Two weekends ago, I hiked with my sister and friend at Patapsco Valley State Park. According to the Maryland State website, “Patapsco Valley State Park extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, encompassing 16,043 acres and eight developed recreational areas. Recreational opportunities include hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, horseback and mountain bike trails, as well as picnicking for individuals or large groups in the park’s many popular pavilions.”
To our surprise, there was more than one park. We originally went to the popular Hollofield Pickall in Ellicot City, but the park ranger directed us to McKeldin for a more serene hike away from the crowds at the Cascade Falls (Avalon Park was filled to capacity). We opted for serenity, drove 20 minutes to McKeldin, and enjoyed a somewhat challenging (rock scramble) but very pleasant hike.
There were several parking lots, and we parked at the lot second closest to the river rapids (the park ranger said they were similar to the Cascade Falls). We entered the forest and wandered around the trail, pausing to look at the map to make sure we were going the right way. After some more walking (and arguments), we eventually found the rapids. It turns out the nearby parking lot was full (there were only half a dozen spaces), and there were a lot of families milling around. We made our way down to the rapids, and despite the sign that said, “NO SWIMMING,” there were quite a few people in the water. We didn’t like the noise, so we turned and headed downstream towards the more quiet environment.
Aside from the rock scramble, most of the hike was flat and not strenuous. We heard, “ribbit! ribbit” coming from the grass near the river. We paused to take photos, and when I moved forward, I saw something jump across me. It was just a flash of dark green. Soon, I realized it was a small, adorable frog making his escape into the water! We spent another 5 minutes staring at the grass to see if we could see any more frogs, but alas, none could be seen.
We continued the hike, which was quite flat. Luckily, the trail was not too muddy (there was one spot that was wet). Eventually, we reached a switch back, and we walked back towards our car. Overall, the hike took about 2.5 hours with breaks for photos, and we estimate it was about 4-5 miles.
I would highly recommend this hike for people who are not able to climb or prefer a flatter hike. The entrance fee to the park was $3 per person, which was definitely worth the price for several hours of a tranquil hike. This is an under-rated park! If Great Falls has too many people (it gets super busy on the weekends), I would suggest coming to McKeldin, which is not too much further out from Great Falls.