mile run, and you can tack on the shorter Blue, Orange, and Green trails, too, if you want to go even longer. The 500-acre Lake Roland Park is also accessible by light rail. Dogs are welcome, just keep them on a leash.

Oregon Ridge Park

13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville

The forested, 1,000- acre Oregon Ridge Park is certainly a colorful treat in the fall, but it also offers some of the best vistas of northern Baltimore County this time of year. Once a small downhill skiing venue, the running trails here are wide-open and fun—including several stream crossings—but also hilly in parts. Combine with the Loggers, Ivy Hill, and Lake trails for a challenging 4.4-mile loop.

Patapsco Valley State Park, Avalon Area

5120 South Street, Halethorpe

There are loads of trail options heading out from Patapsco’s Avalon Area, a popular destination for mountain bikers as well. One option is the family-friendly 5-mile Grist Mill Trail, which runs parallel to the B&O Railroad to the north and the Patapsco River to the south. The trail is entirely paved, making it a comfortable run or walk, and its gentle slopes are accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and mobility equipment. The historic trail also runs past Patapsco’s famous swinging bridge and site of the old Bloede’s Dam.

Susquehanna State Park

4122 Wilkinson Road, Havre de Grace

The Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail is a flat, 2.5-mile one-way (five miles roundtrip) gravel path through the woods that parallel the Susquehanna River and connects the park and the Conowingo Dam. This is an especially fun run in January and February, when the bald eagles can be seen all over the Conowingo Dam area. Warning: It can be muddy in spots after it rains. For a more challenging run, check the 5.1-mile Rock Run Grist Trail, which is also popular for mountain bikers and horseback riders.


For the Birds


Fair-weather friends of nature may view winter in bleak terms. A season to survive rather than celebrate. But winter offers its own unique opportunities. For example, it’s the absolute best time of the year to catch the return of bald eagles to the Susquehanna State Park.

Whether you drive directly to Fisherman’s Park (2569 Shures Landing Road, Darlington) or park further down at the Rock Run Gristmill and hike along the well-trod river trail (3.8 miles), the Conowingo Dam area at the park is also one of the best places to photograph our national symbol on the East Coast. Or just bring binoculars, because January is probably best month see the big birds making daring lunch-time dives into the river.

In February, the eagles begin nesting and by March, sightings become fewer and farther between. With any luck, you may see an osprey or blue heron, too. Other year-round residents include pileated woodpeckers, northern cardinals, eastern blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, and the American goldfinch. America’s national symbol had almost become extinct, of course. Initially, their numbers dropped from a loss of habitat and overhunting, and then after World War II, they were poisoned by the pesticide DDT after eating contaminated fish.

In part led by Marylander Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, DDT was banned in 1972. Delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2007, bald eagles maintain natural-habitat protection afforded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and have made a stunning comeback. Go witness for yourself—up to 200 may be present along Harford County’s Susquehanna shores on a good day. —Ron Cassie

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