Trail Paradise in Northern Maryland
My favorite place in northern MD, Susquehanna State Park is a local gem featuring a healthy mix of rolling hills, rocky cliffs, and river views. This park is well known to locals for all the outdoor activities it features and it deserves some air time on my blog as it has been my main running haunt for the better part of four years. This is one of the rare parks where there’s something for everyone. Fishermen can constantly be seen casting their lines on the shore of the Susquehanna River, the main tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. Boaters have their choice of launches, one on the western tip of the park, another in the middle for small craft, and a larger dock for the most luxurious river yachts at the far East side. Most importantly for me, there’s a vast network of trails that supported the bulk of my ultra marathon preparation along with the long runs for half marathons of years past. This place is truly a treat explore and I hope you’ll be inspired to visit it if you’re ever in the area!
The Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenways Trail is the main feature of the park and what originally drew me to start running here. This section of trail is a 2.2 mile straightaway starting at the Conowingo Dam Fisherman’s Park parking lot and continues towards the mouth of Deer Creek, a fresh water creek that is ideally located for wading during sweltering summer jaunts. When I run this trail I usually pair it with the “unimproved” 1 mile section of trail that branches off to the left (running East bound) and winds along the bank of the river. This eventually runs into an old rail road trestle to cross Deer Creek where you can occasionally spot Carp, Walleye, and even the occasional beaver! Once at the trestle, you have two choices, either continue to parallel the river and head further East towards a couple historic structures or turn towards the hills and explore the Susquehanna Ridge Trail. A word of warning about parking at the Conowingo Dam Fisherman’s Park, a large kettle (I learned this term while writing this) of vultures resides here preying on the remains of fish dropped by numerous bald eagles as well as the trash that bird watchers accidentally leave laying around. These vultures have gone so far as to eat plastic off of my car in the past and can frequently be spotted doing the same to any unfortunate vehicle that is parked too far away from the dam. You have been warned.
A highly populated part of the park and where most people start their Susq adventure is the historic grist mill and Carter-Archer house. These two structures date to the late 1700s and early 1800s respectively and are well worth a visit and look around as they are remarkably well preserved. The three story mill possesses a working water wheel and grind stone that are used in ranger led demonstrations during the spring and summer to show how corn was processed before being shipped around America and the world. Carter-Archer house also has a colorful history; the home of the Carter-Archer family who were partners in the mill’s operation, the estate provides an incredible view into what a privileged family would have lived like in the early 1800s. Furthermore, the house’s most famous resident, Brigadier General James J. Archer, was the first Confederate general captured from Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the battle of Gettysburg. With Maryland being a border state between the north and south, it is fascinating to witness the history and rift that was present in our country around the civil war. The historic area in Susquehanna State Park will satisfy even the biggest history buff if they visit when the buildings are open and the demonstrations are running.
The final spot in the park I want to mention in this blog post and also my current favorite running location is the Susquehanna Ridge Trail. This section of trail is actually a fairly recent find for me and I can’t do it justice with words alone. I found this part of the park while training for my ultramarathon this past fall. I was tired of running the “same old flat trail by the river” every weekend for months so I decided to explore more of the park to break up the monotony. In doing so, I discovered a vast network of trails that run along the ridge of the river valley and through the fields of the park that are blissfully hidden from view by the forest. These trails can be rugged and steep and are the absolute best way to ensure you see very few people during your visit to the park. If you want to see what rural northern Maryland can be in it’s rawest form, hike this network of trails and you will not be disappointed.
More information about the park can be found here! See you on the trails!