Maryland offers a variety of different trails throughout the western half of the state from its densely populated Baltimore/DC metro area to its more rural mountainous western parts.
Just west of Annapolis is the Anne Arundel Epic, which features 30 miles of singletrack with plenty of climbs near the Chesapeake Bay.
Head west to experience Maryland’s notoriously rocky terrain. This includes Gunpowder Falls, just north of Baltimore, with its rock gardens, boulders, and roots.
South of Baltimore in Washington’s suburbs is the popular Schaeffer Farms, which features rooty single track and Needwood, with its varied terrain.
Further north near the border with Pennsylvania is Emmitsburg, with its rock and flow and lake views.
Western Maryland is rife with a variety of offroad riding. It’s there you’ll find the famous Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail, a rail-trail which runs nearly 200 miles from DC to Cumberland, MD, before continuing on to Pittsburgh as the Great Allegheny Passage for a total of some 335 miles.
There’s also plenty of singletrack in the western part of the state, including a new set of trails in Deep Creek, which features plenty of flow and rock gardens.
Here are 10 of the best mountain bike trails in Maryland.
1. Anne Arundel County Epic, Parole
As the seat of Maryland’s capital, Annapolis, as well as a key portion of the densely-populated Chesapeake region, it’s often surprising to newcomers that Anne Arundel County contains a genuine epic ride maintained by local MTB enthusiasts.
Combining the beloved Bacon Ridge and Annapolis Waterworks trail systems, this ride offers fast flows, plenty of climbs, and occasional berms and log piles to negotiate. Several portions throughout, such as the length along the Old Annapolis City Reservoir, are made up of benched singletrack where riders can pick up impressive speed while in sight of charming water views.
To connect to the upper section of the Bacon Ridge trail, it’s necessary to take a short ride over a relatively quiet paved road. The ride ends with a final short, steep climb.
2. Cascade Falls Loop, Ilchester
A component trail of the Patapsco Valley State Park, Cascade Falls stands out for its popularity among MTB riders in an area already renowned for its satisfying rides along the Patapsco River southwest of Baltimore.
Setting off with a couple of climbs through root webs, one simple and one tough, riders will soon top out on a crest with excellent views of the area below. After taking in the scenery, tackle an enjoyably tricky technical downhill through rocky areas, followed by some speedy downhills and passing several waterfalls, including the Cascade Falls themselves.
This trail features plenty of rocky paths and outcroppings to challenge riders. It happens to be one of the most popular trails in the state, so plan for an early ride to avoid hikers.
3. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), Cumberland
A little-known fact about railbeds in the US is that they have to be kept in pristine condition by law. Luckily, for MTB beginners this means the GAP is one of the best long rides in Maryland, packed with scenery and significant spots and long enough to make for a decent workout.
Starting from the southern trailhead in Cumberland, you’ll climb up gradually past numerous sections of old rail and natural features like the Bone Cave, where the bones of several prehistoric animals have been discovered.
This trail doesn’t contain too many surprises as far as technicals go, but the smooth path and impressive elevation gain should satisfy riders of all levels. The Maryland segment ends at the Mason-Dixon Line separating the Northern from the Southern states.
4. Deep Creek Loop, Swanton
This loop runs through several trails in Deep Creek Lake State Park, passing some of Maryland’s rare mountain terrain with more than a few physical obstacles.
Starting off from park headquarters, the trail begins as a slow climb to the summit of Meadow Mountain. Soon the going gets tougher with numerous rock gardens and surprisingly steep climbs. The reward is reaching the meadows at the summit, followed by points of interest such as the Old Brant Mine and the Indian Turnip lookout post.
The ride back down consists mostly of fast flowy singletrack punctuated by occasional surprising sharp switchbacks. The foot of the mountain presents one final challenge in the form of some tangled rock gardens before reaching state park HQ once more.
5. Schaeffer Farms Trail, Darnestown
For those who are ready to graduate from beginner to experienced status, Schaeffer Farms in Seneca Creek State Park is the perfect place to cut your teeth.
This moderately difficult trail features rolling singletrack, some rewarding straight flows, and plenty of dirt banks to really get a feel for what mountain biking can offer with a little more experience.
Made up of the Yellow, Blue, and White loops, one can ride all three for a cardio accomplishment or gradually build up skill, strength, and endurance on one section at a time.
The occasional patch of roots breaks up otherwise smooth hardpack with a gentle elevation, passing fields of dazzling wildflowers along the way. More advanced cyclists also have the option to swing onto the more difficult trails nearby from convenient connecting paths.
6. Gambrill State Park Yellow Loop, Braddock Heights
Gambrill State Park is Maryland’s go-to for tough climbs and complex rock gardens.
The Yellow Loop is the best way to get started warming up to the challenges thrown up by this park, but it’s still not for beginners or the faint of heart.
The trail holds no punches from the very beginning, starting with a strenuous half-mile climb through rocky patches before reaching a deceptively calm length of singletrack. This trail runs in a figure-8, so be sure to look out for the yellow flashes to follow it correctly.
Along the way, expect views on the North Frederick overlook, rapid technical downhills, and some knotty uphill switchbacks.
The final challenge is topping the Stegosaurus Rocks, using your climbing skills to navigate the tricky terrain. From there, it’s a fairly breezy ride back to the starting point.
7. Needwood Loop, Derwood
Positioned around Lake Needwood in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C., this trail is a great way to keep in shape for city dwellers or for casual riders to have a testing, but enjoyable, weekend ride.
Although the technical qualities of the loop are pretty muted, it still features some enjoyably narrow and tight singletrack, with plenty of golf ball rock and roots along the way. Also of note are the pleasant, quiet stream crossings which can be plowed through with minimal speed.
The main obstacles on this urban trail are hikers, who tend to pack the place on the weekends, and the handful of sections along nearby paved roads.
Stay attentive, bring plenty of water, and enjoy the lush green woodlands.
8. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail, Cumberland
For those who want a more physical route into Washington, the C&O Canal is the trail of choice. Built on the old canal towpath, it follows almost 200 miles of the old canal past natural rock formations, numerous state parks, and plenty of public woodlands.
As a towpath, it’s a fairly straightforward ride, consisting of smooth gravel, sand, and dirt. This is a great one for families or groups on vacation.
Ridden the other way, it can be an excellent way to reach the rugged terrain of western Maryland to enjoy a few days riding the trails there while camping along the way. Alternatively, it’s a good path for a simple out-and-back day trip.
Along the way, riders can spot black bears, whitetail, waterfalls, and locks.
9. Emmitsburg Multi User Trail, Emmitsburg
Offering something for riders of all skill levels, this trail network in north central Maryland features rich green scenery, pleasantly tough singletrack, and lots of rolling hills with a surprising elevation gain.
Kicking off with a brisk ride past Rainbow Lake, the route carries on through flows across Turkey Creek. After some short, sharp climbs through roots, natural rock formations, and repurposed stone fences serving as rock gardens, a rolling downhill leads down to a gravel road onto a looping path to the Rainbow Lake Dam.
The ride is capped off with the Beginner Loops, a series of simple back-and-forth rings that make a satisfying finish. This well-kept network can be ridden as a whole or in sections, with the trailheads clearly marked for easy identification.
10. Gunpowder Falls State Park, Pleasant Hills
A backcountry route past rustic scenery, this wending, winding trail offers boulders, rutted root webs, rock gardens, and the enviable views that make Gunpowder Falls a widely popular destination.
Following the Little Gunpowder River with its series of spots for short swims or photo breaks, cyclists will soon encounter a climb that will grow gradually steeper up into the woods. After gaining some altitude, the trail drops into a series of short climbs and descents before crossing a stream and coming to the historic Jerusalem Mill Village.
After the mill, the trail passes through fun ups and downs, twisted roots, small rock gardens, and picturesque waterfalls. Watch out for logs across the streams towards the end.