A hike in Patapsco Valley State Park

Last weekend we took a nice hike up in Maryland, at Patapsco Valley State Park, just south of Baltimore. For the first part, we crossed the river on a suspension bridge and hiked a 1.25 miles upstream on the Gristmill Trail (gray), recrossed the river again on another suspension bridge near Ilchester Road, and returned to our stating point on the right bank of the river, a total of 2.5 miles. For the second part, we hiked up Cascade Trail, crossing the stream several times before turning off to follow the Morning Choice (yellow), Old Track Loop (red), and Ridge (orange) Trails back to our stating point, for a total hike of around 5.5 miles.

The hike offered quite a variety of scenery. The Gristmill Trail is relatively flat and paved on the left bank and runs adjacent to the B&O Railroad track, while on the right bank it is mostly dirt and a bit more rugged. Historical markers provide information about construction of the railroad and the history of Patapsco Valley. Here and there a few princess trees were still blooming. The river is strewn with rocks and rapids below Bloede Dam, while in the calmer waters above the dam a pair of Canadian Geese were shepherding their goslings. The second part of the hike features rugged and wandering dirt paths through the forest, and the Cascade Trail passes Cascade Falls and several smaller rapids upstream, and one of the several stream crossings left me with wet sneakers.

Bloede Dam is an interesting piece of history. It was built in 1906, went into operation in 1907, and was the first submerged hydroelectric power plant: the machinery was underwater, inside the spillway. It also included a 200-foot wooden fish ladder, which tends to dispel the popular notion that wildlife conservation started only with the advent of Captain Planet and Earth Day celebrations. The power plant was finally taken offline in 1924, overcome by more efficient plants elsewhere and the ongoing problem of clogging due to river debris. The dam was severely damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and in 1992 the Maryland Department of Resources spent $1.58 million to build an improved fish ladder. The dam is scheduled to be removed in the fall of 2016, leaving only rocky river rapids in its place, so there’s only a little time left to get a look at this piece of the past.

Patapsco Valley State Park is only about 30 minutes’ drive from the Washington DC Capital Beltway, or about an hour from Northern Virginia. It’s probably a good idea to check with the park ranger before planning your hike, since the Gristmill Trail will undoubtedly be closed during the demolition of Bloede Dam.


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3 Responses to A hike in Patapsco Valley State Park

  1. Great read! Made me miss that place, what a treasure!

  2. John M says:

    Glad you enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to visiting again next year to see the place after the dam is gone.

  3. pulltabMiner says:

    Wow! Beautiful scenery indeed! My best friend grew up in the area and dreamed of returning someday. Alas, he passed away while living in Brazil but I can see now why he always wanted to go back.

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