Tour de Patapsco: Avalon to McKeldin and Back via Mountain Bike
Important info to know before reading this page: It is highly recommended you get the Patapsco Valley State Park (Complete Guide) trail map from MD DNR before attempting this ride. What follows on this page is a rough route description intended to assist you in putting together your route the first time when doing the Avalon to McKeldin round trip ride (A.K.A. The Tour de Patpasco). It is NOT a complete 100% turn by turn guide and it does contain some gaps (noted) where many riders utilized private property trails such as powerline right-of-ways. Those will not be listed and road options are available to utilize in most places instead. It is the responsibility of anyone using these directions to be responsible for their own actions, their own safety and to know and understand where they are going and who's property they are on at all times. It is advisable to study the maps ahead of time and have a complete understanding of the area before attempting this. Follow common sense adventure techniques and travel with others riders, let someone know where you are going and when you will return. Cell phone coverage may be spotty, don't rely on having it. A first aid kit, food, water and normal spare tools and parts are recommended to take along. Conditions change, be aware of what they are. Some trails shown on the map no longer exist or only exist seasonaly. Be safe, have fun. Be warned, this is a full day adventure and approximently 50 miles as described here. The goal when putting together this route was to ride as much dirt as possible and repeat the least amount of trail as possible. There are many ways to accomplish this ride. Use this as a starting point for crafting your own way. This information is provided without any guarantees to it's accuracy or fitness for purpose.
This ride starts at the Park and Ride at I-195 and Rolling Road in Catonsville, MD. Begin on the Soapstone Branch trail, follow to Santee Branch trail to the Sawmill Branch trail to the gravel access road that has a yellow gate at Hilltop road. Turn right on Hilltop and immediately look for unmarked/unmaintained singletrack across road. Follow this horse trail past abandon cars and tires and exit onto Thistle Road.
Cross Thistle Road, immediately cross creek, climb short wooded hill and pop into field (you are in the Patapsco horse farm now). Head left along the line that divides the woods from the field. Wood line will bear right, keep on this until you see a rutted stream crossing to your left (cable line cut), cross this keeping the woods on your left, swing left again along brush line and follow through grass. This will eventually turn to double track. Follow this for a bit on swoopy hills. There will be several obvious trails on the left, don't take them at athey just go to a powerline. After climbing a sandy hill the doubletrack bears right. Start looking for a hidden piece of singletrack in the brush to your left, it's easy to miss. Take this down a sandy trail, cross creek, go up a short grunt and swing left on a cable/gas line cut, cross power lines, continue straight and you'll dump out on River Road. Turn right on River Road. Note: You'll be skipping this section and the one above on the return trip.
Follow River Rd. to Frederick Rd. This is the first gap in the directions. Your next point to pick up in the park proper is an earthen dam trail that follows the river and is just upstream from the Oella Mill. To get here you can take the road or, some have been known to use the road in combination with patches of dirt as well as the #9 Trolley Trail.
To pick up the earthen dam trail from Oella Road, pass the Oella Mill (big brick building), turn left at first parking lot that goes behind brick townhouses. Take wooden bridge towards river, turn right on and ride the old stone mill race wall. Follow to driveway, cross driveway, cross wooden bridge and ride earthen dam wall until you see a wooden bridge on your right. Cross bridge and start climbing. You'll encounter lots of downed trees. Take this until you hit a fire road, bear left and then take first trail on left, it should have a sign saying Union Dam 1/2 mile. This downhill, starts fast and mellow and then turns steep and rocky with loose, shale type rocks. It's a great little hidden descent many have never done. At the bottom turn right and head upstream. You'll come to this spot on the return but will not repeat the descent you just did.
Go under Rt. 40 bridge then immediately bush whack to the top and use the bridge to cross the river. Turn into park entrance on your right and look for the Old Ranger trail on left (blue). If you need water you can stay on road and head into the developed part of the park. This is also a spot to grab water on the return trip.
Take blue trail (don't take any turns) until you pop out on road/gravel. Turn right on grassy powerline cut. Take it almost as far as it can go, then look at your map and figure out how to get down to the railroad tracks and river level. Yes, this is gap #2 in the route.
Head upstream beside the railroad bed until you hit hit Old Frederick Road. There is a historic marker sign and a metal bridge on your right are your landmarks. Gap #3: you now need to find your way to the trail that is where old Alberton Road goes under the railroad bridge in the Daniel's area.
Go upstream on the singletrack. Follow to the railroad tracks. Cross tracks and continue upstream and look for a piece of rocky singletrack that starts climbing next to the tracks. Follow this. Stay left for a while. Trail will eventually swing right up a rutted out climb. Take this. Keep straight for a while, climb and pop out on a powerline cut. Go right on powerline cut. On the way back you will only repeat the beginning of this section near the railroad tracks, you will take an alternate route and skip the rutted trail and powerline.
Bear left after a downhill or two on the powerline, the trail will climb back up into woods. At the top of the climb bear left on singletrack.
From here follow the trail blazes, staying high on the ridge for a while, pretty much as long as you can. You'll occassionally see house that border the park. Eventually you'll descend back to river level and turn right onto flat singletrack.
Cross under Old Court bridge, stay at river level for approximently 1/2 mile, look to your right for a singletrack climb (this may now be blazed for the Thru Trail). Follow for a while climbing out of the valley. Follow new cut trail that bears left. Eventually you'll be on a piece of the old McKeldin race loop, cross a pipeline cut and descend back to river level.
Cross river where the North and South Branches of the Patapsco meet. There is a horse ford here, depending on the time or year and if there is a dam release, the river can be a waist high wade or it can be ridden on the bike. Climb trail and follow white blazes and Tall Poplar trail out to the entrance area to refill water.
Go past pavilions until the road ends. You may start hearing gun shots from the firing range, don't worry, it's not in the park and they are aimed away from you. The road runs out and the Switchback Trail starts. Follow and then tie into the Plantation trail and rip that fun stuff back to river bottom. Go left then start looking for a right turn to take you to the water.
Cross river and climb an ugly hill. Skirt along the old landfill where they are doing construction and have turned the double track into a dirt road. You'll pass a rusted out Chevy. At the intersection go left, cross powerlines and after a small wooded section you will come to dirt road. Immediately look for singletrack going back into woods on your right. If you hit the deadend road you went to far.
Follow singletrack to the top of the quarry, then descend with the quarry on your left and swing left at the intersetion to take you to the bottom of the quarry. Continue on wide doubletrackish trail away from quarry. After 1/4 mile or so look for a split, bear right on single track. Follow to baseball field. Cut across field and head down gravel road. Hard right at bottom, follow mainline and make a left on rocky jeep trail/doubletrack. Descend to river bottom.
Left on river bottom trail, follow for approximently 1.5 miles, don't go up the ridge the same way you came down. Keep an eye out for a gas line/cable line marker. When you pass this look for a hard u-turn going up. Rocky gnarly stuff, it's easy to miss traveling in this direction.
Climb to the top, turn right to get back on ridge singletrack you were on earlier.
Cross powerlines and stay on singletrack (you rode the powerlines earlier). Climb, then stay on single for a bit. You'll hit some newly cut stuff, probably blazed white by now for the Thru Trail, it will eventually put you back on singletrack you were on early, you are back near Daniel's. Follow back to railroad tracks, cross tracks, stay on singletrack.
Go under railroad bridge.
Stay on trail/old road. Pop out on road, make immediate right at stop sign onto Hollofield Road, follow to metal bridge, cross river and take a left on railroad bed.
After passing under Rt. 70 start looking for stream/telephone poll as a landmark. This is gap #4 in the directions. Figure out how to get to the Old Ranger Trail (or stay on the rail bed)
Retrace powerlines, left on Old Ranger (blue) trail.
At road turn left and go under Rt. 40. If you need water go a little further into developed area of the park. Otherwise as soon as you get under bridge, go left and get on road. Follow Rt. 40 downhill (WARNING: this is a busy road without much room for bikes and cars travel at high rates of speed. Proceed with caution or look at your map and find your way back through the park into Old Ellicott City on the Howard County side). Cross river, then pull over, hop the guard rail and head down to the river. Follow trail upstream along the river, you'll ride a cool old mill race earthen dam back to Oella.
Retrace earlier steps to River Rd.
Take River Road to Illchester. Pass the paved trail and head towards Illchester hill. Hop guardrail on left and take old trail/road back towards the swinging bridge.
At swinging bridge climb and take the Ridge trail for it's full length, then the cross river and follow trails back to the park and ride.