This loop hike in Gunpowder Falls State Park (Central Area) takes you for an energizing hike up a heavily forested hillside before finishing with a calming walk alongside the lovely Little Gunpowder Falls river.
Despite ample parking at the trailhead at Belair Road, for about 10 or so cars (depending on how close they park to each other), the parking can fill up quickly on weekends or weekdays after work — it’s a popular mountain biking run and quite a few mountain bikers will pull up after a day in the office to hit the trails.
But there’s good reason this is a popular trail. And don’t be dissuaded by the presence of the mountain bikers — the bikers we encountered pleasantly called out from behind us, and in one or two cases, waited for us to pass by a particularly narrow spot or a muddy area that would have splashed us if they’d passed while we were near it.
To reach the trailhead, you’ll have to follow the path from the parking lot down to the river. Head down the steps from the parking area, then turn left under the bridge carrying Belair Road across Little Gunpowder Falls.
Then head into the woods. You’ll only go 10 to 15 yards, and you’ll turn left onto the orange-blazed Jesse’s Trail, also referred to as the Old Quarry Trail (although the park trail map labels it only as Jesse’s Trail).
|We went on two different days, as the first time we didn’t plan our time well, and got caught in the dark.
The upside to the unexpected night hiking were all the frogs we saw. But the woods can get very dark at night!
Why is it called Jesse’s Trail?
Despite searching on google, and finding some tributes to Jesse Co, a young man who died on October 26, 2014, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters, I couldn’t determine why this trail was chosen to honor him. He evidently enjoyed mountain biking, and there’s a touching memorial to him on the trail. With little evidence of the old quarry still remaining, the trail is referred to as Jesse’s Trail.
The trail starts a gentle incline immediately, paralleling the road (which means there’s a fair amount of traffic noise for the first 20 minutes of the hike) until it winds right again, heading away from the road.
But soon the forest envelops you. The trail isn’t steep, so the incline just serves to get your heart pumping without leaving you breathless; total elevation gain is just around 350 feet.
About 40 min in, there is a fork and no markers, and no orange blazes to be seen. We joked we should return with a spray can to mark a few orange blazes. Bear left to stay on the orange trail.
Sporadically, you’ll see evidence that this land once held small farms, with stone fences and farmers’ stone piles running straight into the distant trees and now rapidly being overtaken by the forest.
You’ll want to wear sturdy hiking boots — the trail is rocky and in places, very filled with trippy tree roots and you’ll want that ankle support. Particularly on the Little Gunpowder Falls Trail, it’s very muddy in spots, especially after some summer thunderstorms rolled through, another good reason to wear sturdy hiking boots.
Established in 1959 to protect the Gunpowder River and the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls, Gunpowder Falls State Park is now one of Maryland’s largest state parks.
Covering more than 18 thousand acres in Harford and Baltimore counties, Gunpowder’s narrow corridors host a varied topography, ranging from tidal wetlands to steep and rugged slopes. This state park also offers a plethora of interesting hikes, with more than 120 miles of multi-use trails.
The Central Area of the park encompasses both the Little and Big Gunpowder Falls and is the oldest part of the park. It is an ideal area for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Getting there: 12825 Belair Road, Kingsville MD.
Hours: Dawn to dusk
|Some sage words of advice before you hit the trail!|