It seems the only times I think to go hiking in Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area, a part of the Patapsco Valley State Park, is in the winter. And winter is a great time to hike there -- it's sunny and bright and really beautiful in the colder months; just walking there will lift your winter-weary spirits. But recently, we were looking for something to do, and decided to head there at the end of summer, in mid-September, to hike the Serpentine Loop Trail.
And it was, as expected, just as lovely as being there in the winter.
You'll find 7 miles of hiking trails around Soldiers Delight. One of my favorite trails is the Chaote Mine Trail, which takes hikers to the ruins of several of the chrome mines that made the area quite profitable through the 1800s and early 1900s.
Soldiers Delight is unusual for Maryland -- it's not the deciduous forest, dominated by broad-leaf hardwoods such as oaks, maples, and tulip poplars. It's actually more like prairie, with a variety of grasses and stunted trees.
Soldiers Delight's is a land that is stony, unfertile and sparsely vegetated -- due to the underlying serpentine rock that dominates the area and which is the reason that the term "serpentine barren" is used to describe areas like Soldiers Delight. Typical trees you'll see in Soldiers Delight are several varieties of oak (black, blackjack, and post), black gum, sweet birch, wild cherry, and American hornbeam.
The hiking trails that crisscross Soldiers Delight are dog-friendly, but bikes and horses are not welcome there, due to the fragility of this rare space. Hikers are encouraged to strictly stay on the trails.
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."
Know before you go: If you go hiking during hunting season (October - December), then wear bright orange, yellow or red items, so hunters can see you and NOT shoot. Likewise, clothe your pooch similarly, so s/he can also safely enjoy your hike.
Getting there: 5100 Deer Park Rd, Owings Mills, MD 21117
Hours: Dawn through dusk
Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/NaturalAreas/Central/Soldiers-Delight.aspx; for a map of trails in Soldiers Delight, click here.