Delightful Winter Hike in Soldiers Delight NEA

It was a gorgeous winter day, sunny and a perfect 50 degrees and we decided to go hiking. We live near Soldiers Delight National Environmental Area, also referred to as the Patapsco Barrens, a serpentine barrens located northwest of Baltimore, in the midst of a highly populated suburbia. It is the largest and most diverse of the disappearing serpentine barrens on the East Coast.

It used to stretch some 100,000 acres from the Potomac River all the way up to Pennsylvania. Now, only 1700 acres are undeveloped and protected by the Natural Environmental Area. The barrens is distinguished by the serpentine rock, which 500 million years ago formed the floor of an ancient ocean, that is distinct from the rest of the continental bedrock. Its high magnesium and iron content cause the rock to display unusual shades of greenish brown.

The area also offers 7 miles of hiking trails around its unique landscape. Previously, we’ve hiked the Chaote Mine Trail, but this time we were headed to a trailhead on the other side of Deer Park Road, for the Serpentine Trail, which winds 2.3 miles around the landscape.

As you hike the trail, you’ll experience most of what the serpentine barrens varied landscape: open fields, pine forests, rocky gorges, streams, swamps, and rolling meadows. It is not barren of life, nor of trees. But it is barren of trees that were “timber worthy.”

Soldiers Delight was a popular hunting ground for Native Americans in Maryland. After the European invasion drove the Native Americans from the area, the barrens was heavily mined in the early 1800s for chromite, and the mines there became the dominant suppliers of chromite in the world.

It is now protected as a natural environmental area by the state of Maryland and managed by the Patapsco Valley State Park; more than 39 rare, threatened and endangered species call it home, making the barrens a Maryland jewel as well as an ecologically important area to preserve.

Currently the state is restoring the serpentine grasslands to their pre-colonial status. Controlled burns, tree cutting and girdling, and clearing the land of invasive species have helped return a part of the area to its original condition.

Along the hike we saw many waist-high stumps, of the invasive fir trees that are being cleared out in favor of the original scrub oaks that populated the barrens.

Know before you go: As of Fall 2019, the Visitors Center is closed, pending a multi-year renovation and improvement. The parking lot should be open most of the time, and is a great place to park and pick up the Serpentine Trail.

Getting there: The Visitors Center is located at 5100 Deer Park Road, Owings Mills, MD.

Hours: The trails are open dawn to dusk.

Website: and soldiersdelight.aspx; for a map of trails in Soldiers Delight, click here.

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