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Soldiers Delight Loop

Owings Mills, Maryland

based on 3 reviews



5.33 miles

Elevation Gain

466 ft

Route Type



Added by Peter Hoblitzell

Tucked right into the urban sprawl outside of Baltimore City, Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area contains a strikingly unique serpentine grassland ecosystem. This special habitat plays host to an intriguing community of plants and animals, including some globally rare species.

From Deer Park Road, parking is available at the nature center or the scenic overlook (about 100 yards up the road). I typically park at the overlook as this affords the ability to hike trails on either side of the road, and always finish the hike back at the car. From the parking area you are just about at the highest point in Baltimore County (a seismograph is positioned right behind the nature center for this reason), and the grasslands facilitate excellent views into the hills. The Serpentine Trailhead is just beyond the parking barriers and the informational signs which also contain illustrated trail maps and a history of the area. The Choate Mine Trailhead is just across the street from the overlook. Each trail features its own attractions and both are great.

I generally set my sights on the Choate Mine Trail when I have enough time because that route takes hikers over and off of the "rock island" which is the serpentine grassland. It's almost overwhelming, passing in and out of several starkly contrasting ecosystems, and very few trails offer that kind of change, let alone in Baltimore County! Within the first 5 minutes of hiking, you'll come up on the old Choate Mines, from which the trail gets its name. The mines have since been retired, flooded, and overgrown but they still have some historical intrigue about them and can make for a good photo op by the creative camera wielder. The mines are not marked so keep your eye out, they'll appear off the right-hand side of the trail. The main path eventually intersects with two others and opens up into an exposed rocky meadow area. Right around this spot is my personal favorite for wildlife watching. The scraggly oaks and brier thickets host a variety of bird species. I like to stray just off the trail and find a warm rock to post up on and watch the activity. If you do go off-trail anywhere in the park, be sure to tread lightly and carefully. Some of the extremely rare and endangered plant and insect species live among the grasses and are very fragile (when I worked on a restoration project here I had to sign government documents stating that I would not disclose their exact location!) At the trail junction, I go to the right and take the longest loop around back to the mines. The trail goes through woods and meadows, by streams, and some vernal ponds depending on the time of year.

On the other side of the road, the Serpentine Trail is perhaps a more scenic introduction to the ecosystem. It gets its name from the rocky ground which allegedly looks like the ridges found on a serpent's back. From the trailhead, go right (away from the nature center). This trail offers less habitat changeover but makes up for it with more far-reaching views. In this section of the park, there is also an ongoing restoration effort to eliminate the Virginia Pine. Prior to the development of the surrounding area, the natural environment was void of any trees, with unobstructed views apparently stretching all the way to the Baltimore Harbor. It can be pretty fun to do the hike after a controlled burn. Something is eerie about wandering through the scorched and charred remnants of a forest.

Just downstream from the first water crossing, there is an old, rusted-out car. The best way to reach it (without wading) is to cross the stream and circle back around the trees and shrubs growing on the right of the trail (tread carefully). I'm not exactly sure how it got there, but it does have a certain novelty being so out of place. I like to stop by, take a couple of photos, and check the stream nearby for frogs in the spring and summer.

Near the end of the loop, the nature center is off to the right. It's at least worth a stop around the back of it as the DNR has an impressive aviary featuring a variety of gorgeous raptors in rehabilitation. Keep going past the center and parking lot, the trail parallels the road for the last hundred yards or so and then spills out into the overlook parking area again.

The nature of the land means this is a rather exposed hike. The early morning and late afternoon hours can reward more comfortable temperatures as well as astonishing light shows. The golden grasses and diverse foliage glow remarkably with a lower sun. Do just one trail, or start a little earlier and do them both! In total, the park contains about 7 miles of trail, which is definitely all in a day's work for many folks. Enjoy!

Check the calendar for park events such as managed hunts or prescribed burns, which may disrupt a visit: Maryland.Gov

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    Dog Friendly
    Easy Parking
    Family Friendly
    Picnic Area

    Soldiers Delight Loop Reviews

    Lots of neat views for eastern MD and some variety in trail substrate— some first paths, some rocky ground, and some flat fields. Well marked, occasional foot traffic. Lots of info at visitor center trail head and occasional signs with info on biomes along the way that are neat and a good way to make sure you’re on the main path. A great way to feel like you’re away from the city without really being too far. I hiked in March, very pleasant, but wear shoes that can handle a little mud.

    This is a nice hike that I've actually done trail runs at a few times. Its a good trail, not too difficult either.

    This trail is one of the best in the area. Hiking it can leave you feeling like you're in a follow rely different place. It's very easy and worth a hike if you're nearby.

    Leave No Trace

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


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