My first hiking experience in Maryland came was a result of unusually warm February weather and the perk of having Martin Luther King Jr Day off (Perks of working for the government). Rocks State Park is an 855 acre area of forested land set aside by the state of Maryland. It was one of Maryland’s first state parks, the state acquiring the land in 1949. Rocks State Park is about 40 minutes north of Baltimore in northern Harford County.
The main area of the park includes 3.5 miles of well marked trails. The main attraction of the park is the King and Queen seat. The King and Queen seat is a rock outcropping that extends 190′ into the air and over looks Deer Creek. Deer Creek is a hot spot in the summer for fishing, tubing, and wading. I didn’t have the issue since it was February, but supposedly the park can fill up quickly and they’ll stop allowing people into the park after a certain number of vehicles.
I parked in a small gravel pull-off after entering the park. After wandering through the woods on a path for a good half mile and then the trail suddenly starts a steep uphill climb. Eventually after a good climb you’ll come to the King and Queen Seat. It’s a pretty wide outcropping, but it can still be a little much if you’re afraid of heights since you’re nearly 20 stories high and looking out over tree tops over the park provide beautiful panoramas of the forest below.
After spending some time at the King and Queen seat you can follow the path down the hill, you’ll come across another parking lot. If you cross the road you’ll come to Deer Creek. There’s a path that runs along Deer Creek. There are some rapids that you’ll come across so if you’re tubing down the creek you’d be better off getting out before coming to this portion.
After hiking BACK up the hill and past King and Queen seat you can continue hiking or find your way back down the hill to the parking area. I had about 60 flights of stairs documented on my Garmin Fitness watch by the time I made the climb up the hill twice. Here‘s a map for those interested.
There are two other portions of Rocks State Park that aren’t directly attached to the rest of the park, Hidden Valley and Falling Branch. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the Hidden Valley area, but I did get to visit Falling Branch which is home to Maryland’s 2nd largest waterfall, Kilgore Falls.
After a 10 minute or so drive, you arrive at the parking area for Kilgore Falls. In the summer Kilgore Falls is packed and with very little parking to contain the demand, most people resort to parking down the road in the field of a couple that lives nearby. Parking there isn’t free though, he charges up to $10 a car to park in his field. My advice is get there early. The hike back to the falls is pretty easy, paths are narrow and aren’t too steep. They are just dirt paths and there’s a small bridge over a creek. The hike forks after a while and if you go right up the hill you’ll come to the top of the falls, left takes you to the bottom of the falls. Either way you go you can make a loop around the falls and reach the bottom or top. The hill you climb down or up after coming to the falls is steep though, so be careful when climbing up or down.
Round trip it’s only about a mile or mile and a half hike and there aren’t many trails that branch off, but if you want to take a refreshing dip under a waterfall in the summer it would be a good place to check out. Again, it does get crowded.
Hidden Valley Nature Area
My day wasn’t finished though, I got an early start and didn’t want to be done. I found another trail about twenty minutes away to check out. It was the Hidden Valley Nature Area, there was a mile long out and back trail. The trail follows along Deer Creek, the same one I had visited earlier at Rocks State Park. Once I reached the end of the trail there was a clearing next to the river, I was taking it in and enjoying the huge bluffs and valley across the river. I wanted to get over there to hike. Now it was warm for February, probably mid-50’s, but it was still February and we all know water, especially moving water, takes longer to warm than the air. I decided I was going to do it, I rolled my jeans up as far as they’d go and carry my shoes/socks across the creek. Now I say creek, a creek in Illinois is generally small, a few feet across and very shallow, but this was more like a river than a creek. It was at least 20′ wide and deceptively deep, the water reaching my mid thigh in the deepest part and soaking my jeans. There’s not much that I’ve worn in my life that’s more uncomfortable than soaking wet jeans, especially when doing something as active as hiking.
After trying to dry them out as much as possible I hiked into the valley, carved out by a little stream running down to the “creek”. It was a pretty area to hike in, but probably not quite worth the soaking wet jeans. I didn’t come across another person in my hike at Hidden Valley, so on my return trip back I decided to lose the jeans entirely as well as find a more shallow place to cross. It took a little more time, but it was worth the trouble.
All in all it was a successful first hiking trip in Maryland, with many more planned.