The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and Harford County's trails are calling your name. This spring, hikers can traverse forests, rocks or paved paths, seeing everything from bald eagles and historic trees to native wildflowers and scenic overlooks along the way.
Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail
One end of this wheelchair-accessible trail is in Susquehanna State Park and takes visitors between the scenic Susquehanna River near Conowingo Dam and Stafford Road at Deer Creek. Many local residents visit this trail to catch a glimpse of the bald eagles that fish along the dam, says Gregory Pizzuto, executive director of Visit Harford. Visitors also flock to the area in spring for its abundant wildflowers.
The picnic area at the Deer Creek end has shaded picnic tables, picnic shelters and a restroom. Extend the hike by adding a one-mile segment that runs along the Susquehanna River and brings hikers out to the trestle bridge at the mouth of Deer Creek.
Where to park: Free lot at Conowingo Dam's Fisherman's Park, 2569 Shures Landing Road, Darlington. State park lot at Deer Creek Picnic Area, off Stafford Road in Susquehanna State Park, Havre de Grace; $2 per in-state vehicle, $4 per out-of-state vehicle.
Split into two sections near Bel Air and Forest Hill, this trail is a favorite for families.
Phil Hosmer, president of the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail Board of Directors, says hikers especially like the trail's stream crossings, boardwalk sections, heavily wooded areas and natural features like the historic bitternut hickory tree — one of the largest on the East Coast — that lives just off the trail near the Harford County Equestrian Center.
Kristen Teeter of Bel Air says the trail's proximity to Forest Hill and Annie's Playground are also big draws.
"I like how you can run as long or as short a distance as you like. You can start and stop at many different locations," she says.
Trail surfaces range from crushed stone to pavement. Harford County has plans to connect its two sections by adding a 2-mile stretch in 2019.
Length: The Bel Air section is about 3.5 miles one way; the Forest Hill section is about 2 miles one way.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Where to park: For the Bel Air section, Heavenly Waters Park, 703 N. Tollgate Road, Bel Air; Williams Street near the intersection with Ellendale Street, Bel Air; and Edgeley Grove Farm/Annie's Playground, 864 Smith Lane, Fallston. For the Forest Hill section, Friends Park, 35 E. Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill; and Blake's Venture Park, 1514 Melrose Lane, Forest Hill.
Blazed in green, this dirt trail in Gunpowder Falls State Park's Sweet Air section runs through a pine forest, and hikers have spotted deer, squirrels, foxes and birds along the way. There are also benches at the beginning of the trail and midway.
The trail runs down to a creek and bridge — a favorite spot among younger children, says Zack Karantonis, a Fallston resident and park volunteer. The hike can easily be extended by adding in parts of the Pine Loop Trail (yellow) the Boundary Trail (blue).
Frequented by rock climbers, this trail leads to the well-known King and Queen Seat, a natural rock outcrop that rises 190 feet above Deer Creek. From the top, catch views of blooming trees, shrubs and flowers below. The trail has about 700 feet of elevation change and plenty of challenging rocky and uneven terrain.
Where to park: Rock Ridge Picnic Area (in the park) off St. Clair Bridge Road, Street. Hike less than a quarter-mile mile on the Red Trail to access the White Trail. Weekends and holidays: $3 per state resident and $5 per out-of-state resident. Weekdays: $2 per in-state vehicle and $4 per out-of-state vehicle.
The single-track, wooded and rocky trail in Rocks State Park takes visitors to the 17-foot high Kilgore Falls — Maryland's second-highest vertical-drop waterfall.
"Some areas, you have to pay attention a little more," Pizzuto says of the trail. "It's challenging, but it's short. And it's just beautiful back there."
Length: About half a mile one way
Where to park: Parking is free but limited to a 28-car lot at 1026 Falling Branch Road, Pylesville. Parking lot opens at 9 a.m. through October. The Department of Natural Resources encourages visitors to carpool and arrive early due to the area's popularity.
On the segment of the trail that runs through Gunpowder Falls State Park between Jerusalem Mill and Bottom Road, hikers enjoy easy stream crossings and wildlife, including herons, hawks and even beavers, according to Sharyn Ashman, an avid hiker from Bel Air. On this trek along the Gunpowder River and the Harford-Baltimore county line, remnants of stone structures appear begin to appear within two miles of Bottom Road, and a side trail leads to a waterfall.
The portion near Jerusalem Mill is especially wooded and moderately hilly, Ashman says.
"At the end of the point-to-point hike, there are restrooms, and you can visit the old mill and the Jericho Road covered bridge about a half mile behind the mill," she says.
Length: About 7 miles one way
Where to park: Park along Guyton Road near the intersection with Bottom Road in Fallston or in a lot at Jerusalem Mill, 2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville.
This dirt trail at Harford Glen Environmental Education Center has some steep hills and water views, as it runs along Winters Run and Atkisson Reservoir. Hikers may spot sparrows, warblers, belted kingfishers and beavers during their trek.
There are four bench rings on the route — one on the west side of Winters Run and three on the east side, says Jillian Lader, spokeswoman for Harford County Public Schools, which owns the center. Hikers will also see the pier along Plumtree Run and Atkisson Dam, although they are not permitted on the dam.
Use caution on the trail: Sections from the Pileated Point bench ring to the 19th-century mansion on the property are falling into the water, Lader says. Hikers should take the Pink Trail as a detour around the meadow and then pick up the Orange Trail again at the pier. The north Winters Run crossing requires hikers to walk through the water, while the south crossing requires hikers to use the shoulder of Singer Road.
Distance: 4.5-mile loop
Where to park: Parking is available behind the dining hall or in the gravel lot by the fishing pond at 502 West Wheel Road, Bel Air.
This Susquehanna State Park trail takes hikers along the western ridge of the Susquehanna River, with some tough climbs that pay off in views. "There's a lot of elevation gain and pretty views of the water," says Dee Ritterpusch of Bel Air, the head of the Susquehanna Outdoor Club.
The trail takes hikers to one of the highest points in the park, says Seth McElroy, a Bel Air resident and member of RASAC, a Harford County running club. "The hill is not named, but we have always called it Mother Mountain, as you climb it twice during the race we have there each March."
Hikers can add distance to their hikes by branching off onto the Farm Road or Ivy Branch trails.
Distance: 3 miles one way
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Where to park: Parking lots at the Deer Creek Picnic Area off Stafford Road and at the intersection of Stafford Road and Lapidum Road, both in Susquehanna State Park, Havre de Grace. State park day use charges apply: $2 per in-state vehicle, $4 per out-of-state vehicle.