Beartown State Park, Fort Frederick State Park, Jones Falls and more.

Summer in the city can be suffocating:

You stick to the sheets, you’re irritable, and lethargy hangs on you like a heavy coat. But sometimes all it takes is the shade of a tree, a dip in a quarry, or the sweet relief of some higher-elevation air to feel better. Fortunately we Baltimoreans have plenty of outdoorsy options. Here are some of our favorites.


Beartown State Park,

near Hillsboro, W. Va., (304) 653-4254,


. Beartown State Park, a 107-acre natural area in southeastern West Virginia, is bizarre, in a good way. A wooden boardwalk meanders through what is actually a large sandstone rock formation that is slowly—we’re talking over millennia—crumbling. Walk through the clefts, past huge mossy boulders, overhanging cliffs and rock hollows that look like they could, indeed, hide a bear.

Beaver Dam Swimming Club,

10820 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, (410) 785-2323,

. With its full snack bar, basketball courts, volleyball courts, and swimming pools, Beaver Dam is not exactly a pastoral get-away. Plus it’s cash only, no pets, no alcohol, no nudity (jeez!). But the translucent freshwater quarry that once supplied stone for the Washington Monument makes it worth the trip. Did we mention there’s a rope swing?


Blackwater Falls State Park,

near Davis, W. Va., (304) 259-5216,

. It’s hard to believe a landscape this dramatic is within driving distance. A roaring, tea-colored, five-story waterfall tumbles into an 8-mile long gorge lined with the spruce and hemlock trees that lend the water its color. The park also offers opportunities for trout fishing, mountain biking, and camping, plus over 20 miles of hiking trails.

Big Run State Park,

349 Headquarters Lane, Grantsville, (301) 895-5453,

. Big Run has numerous campsites, and the 6-mile Monroe Run trail. But the main reason to visit is the location: at the mouth of the pristine, 360-acre Savage River Reservoir. Home to walleye, largemouth bass, crappie, and trout, among other fish, the reservoir is only open to non-motorized boats or those with electric motors.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge,

2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, Del., (302) 653-6872,

. Bombay Hook is a giant tidal salt marsh, one of the largest in the Mid-Atlantic. This means that it draws an incredible number of migratory birds. In the summer, wading birds like herons, egrets, and glossy ibis reach their peak, and if you go soon, you might see shorebirds and horseshoe crabs, whose eggs they feed on. Take a 12-mile round-trip auto-tour route or five short nature trails—three have 30-foot observation towers.

Cabin John Regional Park,

7400 Tuckerman Lane, Rockville, (301) 299-0024,

. Unpredictable weather? Head for Cabin John. The park has about 5 miles of hiking trails, baseball and softball fields, a miniature train, and handball courts, but it also features numerous indoor attractions. There are six indoor tennis courts and an ice skating rink, plus the Locust Grove Nature Center.

Cascade Lake,

Snydersburg Road, Hampstead, (410) 374-9111,

. Cascade Lake is sort of the miniature, freshwater version of Ocean City. You come not for the nature experience, but for the waterslides, the “Spray ’N’ Playground,” the arcade, the paddle boats, the funnel cake. And yes, the swimming area, where you can battle other swimmers for dominion over the awesome floating platforms.

Casselman River Bridge State Park,

349 Headquarters Lane, Grantsville, (301) 895-5453,

. This tiny parcel of a park exists primarily to preserve an 80-foot-long single span stone arch bridge. Built in 1813, it was once the longest of its kind in the country. Nearby, you can visit working artist studios in the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, composed of historic buildings moved from various locations in Western Maryland. Afterwards, dine buffet-style or replenish your yarn supply at the Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop.

Carroll Park Bike and Skate Facility,

800 Bayard St., (410) 245-0613,

. A concrete wonderland of quarter-pipes and rails in Southwest Baltimore, the facility hosts monthly contests for both bikers and skateboarders. Get out there and throw some ollies or one-handed wheelies, or just, you know, head down that incline and try not to fall off. Helmet, kneepads, and elbow pads required.

Catoctin Mountain Park,

6602 Foxville Road, Thurmont, (301) 663-9388,

. Catoctin offers dramatic vistas, 25 miles of hiking trails—with the option of back-country camping—and cabin rentals. Plus, you might accidentally stumble onto Camp David, which is in the park (though not open to the public). Artifacts of Catoctin’s history as a charcoal and iron center—as well as farms, sawmills, and an old moonshine still—remain visible.

Cunningham Falls State Park,

14039 Catoctin Hollow Road, Thurmont, (301) 271-7574,

. Cunningham Falls is basically a small outgrowth of Catoctin Mountain Park. But its 78-foot waterfall, the largest in the state, makes it worth the detour. You can also swim, fish, or canoe in the 44-acre Hunting Creek Lake, and a network of trails extends from Cunningham Falls through Catoctin and beyond.

Cylburn Arboretum,

4915 Greenspring Ave., (410) 367-2217,

. Recently reopened after a massive restoration, Cylburn is a revelation for those city residents who’ve never visited. Two and half miles of trails meander through flowering shrubs and trees, green meadows, and a small bog, and past a Victorian mansion. A lovely place for a picnic or a short hike when you’re strapped for time.

Dan's Mountain State Park,

17410 Recreation Area Road, Lonaconing, (301) 722-1480,

. Early settler Daniel Cresap was a hunter who, in hot pursuit of a bear, fell from a tree. A friend dragged him home to safety, and the mountain took his name. These days the park is decidedly domesticated: think picnic tables, pavilions, and an Olympic-size swimming pool with concession stand and bath house. Dan’s Rock Overlook affords a view of that fabled bear country from nearly 3,000 feet.

Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park,

near Hillsboro, W. Va., (304) 653-4254,

. West Virginia’s last significant Civil War battle was fought at Droop Mountain. Here, in 1863, Gen. William Averell’s federal army fought Gen. John Echols’ Confederate troops. After a pitched battle, Echols retreated. By the following spring, the state was firmly federal. The park’s museum tells the story, and eight short trails lead to Horse Heaven Rock, where dead horses were disposed of, past Civil War trenches, and through peaceful forests.

Druid Hill Park,

2600 Madison Ave., (410) 396-0616,


. The city’s first park is home to the Maryland Zoo; the Baltimore Conservatory; a disc-golf course; volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts; football, soccer, and baseball fields; a swimming pool; and miles of eerie back roads that few people, including Rec and Parks employees, frequent. The park is great for biking.


Fort Frederick State Park,

11100 Fort Frederick Road, Big Pool, (301) 842-2155,

. Fort Frederick was Maryland’s frontier defense during the French and Indian War, and it has been restored to its 1758 appearance. Staff and volunteers dress in period gear and demonstrate daily life, including the occasional artillery firing. Boating, fishing, and camping are all permitted here.

Gambrill State Park,

8602 Gambrill Park Road, Frederick, (301) 271-7574,

. A park perched on a ridge in the Catoctin Mountains near Frederick, Gambrill boasts 16 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Because of the rocky, hilly terrain, most are on the challenging side, but three stone overlooks provide panoramic views, no huffing and puffing required.

Garrett State Forest,

1431 Potomac Camp Road, Oakland, (301) 334-2038,

. Maryland’s public system of conservation had its beginnings here, with the 1906 donation by two brothers of nearly 2,000 acres of forest. The park—now some 7,000 acres—harbors red, white, and scarlet oak; black cherry; hickory; white pine; and hemlock among others. Mountain streams and cranberry bogs attract birds and other woodland creatures. Hike one of a number of short trails or visit the evocatively named “Kindness Demonstration Area,” where forest management practices are explained.

Gathland State Park,

900 Arnoldstown Road, Burkittsville, (301) 791-4767,

. Gathland is the former home of Civil War journalist George Alfred Townsend. The main attraction is an unusual stone monument from 1896—designed by Townsend himself, it is dedicated to 157 of his fellow war correspondents and artists. (You can hop on the Appalachian Trail right at its base.) The museum features artifacts from Townsend’s life as well as from the Battle of South Mountain, the first major battle of the Civil War in Maryland.

Green Ridge State Forest,

28700 Headquarters Drive, Flintstone, (301) 478-3124,

. If you plan to hike out to any of Green Ridge’s rustic back-country Adirondack shelters, bear in mind that the forest has the lowest annual precipitation in the state; those creeks on the map just might be dry. (We speak from parched experience.) Otherwise, the state forest makes for a fun visit, with terrain ranging from reclaimed orchards to upland forest. The southern and eastern edges skirt the Potomac River, and opportunities abound for mountain biking, horseback riding, even target practice.

Greenbrier State Park,

21843 National Pike, Boonsboro, (301) 791-4767,

. Greenbrier has all the usual fixins of a state park: camping, hiking, fishing, boat rentals, picnic areas. But it’s the 42-acre man-made lake with its sandy beach and swimming area that draws the crowds. A patch of beach real estate can be hard to come by on weekends, but given the view of the rolling Appalachians and the park’s other amenities—like hot showers—sharing might be worth it. Or come on a weekday.

Gunpowder Falls State Park,

2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville, (410) 592-2897,

. It will take you many visits to exhaust the more than 100 miles of trails within Gunpowder Falls. This long, narrow park includes the 21-mile Torrey C. Brown Trail, a former railroad bed turned awesome biking and hiking trail. Some of the best swimming holes within driving distance can be found in Gunpowder, including Hobo Beach and many an unnamed side-of-the-road pool. Sections of the Falls are great for a day of tubing and the Hammerman Area has windsurfing beaches.

Gwynns Falls Trail, Leakin Park,

(410) 396-0440,

. This trail is one of those unexpected, easily accessible city amenities we sometimes forget to remember. It runs from the I-70 trailhead and generally follows the Gwynns Falls itself down to the Middle Branch and the Inner Harbor. In places the 15-mile paved trail—suitable for biking, rollerblading, or walking—is quiet and forested; in others, you might pass by a softball game or an 18th-century mansion. Information panels along the way relate the history of some of the 30-odd neighborhoods the trail connects.

Herrington Manor State Park,

222 Herrington Lane, Oakland, (301) 334-9180,

. A cozy patch of semi-civilization within Garrett State Forest, Herrington Manor rents out 20 cabins with fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms, and wood-burning fireplaces. Visitors can rent canoes or kayaks to tool around the 53-acre lake, or hike the 10 miles of trails that link up with the adjoining state forest. If you go in late August, stop by the annual apple-butter making demonstration.

Jones Falls,

various spots along the Falls, from Falls Road near Chestnut Avenue in Hampden to the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. Let’s face it, the Jones Falls is far from pristine. Litter and pollutants find their way into its waters, and parts of it lie in perpetual gloom, under the shadow of the Jones Falls Expressway. But the greenway along this section of Falls Road is a boon to bikers and dog-walkers; herons and ducks seem to like it too. The scenic overlook at Round Falls—just across from where the Jones Falls bike trail crosses Falls Road—is a peaceful place for a rest. And now’s the time to enjoy the dilapidated charm of all those former flour and cotton mills, before they’re converted to condos.

Marshy Point Nature Center,

7130 Marshy Point Road, (410) 887-2817,

. This relatively new nature center is located in Marshy Point Park, a network of protected wetlands in a Chesapeake Bay inlet. Visit the butterfly garden or take a guided canoe trip into the coastal forests, marshes, and shallow waters of Dundee and Saltpeter Creeks. And keep an eye out for ospreys, barred owls, and bald eagles. Waterfowl have apparently always been abundant; Babe Ruth reportedly hunted here.

Milford Mill Park and Swim Club,

3900 Milford Mill Road, Windsor Mill, (410) 655-4818. The “Redneck Riviera” of John Waters’ 1990 film


, Milford Mill is a quarry swimming holes in Baltimore County. Johnny Depp doesn’t hang out here anymore but there’s a zip line, numerous rope swings, a volleyball court, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. For a dose of Milford Mill nostalgia—including tales of first kisses, a lifeguard called “the Shark,” and the dangers of “the pully”—check out this Facebook page: “

New Germany State Park,


349 Headquarters Lane, Grantsville, (301) 895-5453,

. Get this: The families that built the dam that created the 13-acre lake in this park had the last names of Swauger, Swatzengruber, and Swartzentruber. In fact, German settlers found the landscape familiar enough to christen it New Germany. The park, which features 10 miles of trails, fishing, swimming, boating, and camping, adjoins the 2,900 foot-tall Big Savage Mountain. Eleven fully-equipped cabins with woodstoves are available for rental.

Oregon Ridge Beach,

13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, (410) 887-1818,

. Oregon Ridge was originally excavated for iron ore in the 1800s, and a company town grew up around the operations; the Oregon Grille restaurant, once the company store, is all that remains. Well, that and the quarry, now filled with clear spring water. Oregon Ridge features a concession stand, a playground, and sand volleyball courts, as well as a groomed sand beach. Averaging about 46 feet deep, the water keeps its cool even in the August heat.

Oregon Ridge Nature Center,

13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, (410) 887-1815,

. The splashing children at Oregon Ridge Beach are sure to scare off any local wildlife. But just down the road, the nature center has live native snakes, fish, amphibians, honeybees, and aquatic turtles. Take a stroll down one of the many short trails—no bikes permitted. The center also hosts half-day canoe excursions exploring local rivers and the bay. And if you’re in the neighborhood at night, try a full moon hike.

Patapsco Valley State Park,

8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, (410) 461-5005,

. This ginormous park extends 32 miles along the Patapsco River, and includes an impressive 170 miles of trails. To access different features—like the gorgeous 1835 stone arch railroad bridge, the swinging bridge, or the Avalon Visitor’s Center—you have to find the proper entrance. It’s well worth the trouble. Patapsco has it all: hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, swimming. Scattered plaques explain the many foundations and other vestiges of milltown life.

Patterson Park,

27 S. Patterson Park Ave., (410) 276-3676,

. Once considered a dangerous place, Patterson Park has come a long way in the last decade or so. A swimming pool, rec center, and stadium for soccer, lacrosse, and football all draw crowds, as do the many music and ethnic festivals held each summer. Patterson is also popular with birds. Many of them, like their human counterparts, come for the Boat Lake, a pleasant oasis with a Victorian feel. For a great city view, visit on a Sunday, when you can climb the spiral stairs inside the 1890 pagoda.

Patuxent River Scenic Trail at Queen Anne,

18405 Queen Anne Road, Upper Marlboro, (301) 627-6074,

. Short and sweet, this trail is 4 miles long, wending past the Patuxent River. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are all above board here. Slow down for the interpretive exhibits and scenic overlooks.

Potomac-Garrett State Forest,

1431 Potomac Camp Road, Oakland, (301) 334-2038,

. The highest point in any Maryland state forest is here: Backbone Mountain, elevation 3,220 feet. You’ll also find the headwaters of the Potomac River, as well as black bears, rainbow trout, fox, and the ubiquitous white-tailed deer. The forest is popular with hunters, and has both a 3-D archery range—come on, anyone can hit a 2-D deer—and a handicapped-accessible hunting area.

Quiet Waters Park,

600 Quiet Waters Park Road, Annapolis, (410) 222-1777,

. Quiet Waters Park, just south of Annapolis, is well-used. The dog park is so popular that an accompanying beach for pups had to be closed due to erosion. But the native plants garden, the formal garden, and the native plant meadow are still hale and hearty. Rotating outdoor sculptures and bike paths round out this giant green space.

Robert E. Lee Park,

entrances off of Lake and Bellona avenues, (410) 396-7931,

. Robert E. Lee, a 415-acre forested park just north of the city, is technically closed until next fall, while it undergoes renovation. But dog walkers and nature enthusiasts have continued to sneak in the back way, from a pull-off a mile or so up the road from the main entrance. (Not that we’re suggesting you do that.) Winding trails lead to lovely streams for wading and, eventually, Lake Roland, passing marshes, a small BMX course, and many a sun-dappled glade.

Rocks State Park,

3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, (410) 557-7994,

. Rocks State’s King and Queen Seat—a massive boulder that rises 190 feet from the creek below—is believed to have been a ceremonial gathering place for the Susquehannock Indians, and after a calf-burning hike to the top, it’s easy to see why. But couch potatoes rejoice! Kilgore Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the state, is much easier to access. The park also includes more than 800 acres of woods and dramatic rock outcroppings, if you’d rather avoid the crowds.

Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool,

6122 Sargent Road, Chillum, (301) 853-9115,

. An indoor water wonderland just south of Silver Spring, this facility offers a heated 20-yard lap pool with a drip slide and lily pad walk (whatever that is), plus a tube slide, a heated whirlpool, an “island play area,” and much more. During the heat of summer, a great place to, er, chillum out.

Rosaryville State Park,

8714 Rosaryville Road, Upper Marlboro, (301) 856-9596

. A 982-acre park southeast of Washington D.C., Rosaryville’s main attraction is the Mount Airy Mansion, one of the oldest in the state connected to the Calvert family. Built in the mid-17th century as a hunting lodge, it originally featured just one 50-foot room with fireplaces at each end (it’s since been expanded). The park has about 10 miles of trails and large pavilions for rental.

Savage River State Forest,

127 Headquarters Lane, Grantsville, (301) 895-5759,

. Savage River is the largest state forest in Maryland, and nearly a quarter of it is made up of designated wildlands. Trails range from enjoyable strolls through rolling meadows to challenging hikes across rocky, uneven terrain. Back-country camping is permitted, as is mountain biking, in certain areas. Forest interpreters offer guided canoe trips, where you might spot grouse, kingfishers, even a mink.

Seneca Creek State Park,

11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, (301) 924-2127,

. The park follows 14-mile-long Seneca Creek as it winds its way to the Potomac River. Rent a boat and bop around Clopper Lake, or explore a restored 19th-century one-room schoolhouse. After a dose of history, send your kids packing to the tire playground or off for a fright in the woods:

The Blair Witch Project


was filmed here.

Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area,

5100 Deer Park Road, Owings Mills, (410) 461-5005,

. The unique grassland and oak savanna ecosystem found at Soldier’s Delight once covered over 100,000 acres in Maryland. This little gem, home to numerous rare, threatened, and endangered plant and insect species, is all that’s left. For this reason, the seven miles of trails are not open to horseback riders or mountain bikers.

South Mountain State Park,

21843 National Pike, Boonsboro, (301) 791-4767,

. South Mountain proceeds in patchy fashion from the Pennsylvania border to the Potomac River, swallowing up a portion of the Appalachian Trail along the way. It has no entrance facility, and most of it is only accessible on foot. But within the park you’ll find impressive vistas, including Black Rock, White Rock, and High Rock.

Swallow Falls State Park,

222 Herrington Lane, Oakland, (301) 387-6938,

. Most visitors to Swallow Falls come to take on the Youghiogheny River, which flows along the park’s borders. It and Muddy Creek are whitewater rivers, with their share of violent rapids, deep pools, swift currents, and other dangers. You’ll want to avoid the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls, for instance. Seriously, people have died here. Be careful.

Youghiogheny Scenic and Wild River,

898 State Park Road, Swanton, (301) 387-5563,

. A tributary of the Monongahela, the Youghiogheny ranges from gentle river to wild beast depending on the section. From Swallow Falls to Hoyes Run, a distance of just four miles, the river drops 280 feet in a series of rapids and falls. But other stretches of the river are popular rafting spots, passing through gorgeous, if more pastoral, landscapes.