Monday, May 27, 2013

Rocks State Park

King and Queen Seat
3.8 miles loop, 700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

Hikers in the Baltimore area who don't want to drive out to Catoctin or South Mountain to go hiking can find a spot closer to home: Rocks State Park. This park sits in a particularly dramatic part of the Maryland Piedmont, in Harford County just miles from the Pennsylvania border. The trail I will describe is a loop hike that uses the White, Green, and Blue Trails in the state park. Driving time from Baltimore is less than an hour.

I headed out from Baltimore on an early May morning, leaving I-695 near Towson at Rte. 146, Dulaney Valley Road. I took Dulaney Valley Road north past the turnoff for Hampton National Historic Site (an interesting place to visit!) north past the bridge over Loch Raven Reservoir. After crossing the reservoir, I turned left to stay on Rte. 146, which turned into Jarrettsville Pike. I continued north on Jarrettsville Pike for about 15 minutes until reaching Rte. 23, Norrisville Road. I turned right at Norrisville Road and drove through Jarrettsville, staying straight at the principal intersection to get onto West Jarrettsville Road. I followed this road for 5 minutes until it started it making a big bend to the right; here, I turned left onto Old Federal Hill Road. I soon reached and turned right onto Chrome Hill Road, from which I had good views of pretty Maryland countryside. A few minutes later, I came to Rocks Chrome Road; I turned left onto this road, which dropped quickly downhill. At the end of the downhill, I turned left into the park headquarters for Rocks State Park.

I parked at the park headquarters and picked up a map there and began my hike. From the parking lot, the White Trail goes east to a second parking area before heading away from the road. Very soon past the second parking lot, there was a fork in the White Trail; I followed the right fork, which ascended a little over 200 feet in less than half a mile to gain the ridgeline of Rocks Ridge. The early spring forest was vibrantly green here.

White Trail ascending Rocks Ridge
Along the way, there was a bench at which tired hikers could take a break.

Once atop the ridge, the White Trail intersected the Red Trail. Here, I took the spur trail to the right, which led briefly downhill and out onto King and Queen Seat. King and Queen Seat form the namesake rocks of the park. This set of rocks towers above a water gap carved by Deer Creek. Unfortunately, King and Queen Seat (like Humpback Rocks near Charlottesville; and any set of road-accessible rocks) is a little too accessible, so graffiti decorated much of the rocks. However, they still formed an impressive natural sight. From atop the rocks, I had a decent view of the Harford County countryside and of the steep cliffs on the other side of the water gap. The rocks were apparently a ceremonial site for the Susquehannock who once lived in the area.

King and Queen Seat
I wasn't able to find a geologist on site during my trip, which was very unfortunate as the geology of the area seemed fascinating. Harford County is tens of miles away from the Blue Ridge anticlinorium- yet here, in the middle of the Maryland Piedmont, was a sharp and long ridge that seemed more reminiscent of the topography found in the Valley and Ridge. The rocks in the area were metamorphic- possibly some form of metasedimentary rock. Deer Creek must be quite an old creek: as it has sliced a water gap through Rocks Ridge, it likely predates the age of the ridge itself. If anyone is particularly familiar with the geology of this area, please let me know more about it!

From King and Queen seat, I continued counterclockwise on the White Trail. The trail descended briefly, passing a junction with the Purple Trail, which led down to the Deer Creek Rapids, before settling onto a northward extension of Rocks Ridge. This ridge was very enjoyable to hike: along the ridgeline, I found many bushes of mountain laurel, not yet blooming, and many wild azaleas, already blooming.

Wild azaleas on the White Trail
After continuing on about three-quarters of a mile from King and Queen Seat, I took a side trip down the Green Trail, which went past the site of a former iron works site to the Wilson Picnic area. The trail ended at the St. Clair Bridge Road; I walked through the picnic grounds to the side of Deer Creek, a minor river that was quite scenic. At the far east end of the picnic area, I could see an interestingly shaped truss bridge over Deer Creek.

Bridge over Deer  Creek at the end of the Green Trail
After hanging out around the picnic grounds for a short rest, I returned on the Green Trail to the White Trail. Here, the trail was mostly level for a while, only climbing occasionally; mountain laurel, a few weeks before blooming, crowded much of the area around the trail. At times the trail was rocky. The trail maintained some distance from Deer Creek, moving gradually further away. At one point, the trail passed a former charcoal kiln. Eventually, the trail climbed a bit and crossed a road leading up to Rocks Ridge. Past the road, the trail became very rocky; it was not surprising that this park was named Rocks. About 2 miles into the hike, the trail intersected the Blue Trail. I took the Blue Trail, which descended for about 0.3 miles before coming to a nature loop. This was a very enjoyable part of the hike: a number of interpretative nature signs were scattered along the loop. The signs pointed out and explained ferns, black walnut trees, skunk cabbage, and mountain laurel; they also highlighted some human artifacts left over from pre-park agriculture around Rocks Ridge. Along the loop, I crossed the a small stream running through that valley twice on wooden bridges.

Human artifacts along the Blue Trail nature loop
After looping around, I hiked back up the Blue Trail to the White Trail. From this junction, the White Trail made a long switchback up to the top of Rocks Ridge. The hiking here was not more than moderately difficult; the climb was fairly gentle. Atop the ridge, the White Trail intersected with the Red Trail; from there, I followed the White Trail a little over half a mile back to the original trail junction and back to the parking area at Park Headquarters. During the final descent, I saw deer, the only notable wildlife on the hike.

I'll end this post by commenting on two other areas in Rocks State Park that I visited after completing this loop. My first stop was at Deer Creek Rapids, which was very close by to the visitor center: to get to it, I continued on Rocks Chrome Rd. to Rocks Road (Rt. 24), which I took north to a roadside parking area. From there, I followed a short path down to the rapids, which were quite impressive.

Rapids on Deer Creek
The last spot that I visited was about 10 minutes north of the main area of the park on Rt. 24- the Falling Branch area. To get there, I took Rt. 24 t St. Mary's Rd., turned left onto St. Mary's, and very soon afterward turned right onto Falling Branch Road. After getting on Falling Branch Rd, I soon came to a parking area for the Falling Branch area of Rocks State Park. From the parking area, I took a trail that led a fifth of a mile to Kilgore Falls, which at 19 feet tall is apparently the second tallest single-drop waterfall in Maryland. Kilgore Falls was very pretty, so I spent some time here enjoying the scenery before heading back. Once again, I was puzzled by the presence of a waterfall here- Piedmont waterfalls are usually limited to just being rapids near the fall line. But this was a pleasant surprise! Baltimore, it seems, has much more beautiful natural scenery and good hiking near it than I had previously imagined.

Kilgore Falls

1 comment:

  1. You've found a very pretty place close to Baltimore. I hope a lot of people decide to explore this area.