Runners' top 12 trails

Get off the road and into the great outdoors on one of these favorite scenic routes

  • Wyman Park-Stoney Run trail between Meadow and West Cold Spring is a nice respite from city streets.
Wyman Park-Stoney Run trail between Meadow and West Cold Spring… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
August 30, 2012|By Kit Waskom Pollard | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Do you feel the nip in the air?

Runners do. For them, the advent of fall means more than changing leaves and back to school. Cooler weather and coming races (the Baltimore Running Festival is October 13) make autumn the ideal time to run in the great outdoors.

Baltimore is full of places to run, from stately neighborhoods to waterside paths. But for some runners, nothing beats the off-road experience.

"Even if you start off easy, it's fun to explore," says Chris Cucuzella, a member of the Baltimore Road Runners Club, a trail running group.

Here, 12 great trails endorsed by the enthusiastic members of local running clubs.

Gunpowder Falls State ParkSweet Air and Central Area Trails

Location: Northern Baltimore and southern Harford counties

Where to park: For the Sweet Air trails, park in a lot along the Little Gunpowder in Harford County. For the Central Area trails, the most accessible lot is off U.S. 1 near the Gunpowder Lodge.

Length of run: Both sections of the park have numerous routes, which can vary from short runs to more than 15 miles.

Trail characteristics: The Gunpowder trails are often shady and provide views of the water. Part of the Sweet Air trail goes through a shallow section of the Little Gunpowder River. Runners should expect to get their feet wet, according Chris Cucuzella, who says, "It's midshin deep, but not high-adventure epic."

Why runners like it: The setting is "worth driving a few more minutes," says Cucuzella. Plus, well-marked trails make for easy planning.

More information: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/gunpowder.asp

Gunpowder Falls State ParkTorrey C. Brown Trail, aka the Northern Central Railroad (NCR) Trail

Location: Northern Baltimore County

Where to park: There are eight parking lots along the trail; John Roemer of the Baltimore Road Runners Club says he prefers the Paper Mill Road lot.

Length of run: The trail's Maryland portion is 20 miles.

Trail characteristics: The NCR trail is about 10 feet wide, flat and mostly shady, with a crushed-stone surface. It runs along the original path of the Northern Central Railroad into Pennsylvania, where the railroad's tracks still exist in spots. It is busier than some trails in the region; runners share the space with bikers, hikers and even horseback riders. According to Roemer, the trail is busier south of Sparks.

Why runners like it: Roemer says he likes running the NCR trail because of its many amenities (including bathrooms and drinking water) and because it is "scenic, safe, well-marked and cool in summer."

More information: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/greenways/ncrt_trail.html or http://www.ncrtrailsnails.com/

Druid Lake Park, Jones Falls Trail

Location: Northern Baltimore City

Where to park: Near the Woodberry light rail station, where the Jones Falls Trail enters the park (3465 Seneca Ave.) or near Penn Station (1515 N. Charles St.).

Length of run: The trail is 4.25 miles long, extending from Penn Station to Clipper Mill.

Trail characteristics: Park trails are paved and offer a variety of views, from wooded areas to the downtown skyline. The trail runs for almost three miles within the park, including a 1.5-mile loop around Druid Lake. Be warned, though: Druid Hill Park gets busy, so watch out for the dogs and kids.

Why runners like it: "It's like a rural experience in the middle of the city," says Roemer of the Baltimore Road Runners Club.

More information: bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/Facilities/JonesFallsTrail.aspx

Loch Raven Reservoir

Location: Baltimore County

Where to park: Pull-off area at the intersection of Dulaney Valley Road and Seminary Avenue.

Length of run: Between two and 10 miles on the main path; side paths add more mileage

Trail characteristics: Often hilly, with a rocky path, Loch Raven's trails are sometimes rough, but they come with shade and, in places, a great view of the reservoir. Loch Raven has some wide paths, for those who run in groups, and some narrower, more secluded options for the solitary runner.

Why runners like it: According to Cucuzella, "there are really cool views," that change with the seasons. "In the winter, you can climb on a ridge and look down over the reservoir. But in the summer, the shade is worth the lack of view."

More information: http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/environment/watersheds/lrmain.html

MA & PA Heritage Trail

Location: Harford County

Where to park: At the intersection of Williams and West Ellendale streets in Bel Air or at Annie's Playground in Edgeley Grove Park, 864 Smith Lane, Fallston.

Length of run: From the trailhead at Williams Street and back is about 4 miles; Williams Street to Annie's Playground and back is about 8 miles.

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