The hike we'd picked out was loop in the Sweet Air Area of the Gunpowder Falls State Park, following first the Little Gunpowder Trail, marked in white blazes, and then a yellow-blazed trail, picking up a red-blazed trail, and ending with a portion of the yellow-blazed Barley Pond Loop trail.
The trails within the Sweet Air Area of the park are well marked and easy to navigate. There was no mysterious branch offs (even the horse detours were well labeled) and there was no needing to guess which trail to take or which way to go. At both ends of the loop, there were multiple signs pointing the way back to the parking area. I like a park that doesn't let you get lost!
Gunpowder Falls State Park is formed out of six non-contiguous areas covering more than 18,000 acres in northeastern Baltimore County and western Harford County in Central Maryland. Also like its sister park, Patapsco Valley State Park, it follows a river -- the Gunpowder River and the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls.
The Gunpowder River is a 6.8-mile-long tidal inlet on the western side of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, United States. It is formed by the joining of two freshwater rivers, Big Gunpowder Falls and Little Gunpowder Falls.
Gunpowder Falls State Park’s narrow corridors host a varied topography, ranging from tidal wetlands to steep and rugged slopes. Within the state park, more than 120 miles of multi-use trails bring hikers through protected state wildlands and to historic sites. Also within this park are fishing, kayaking, canoeing, a swimming beach and marina.
We believe the loop was approximately three miles, with just shy of 300 foot elevation gain, more or less. The uphill portions were nothing that would leave you breathless, just get the heart pumping!
As you pick up the trail from the parking lot, you soon find yourself walking through a corn field, but it soon turns left into heavily shaded woods.
It's then you find yourself gradually headed down hill through the mature forest, toward the Little Gunpowder. In time, you come to the river itself, and the trail follows it along as it meanders for a bit, carrying you through the bog swamp lowlands along the river. Numerous board walks and bridges help keep you dry, although wearing water proof hiking boots will ensure your comfort.
Except for some of the (briefly) steeper uphill or downhill portions, for the most part the trail was easy to navigate, not very rocky. This is not an ankle twister trail.
We startled a bald eagle, earning us a lovely view of its back side as it flew away, its brown body and gleaming white tail feathers a give away. We anxiously looked for it along the trail as we progressed, scanning the trees, but without luck.
There seems to be a huge population of cardinals in the Sweet Air area, as we saw numerous cardinals cavorting around the trees along the river as well as the corn fields. In addition to these, indigo buntings, blue birds, hawks, and wood peckers are common to the area.
Sweet Air is popular with horse riders, and even if you don't encounter them along the trail, you'll see plentiful evidence of their having riden along the trail, another reason why having hiking boots made the experience more comfortable than hiking sandals or sneakers.
Despite the horse poop, though, the trail was worth exploring and was overall very pleasant and refreshing, even on a Maryland hot and humid summer day. Brief exposures to the sun as you navigate around the edges of corn fields only emphasize the coolness and protection offered by the shaded forest.
Hours: dawn through dusk
Getting there: the trail head is located at a parking lot (ample spots) off an unpaved road just off of Dalton Bevard Road in Marshall, MD. You can GPS it on WAZE by simply typing in Dalton Bevard Road, and once there, continuing until you see a park entrance on the right, about 2/10ths of a mile after turning onto Dalton Bevard Road.