These local trails in Maryland are perfect for family hiking.
By Joyce Heid
Hiking is a wonderful opportunity for families to take a break from the daily grind, get away from the television and video games and enjoy one another’s company in the great outdoors. As summer draws to and end, and temperatures begin to drop, family hikers around the Chesapeake area are lacing up their shoes and filling up their backpacks. There are many Maryland trails that beckon with the twin promises of wildlife sightings and historical tales and are easy for kids to complete. The two we’ve profiled in this article are among our all-time favorites for families with kids in Maryland.
Baltimore & Annapolis Trail
The B&A Trail is 14 miles long and extends from Jonas Green Park in Annapolis to Dorsey Road in Glen Burnie. Did you know that one-third of the 400,000 people in Anne Arundel County live within a mile of the trail? There is no admission fee and the trail is open year round from dawn to dusk.
The trail’s 10-foot-wide paved surface welcomes bicycles, wagons, in-line skates and strollers. There is only a two-percent grade — no big hills to contend with — so pushing a stroller or pulling a bike trailer with two kids in tow shouldn’t be a problem. It’s also wheelchair accessible.
Along the path, there are many historical structures for kids to spot. The popular trail travels along the route of the old B&A Short Line Railroad, which was built to connect Annapolis with Baltimore. Electric power houses, switch boxes and the Severna Park Station, complete with railroad crossing signs, will delight the train enthusiasts in your family.
As the trail passes through communities, you’ll see wetlands and meadows. These natural habitats are home to squirrels, deer, herons and other native wildlife. More than 80 flower beds are maintained by trail volunteers.
If you follow the trail the Dorsey Road, it connects with the BWI Trail. The Thomas A. Dixon Observation Lot on the BWI Trail is a great place to watch planes take off and land. Pack a picnic and plan to linger at the children’s playground.
Restrooms are located at the Earleigh Heights Ranger Station, which is open from 7 a.m. to dusk. Portable toilets are available at the Jonas Green Park. There are seven water fountains along the trail, but it’s still a good idea to pack your own water. Groupings of picnic tables are also interspersed along the trail. Public parking is available at the Glen Burnie Parking Garage on Crain Highway, the Severna Park Park and Ride on Ritchie Highway, the Earleigh Heights Ranger Station in Severna Park and in Annapolis at MD 450 and Boulters Way.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
C&O Canal National Historical Park (Great Falls Tavern area)
The C&O Canal follows the Potomac River for 184.5 miles from Washington, CD to Cumberland, Maryland. The Canal was used from 1828 until 1924 as a transportation route to haul coal from western Maryland to Washington. Today, most of the canal has been drained, and hikers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts travel the trail and towpath, where the water once flowed.
The main trail and towpath are fairly flat and friendly to hiking families. Along the canal, visitors will find lock houses, aqueducts and a variety of trailheads that loop off the main canal.
The most popular of these trail loops — the Billy Goat Trails — are accessible from the Great Falls Tavern area of the park in Potomac, Maryland. Detailed maps and descriptions of trails are available on the park’s website. Some sections are extremely challenging and are suitable for experienced hikers only. We strongly recommend that you visit the website and research the trails before you plan your visit.
This section of the park is also home to the park’s resident mules. When the canal was still used for transportation, mules were used to pull boats through the canal. Today, the park service maintains a stable of mules for historical canal boat demonstrations during the spring, summer and fall. The mules love visitors. During the off-season the mules vacation at the George Washington Estate in Mount Vernon. For a demonstration schedule contact the park office.
There is an entrance fee of $4 per car or $3 for a cyclist or walker, good for three days. Bathrooms are located in the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center, which is open from 9am to 4:45pm year round.
Chesapeake Family serves parents and families in Annapolis, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Calvert counties as well as Baltimore, Bowie and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Joyce Heid is a freelance writer who lives in Pasadena.