Maryland has no natural lakes. Thus, to find a place with several lakes that look completely natural, with many lovely scenes, and walking paths so you can enjoy the scenery, is a wonderful discovery. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Columbia’s lakes throughout the seasons.
If you’re a fan of the new and popular Pokémon Go, these lakes offer multiple Pokéstops and Pokégyms; because the paths wind closely to the water, you’ll also find many, many magikarp.
I’ve lived in Howard County, MD, for more than two decades. It’s the lakes that keep me here. I realized recently that these lakes, which yes, I do take for granted, might themselves be a worthy day trip destination. Like Patapsco Valley State Park, I visit the lakes often, multiple times a month. Early morning and after dinner are my favorite times to visit — inevitably we’ll see herons and Canada geese. At Centennial lake, it’s likely we’ll see deer and fox as well. Columbia’s bike paths connect all the lakes, an example of the genus of James Rouse, founder of Columbia.
In fact, one of my favorite lakes for a morning or evening stroll is Centennial Lake. Located within, and anchoring, a 337-acre park, at 54-acres, this is one of the largest local lakes. Like Columbia’s other lakes, Centennial is man-made, secured by an earthen dam, but it has become home to a variety of wildlife such as white-tailed deer, beavers, foxes, turtles, herons, and other bird species.
As with all the lakes, you can walk, run or bike the 2.6-mile paved pathway that meanders around the lake, and you can rent kayaks or paddle-boats to go out on the lake itself. It’s where I introduced my family to kayaking and had to yell at my youngest who was intent on chasing the Canada geese — by kayak! As with most urban parks, you’re never quite alone. But a walk around the lake will tire out a beagle and help you feel at one with your world again. Multiple pavilions offer sheltered picnicking and grilling, making this one of the most popular destinations in the area. In addition, a simple refreshment stand offers a variety of sandwiches, drinks and ice-creams, with picnic tables where you can enjoy the view of the lake while you dine.
Getting there: 10000 Route 108. Ellicott City, MD 21042
Lake Elkhorn is my favorite of Columbia’s lakes and this is where we’ll head most often, including this morning (tired beagles are happy beagles and even happier owners!). This 37-acre lake was built by the Columbia Association in 1974, and has a watershed of about 2,500 acres. The path around Lake Elkhorn is two miles, and is likewise popular with bicyclists, dog walkers, joggers and runners, and those who simply want to stroll; as you circle the lake, different perspectives of the lake and opposing shore come into view, providing constant interest. Along with the typical song birds, I’ve often seen heron and on several occasions through the years, orioles of the bird variety, not the fans or baseball players.
As with the other lakes, it is stocked with trout each spring, and it’s likely you’ll encounter folks fishing. A convenient boat dock allows for quiet relaxation on the lake, although unfortunately, there are no kayak rentals at this lake. Although homes line the shores, there’s usually a wooded buffer, so for most of the walk it feels as if you’re away from the hustle and bustle of it all, a green oasis in the midst of suburbia.
Getting there: 6800 Cradlerock Way, Columbia, MD 21046
Lake Kittamaqundi, in Columbia Town Center, is a 27-acre man-made lake. Its name, taken from the first recorded Native American settlement in Howard County, means “meeting place.” The lake features a boathouse with a wooden pier and a launching ramp along its western shore. Nomanizan Island, located in Lake Kittamaqundi, can be reached by boat and is a popular gathering spot.
After a nice walk around this lake, visit one of Columbia’s lakeside restaurants for a tasty meal and to watch the boaters out on the water.
Getting there: 10221 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, MD 21044
Where Wilde Lake is now was originally a low-lying meadow of rough grass featuring a small stream, until Columbia’s founder came along and decided that, yeah, the place could use another lake! As with Lake Elkhorn, this lake is created by a dam, which stands 15 feet high and 200 feet wide with the dam face constructed of four poured concrete steps, embedded with logs to achieve a sort of beauty with the cascading water.
Wilde Lake flows downstream into Lake Kittamaqundi. The path around Wilde Lake is 1.46 miles; and ironically, given it’s name, this lake is the least wild of all four lakes — you walk along the lake, next to condos, apartments, townhouses, and single family homes, all well cared for and lovely, with carefully tended landscaping and hanging baskets of flowers. You’re right next to the heart of Columbia, the epitome of suburbia, but you’re walking through a lovely, quiet neighborhood. Such is the genus of James Rouse, founder of Columbia.
Getting there: Parking can be accessed off Hyla Brook Road in The Birches neighborhood off Little Patuxent Parkway.
Hours: Dawn through dusk.
Dogs: Practically mandatory!
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