Patapsco Valley State Park offers outdoor fun

Patapsco Valley State Park features many streams which are perfect for exploring, throughout the park. | U.S. Army photo by Lauren Finnegan, APG News

Park features campsites, family activities and 200 miles of hiking trails

Spread across more than 16,000 acres in Baltimore and Howard counties sits the perfect place for family fun in the great outdoors: Patapsco Valley State Park.

Patapsco, Maryland’s first state park founded in 1907, extends for 32 miles along the Patapsco River and has plenty of opportunities for children and adults to skip rocks, explore nature, and get a little dirty within the five developed recreational areas or while out on one of the trails.

The more than 200 miles of trails range from hikers only to multi-use, which can accommodate horseback riders and mountain bikes. The park is a popular Maryland attraction that often reaches maximum capacity on beautiful spring days and holidays weekends.

The park offers several ways to explore what nature has to offer.

Hiking Trails

The 200 miles of trails winding throughout the park— 70 of which are considered maintained trails— have varying degrees of difficulty making it perfect for more experienced hikers to climb rugged terrain through the hills or for families with small children to stroll the paved paths.

Two children make their way through the tunnel on the Sawmill Branch Trail at Patapsco Valley State Park in Catonsville. The popular attraction, and the first state park in Maryland, was founded in 1907.| U.S. Army photo by Lauren Finnegan, APG News

The most popular trail is the Grist Mill Trail which caters to families with strollers or bicycles. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, “The Grist Mill Trail parallels the river for a mile and a half and provides a close-up view of its scenic beauty, while leading past numerous sites of historic interest.”

Those sights include the well-known swinging bridge, originally used by flour mill workers, and portions of the original route of the B&O Railroad.

For a gorgeous view of waterfalls and rapids, visitors will want to take the Cascade Falls Trail which is an approximate two-mile loop. The area surrounding the falls features shallow areas perfect for kids to splash around and rocks ideal for climbing.

The Sawmill Branch Trail takes visitors boulder hopping over a stream and features scenic pools and glades.


The Hollofield Area of the park has a small campground which can accommodate 73 campsites. All of the sites have a picnic table and fire ring, and some have electric hookups as well.

The Hilton Area includes 12 tent camping sites with no electricity and six single room camper cabins. The cabins feature one full-size bed, bunk beds, heat, and electricity.

The Hilton Area also features a recycled tire playground for ages 5-12 as well as a small nature center which is the meeting spot for many programs such as the Junior Rangers or Little Sprouts to learn more about their surroundings.

Camp Hosts are stationed at each area to offer assistance and provide park information.

Boating, fishing, swimming & more

During warmer weather, visitors can rent tubes from the park’s resource based recreation partner- Terrapin Adventures, and float down the Patapsco River.

Tube rentals costs $20 per person and include a life jacket and map.

Anglers can fish nearly 10 miles of the Patapsco River with two locations stocking trout in the fall and spring. Different species of bass, sunfish, suckers, shad and herring can also be found.

There is even a special area for children under 16, senior citizens and visitors with disabilities, known as Lost Lake.

Swimming is permitted in all areas unless otherwise posted. All locations are unguarded and are swim at your own risk.

Within the McKeldin area of the park, or the northernmost part, sits a nationally known 18-hole disc golf course. Disc golf is a game played like regular golf except a disc replaces the club and the ball. The goal is to use the least number of throws possible to get the disc into the basket. The course is open 9 a.m. to dusk.

Historic Sites

According to the Maryland DNR, “To discover the valley’s past, one must be both a detective and an adventurer… Since most of the valley’s historic structures were destroyed during a number of catastrophic floods, your detective skills will be sharpened as you search for historic ruins.”

Some of the historical sites that await visitors include the former colonial deep water port known as Elkridge Landing, the site of the Civil War fort known as Fort Dix, and Camp Tydings, a Civilian Conservation Corps website.

The Swinging Bridge, an updated version of a prior suspension bridge used by workers of the Orange Grove Flower Mill, is a must see while at the park. The new bridge was built by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and opened to visitors in 2006. | U.S. Army photo by Lauren Finnegan, APG News

The Swinging Bridge, an updated version of a prior suspension bridge used by workers of the Orange Grove Flower Mill, is a must see while at the park. The suspension bridge will wobble in the breeze, but for those brave enough to cross- the views of the Patapsco River and surrounding scenery are breathtaking.

Within an 185-year-old stone house – the lone surviving building of the Avalon Iron Works village – sits the Avalon Visitor History Center. Guests can learn more about the park’s history, as well as visit the small information center inside.

More park information

Patapsco State Park charges a nominal fee per person, which ranges from $2 to $3 for cars with in-state plates, depending on which area of the park is entered and $4 per person with out -of-state plates.

Children in safety seats, senior citizens with the Golden Age Pass, people with the Universal Disability Pass, members of the Maryland National Guard and all active duty military personnel are free.

For more information about Patapsco Valley State Park and other state parks, historical or recreational areas in Maryland, visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website for state-operated parks within Maryland at

By Lauren Finnegan, APG News