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Freeland, Maryland

Hike Hemlock Gorge

3.5 Miles Total - 300 ft gain - Loop Trail

Originally added by Peter Hoblitzell

These enchanting woods are not only surprisingly beautiful but also a part of a globally threatened ecosystem. This is the closest thing to old-growth forest that you're likely to find within an hour of Baltimore. 

This is one of Baltimore's little known gems. The area contains an ecosystem which is essentially non-existent outside of the Appalachian mountain regions. It has also been seemingly under-appreciated and abused by locals. I am trusting that the Outbound Collective community will do its part to enjoy and appreciate this spot. I also hope that members of the community will do their part to leave a better trace if they choose to explore it. With that in mind, read on, and please enjoy!

Perhaps the most challenging element of this hike is finding it if you've never been before. The pin associated with this adventure is a pull-off on the side of the road opposite the trailhead. The area is notorious for bad cell service so it would be wise to study and screenshot the map before you embark. The local access roads are paved, but not well maintained and somewhat challenging to drive on in spots. Parking is very limited so if you're hiking on the weekend plan to arrive early. 

The trailhead is not marked but is visible as a clearing in the vegetation and a worn path into the forest opposite the parking. The initial .25 miles gets into some moderate elevation gain. When at the top of the hill the trail passes a cemetery, it's worth checking out if you're into local history! Stay straight past the cemetery to continue down the hill and over the first stream crossing. Follow the fire-road trail as it gets into some more serious elevation gain up the other side of the gorge. This is where the hike becomes really special. At about the same time you'll come within earshot of the Gunpowder river, watch as the forest transitions into a dense old-growth hemlock stand. This specific type of tree is unique to old, minimally disturbed forests and has dramatic effects on local climate and soil hydrology. 

Follow the trail down the slope and over the next stream. From here the vegetation is beyond dense in the summer months and the trail is less than single-track. Fine thorns are abundant and somewhat bothersome, but tolerable. The trail will put you out at a point which overlooks a wide section of the river. From here it's a sharp right turn to cross the stream again (I almost always get wet on this one). Another gauntlet of mile-a-minute thorns and tall grasses takes you to the highlight of the hike. 

The trail turns to a slanted root/rock scramble with astounding views of the river gorge. A little ways up there is a rope swing that some of the locals who frequent the area put up (I usually just opt for the cliff-jump from this spot as there isn't much margin for error between rocks above and below the surface!) Take a plunge and dry off on one of the boulders that catches some good sun. 

Follow the trail along the hillside to the last stream crossing and stay straight to close the loop. Just past this trail junction is an enormous, impressive hemlock tree.

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife the entire way; it isn't uncommon to spot frogs, spiders, black snakes, turtles, herons, or even bald eagles at the gorge.

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Tags

Chillin
Photography
Snowshoeing
Hiking
Dog Friendly
Forest
River
Romantic
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

best (but not the easiest) in baltimore!

Lost the trail constantly but wow, what a place! It's hard to believe that whoever is in charge at Prettyboy hasn't blazed this trail yet. Wasn't too crowded on a Saturday afternoon. Enjoyed the fire roads on the otherside of Gunpowder as well. Everyone in the metro should see Hemlock Gorge!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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