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The Shared Trails: Mountain biking today

Perimeter Loop at Rosaryville; by Ricky DeLeyos

The notion that the journey should be as important (and as fun!) as the destination is a timeless adage. And one that pretty much defines mountain biking!

Specialized Bicycle Company’s first production mountain bike in 1981, the Stumpjumper, marked the introduction of the sport to a wider audience.

In this publication’s inaugural year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was found balancing a rapid rise in mountain biking popularity with minimal environmental impact. Commitment to both interests paved the way to the successful network of trails detailed ahead.

Where can you ride?
Unless otherwise posted, trails managed by the department are available for all muscle-powered uses: hiking and running, horseback riding, skiing and snowshoeing, and bicycling.

Note there are some important exceptions! For example, the Appalachian Trail is for foot travel only. State-designated Wildlands share federal restrictions on mechanized travel. If you’re unsure of access policies for a specific trail, stop by an area office.

As most of these trails are shared-use, there’s a good chance you will encounter a hiker or equestrian. A general rule of thumb is “hikers yield to horses, bicycles yield to all.” Even better than any rule is to remember everyone is on the trail to have fun, and to just greet your fellow travellers with a smile and a, “Hey!”

The gear
In many ways, going for a ride is much like going for a hike. Remember to bring water and a snack. Wear sensible shoes and clothing, and apply a little bug spray and sunblock. While adults are not required to wear a helmet, it’s always a good idea on a bicycle regardless of riding on road, paved trail or backcountry single-track.

As for your mount itself, bikes have come a long way since that first Stumpjumper! In fact, there is a good chance you’ll walk away dizzy the first time you visit your local bike shop. Front suspension, full suspension or no suspension? 12, 20 or even 30-speed? How many different wheel sizes are there?

But don’t let that discourage you. While a fatter knobby-tire helps beginners, the most important thing you need in order to try mountain biking is a positive attitude and spirit of adventure.

Yellow Trail at Gambrill; photo by Jo Maralit

Specific trails across the state
To let you in on a little secret, you don’t need mountains to go mountain biking!

While it’s too late to change it, a better name would be single-track biking. Flowing along narrow dirt trails and getting in rhythm with the landscape is really what it’s all about—that whole journey thing again. 

So where is some of this single-track?
Western Region

Deep Creek Lake: With an amazing vista over the lake, this park has always offered a good destination at the end of a walk. Now it claims status as one of the best journeys in the state as well! Upon completion of major trail restoration, the new routes offer amazing single-track that may make you forget for a moment the view. Above the campground, Beckman’s Trail on the lower slopes is a great introduction. For more rocks and elevation, extend the loop onto Indian Turnip; going clockwise is the most fun.

Central Region
Fair HillThe former DuPont Estate in Maryland’s northeast corner has long been a favorite destination for hikers and equestrians. No surprise then that mountain bikers flock here too. Staff has made the intricate 80+ miles of trail easy to explore. Each major section features a blazed carriage trail loop: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue. Pick a color and explore its interior trails to create your own adventure.

Patapsco ValleyThe granddaddy for mid-Atlantic mountain bikers, Patapsco is probably the single most popular venue in the state. Regardless of modality, this park has it all—paved trails, quiet walks, short interpretive loops and all-day backcountry single-track adventures. While the Avalon Area may be more renowned, consider making McKeldin your first stop. Well-marked and maintained, these trails are ideal for newcomers. More experienced enthusiasts can hop on the White-blazed Thru Trail.

Seneca CreekThe Schaeffer Farms Area is a cooperative development between the department and Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts. Built by and for mountain bikers, it is especially fun on two wheels. Configured as a stack of loops, Schaeffer’s trails allow first-time and experienced bicyclists alike to have a great time. If you’re looking for a super-sized adventure, research the MoCo Epic.

Perimeter Loop at Rosaryville; photo by Ricky DeLeyos

Southern Region
RosaryvilleBuilding on the success of Schaeffer Farms, the same partnership teamed up again to create the Perimeter Loop at Rosaryville. With some sections feeling akin to a rollercoaster through the forest, it is a great place for intermediates to gain confidence. Be sure to bring water—there is no good shortcut back to the trailhead and one loop is 10 miles!

Eastern Shore
Pocomoke RiverPocomoke has a different personality depending on which side of the river you visit. Shad Landing to the south is more developed and includes the marina and park office. Milburn Landing to the north is quieter and more focused on what nature inherently provides. The trails echo this character. Downstream of the Shad entrance is a series of loops developed from former timber access routes. More rustic and basic, the long-distance Algonquin Trail heads north from Milburn Landing on a 13-mile cross-country adventure. (Please note: Due to the tick population, you may want to avoid this one at the height of summer.)

TuckahoeMuch like Patapsco but on a much smaller scale, Tuckahoe offers a bit of everything. A new, two-mile surfaced trail starts from Adkins Arboretum. If that is too tame, drop into the Tuckahoe Valley Trail passing between the arboretum and Tuckahoe Creek. Too tame still? Go full-monty and do a circumnavigation of the park, crossing Tuckahoe Creek via Pee Wee’s Trail. The outermost loop is approximately 10 miles.

Find more info about these trails and others across the state using the Interactive Trail Atlas.

Lakeside Loop at Rocky Gap; photo by Ricky DeLeyos

Become part of the mountain biking family
The best way to become a better rider is to ride more and ride with others so you can pick up their skills. The following local clubs—all of which partner with the department—offer led-rides and skill building clinics, and host volunteer trail maintenance events.

Eastern Shore International Biking Association
Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts
Southern Maryland Mountain Bikers
Trail Spinners at Fair Hill


Article by Dan Hudson—Maryland Park Service trails manager.
Appears in Vol. 20, No. 2 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, spring 2017.