5 Best Mountain Bike Rides in Maryland
Nicknamed the “Free State” (among other nicknames), Maryland is a state situated in America’s Mid-Atlantic region—a location that makes the state a true haven for mountain biking enthusiasts.
Maryland shares borders with Washington D.C., West Virginia and Virginia to its west and south; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east—a landlocked state with the feel of a true coastal community. In terms of total area Maryland is one of the smallest US states, but with a population topping 6 million residents as of the last census, it is also one of the most-densely populated states in America. Despite its small size, Maryland still offers plenty of great mountain biking courses for riders of every ability level.
Maryland boasts a variety of different and distinct terrains within its borders, so many that the state is often referred to by the nickname “America in Miniature.” From sandy dunes in the east, to low marshlands near the Chesapeake Bay, to the rolling hills of its oak forests in the Piedmont region of the state, Maryland offers a variety of unique mountain biking tracks on an assortment of different terrains.
To illustrate this point, below we have featured five of the state’s most popular and well-ridden mountain biking trails, and provided a brief description of each course.
Western Maryland Rail Trail
Beginning in the town of Big Pool, the Western Maryland Rail Trail is a paved, beginner-rated course spanning roughly 23 miles in length. The trail runs from the city of Big Pool to the southern slope of Sideling Hill, and is one of the more popular and well-loved courses in the western part of the state.
While the train is still a great way to get from Point A to Point B, the truth is there are just not as many rail cars operating today as in years past. However, the loss of many of these rail tracks of old has become the mountain biker’s gain, as many of these old tracks have now been paved over to create courses such as the Western Maryland Rail Trail.
This particular route runs along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, enabling riders to see some of the untouched beauty of the state—terrain that was virtually unexplored prior to the construction of this popular trail.
The Western Maryland Rail Trail is just one of the many great rail courses in the state of Maryland, all of which feature a paved, double track design and only a few obstacles, especially as compared to some of the state’s more forested, off-road routes.
Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour
Located in the quaint town of Catonsville, Maryland, the Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour system of trails consist of 14 miles of exciting track that is rated “intermediate” in terms of its level of difficulty.
A superb course, designed exclusively for the sport of mountain biking, the Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour is the most well-loved course in Montgomery County. Featuring a rolling single track terrain, with a good share of rocks and roots to keep riders constantly aware of their surroundings, this gorgeous trail system is the perfect solution for those looking to get some fresh-air exercise and master their bike handling skills. Although the course can get mildly crowded on weekends and holidays, the Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour accommodates a large capacity of riders.
As riders begin the Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour, the best route to take is an immediate left from the parking lot, which begins the portion of the course known as “White Loop.” From here, cyclists can connect with the Seneca Ridge Trail, which takes them out—and back into—this very scenic park. Also off of the White Loop is the Seneca Connector, a brand-new, one-direction route designed for advanced to expert riders—a course that offers some major “g-outs” and a bevy of opportunities for catching “big air.”
Originally offered as an alternative to the main loop at Seneca Creek State Park, the Schaeffer Farms Grand Tour has morphed into the main trail network in Montgomery County. The course additionally hosts the “MoCo Epic Race,” an IMBA sponsored race since its inception in 2010.
Rockburn Skills Park
Situated in the town of Elkridge, Maryland, the one-mile Rockburn Skills Park is now one of the most popular destinations for mountain bikers hailing from the Baltimore (Maryland)/Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
The development of the Rockburn Skills Park was a collaborative effort: the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (the local IMBA chapter out of Howard County, Maryland), as well as the group known as the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Trail Solutions, created both public and private partnerships with sponsors such as REI, Clif Bar, Diamond Back, Columbia and local businesses to ensure the successful completion of this mountain biking paradise.
Rockburn Skills Park features an exciting, 5,000-square-foot pump track with a low risk circuit that is ideal for perfecting a wide range of mountain biking skills. Among other aspects, the track includes berms and rock drops; a flow trail that incorporates small to medium-sized rollers; a downhill section loaded with technical log and rock features; a steep, rock-covered climbing trail; and a gentle, ascending return trail that brings riders back to the starting point of the course.
Collectively, the characteristics of the Rockburn Skills Park, which opened in June of 2012, are designed to resemble those found on the Appalachian Mountain trails, preparing riders for some of the most advanced courses in the state and nationwide.
Rosaryville State Park
Rosaryville State Park, which occupies a large footprint in the shadows of Andrews Air Force Base (home to Air Force One), is located in the town of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, part of Prince George’s County and just west of Washington D.C., the nation’s capital. In total, the park offers just over 11 miles of well-groomed single track trails that climb to roughly 800 feet at their highest point, although, according to locals, its “jagged elevation profile appears much worse than it actually is.
At roughly 1,000 acres, Rosaryville State Park hosts two distinct trails: a perimeter or outside loop, and a shorter inner loop that cuts into the southern end of the park. Both of these awesome trails offer riders plenty of twisty turns and downhill thrills.
The perimeter trail at Rosaryville State Park measures roughly 9 miles in total distance, while the inner loop covers an additional two miles. Both of these fun, obstacle-laden courses are extremely well-marked, making it simple to switch between trails at a variety of points along the track.
Riders who start the course at the northern end of the park, riding in a clockwise direction (the preferred direction) will immediately encounter a rapid descent before the route heads upwards for a good quarter mile. From there, cyclists will again need to tackle a quick drop-off, and the remaining five miles or so generally follow a similar pattern.
The majority of the hills at Rosaryville State Park are far from steep, averaging just 30-50 feet above sea level.
To reach Rosaryville State Park, drivers should take Route 4 to the 223 south, exiting at Marlboro Park, and traveling to South Osborne Road. The parking area, while vast, requires a small per-car fee of $5.
Gambrill State Park
Located in the city of Frederick, Maryland in the county of the same name, Gambrill State Park is renowned throughout the state for its multi-use trails—used for hiking, horseback riding and, of course, mountain biking.
A gorgeous, mountainous park, located on the ridge of the Catoctin Mountains, Gambrill State Park is fairly evenly divided into two distinct areas: the Rock Run region and the High Knob area. From the High Knob course, which stretches to 1,600 feet above sea level, there are three breathtaking overlooks that offer scenic panoramas of the Frederick and Middletown Valleys, as well as the northern portions of the Shenandoah Mountains. When riding through the picturesque High Knob area, riders will be tested by a series of semi-difficult hills and a host of well-placed obstacles. Cyclists will also find plenty of places in which to rest and enjoy the scenery, including a wooded picnic area, three picnic shelters and a large stone lodge, known as the Tea Room.
In addition to the many challenging impediments and fast riding it offers, the Rock Run area also offers a cozy, family-oriented campground, full restrooms and a small pond for fishing.
Because the trails system at Gambrill State Park also accommodates hikers, riders are urged to be wary of these travelers and to keep firm control of their bikes at all times.