Hemlock Gorge  


Description: Moderate 6-mile figure-8 circuit hike along the headwaters of the Gunpowder River above Pretty Boy Reservoir. Includes a particularly beautiful rocky gorge full of Hemlocks and cascades. Flora: Spirea, Meadow Rue, and Scarlet Pimpernel. Fungi: Old Man of the Woods, Russula Pulchra, Chicken of the Woods, Coral Mushrooms.


Warnings: There are no blazes or signs on this outing. Follow the directions carefully and be alert. Proceed at your own risk!


A couple of the areas on either end of Hemlock Gorge proper may get overgrown with thorns, Stinging Nettles and Poison Ivy. Wear light weight long pants preferably with zip off legs in the summer.

Google Custom DirectionsTh 

There will be a pull-over with two trails on the right followed by a corral for River Valley Ranch. Park on the shoulder but do not block the corral gate. _____________________________________________________

Trail Notes: This is the first hike that I ever scouted alone. Although it is only of moderate difficulty one has to pay attention. There are no signs or official blazes. There are just enough cross trails to confuse you if you are not prepared. From the parking area, look into the woods alongside of the corral. There is a trail going directly up the hill on your right. There is another trail going straight into the woods paralleling the corral. Take this route. In about 40-50 yards come to a fork in the trail. The left is your return route. Turn right and climb steeply to the top of the hill.

The next leg of the hike is either flat or mostly downhill. Follow this well-worn trail on an old farm road. At approximately 0.6 and 0.8 miles, look for trails to your left. You will use these on your return.

At about 1.8 miles from the beginning come to Gunpowder Rd. Turn left and walk down the road, staying on the grass shoulder. Cross the bridge over the Gunpowder River. To the left there is a gravel bar that supports a lush growth of tall flowering weeds in the summer. Several species of butterflies and moths can be observed here.

As you continue along Gunpowder Rd look for a trail at a pull-over on the right shoulder. Take this up and around the hill. It will soon become a forest road.

At a four-way intersection (about 0.3 miles from Gunpowder Rd), come to the original Hoffman Cemetery with its historical placard and green steel fence. Buried here is the founder of the Hoffman Paper Mill established in the 1700s along with other family members and servants.

Continue straight through the intersection, down a steep hill, across a stream (Walker Run), up another steep hill and back down to another stream (Silver Run, about 0.74 miles from the cemetery). If you haven't noticed by now there is an abundance of Hemlock trees around you.

If you have a sense for history and a little imagination, cross this last stream and immediately turn right onto another woods road. Follow the stream down to its confluence with the Gunpowder. This is where the Hoffman Paper Mill was located. If you look to the left and downstream you can see a mound immediately in front of you, which is all that remains of the dam. Across the way, in winter, you can see the remains of an old out building. There used to be some old gears and other metalwork in the shallows but that has been recently removed.

Return to the last stream crossing and re-cross it. Follow the other bank downstream on a well-worn trail towards the stream juncture. The trail might get iffy when you arrive at a sandy but very weedy bench along the river. Turn right here and work your way up river until you find the trail again on the other side of the bench.

This is where Hemlock Gorge officially starts. In a few steps you will find yourself in a setting more like that found way up north than below the Piedmont Plateau. You'll be surrounded by close canyon walls, massive gray rocks, Hemlocks, and rushing white water. The trail is well defined at first but sections of it require that you find your way upstream the best you can until you regain the trail. Just don't get too high up on the wall.

In about 0.5 miles from the last stream junction you will come to the confluence of Walker Run with the Gunpowder and  lunch at the Ol' Swimmin' hole. This is one of the best break spots in MD on a hot July day!

After you've had your fill of relaxation, grab your gear and continue upriver, arriving again at Gunpowder Rd in about 0.3 miles. You'll pass the  on the right shortly after crossing Walker Run. In 0.2 miles from the swimming hole a trail that leads up to the cemetery comes in on the right. Stay straight, following the river and in about 0.3 miles arrive back at Gunpowder Road. You'll have to walk around a concrete Jersey wall placed there to prevent the eco-vandals from parking their SUV under the bridge. Turn left and re-cross the bridge. Immediately after crossing turn right, passing an orange forest gate, and walk along a forest road. You'll pass through more Hemlocks as you go along.

Near the crest of the hill (0.53 miles) the road splits. A grassy road goes straight and the main route turns sharply to the right. Make this turn. In a short distance the trail will make a sharp left and start heading down hill. Stop and look for another trail to your left just before this turn. Make this left turn and walk uphill for 0.33 miles to the intersection of the trail you  started the hike on.

Turn right here but in a short distance make another right on an old woods road that takes you back down to the river one last time. Follow the river until you reach another small stream. Turn left on a well-worn footpath and return to your car.



Name: Jay                                                                                                                  Hike: Hemlock Gorge

Date: 07/20/13                                                                                                        Rating: 4


Critique: This was my first unguided hike. My wife and I took the day and followed the planned route. The hike was very scenic and just challenging enough for a couple novice hikers. The sandy bench section of the trail was quite overgrown and gave us some battle scars from the thorns, etc. The Swimming Hole was the perfect location to stop and cool off after forging through the overgrown sandy bench and climbing along the rocks. (Side note, for a slightly deeper location, there is a well worn trail on the opposite side of the river leading to a large rock. This section of the river appeared to be deeper and was occupied by a few locals and their pets who all looked to be having a great time). Overall, it was a great day!


Hemlock Gorge




Name: Brad Spagnola                                                                                             Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 3/3/2013                                                                                                        Rating: 5

Critique: Niece and I hiked this trail for the first time today. Very peaceful and interesting trail with the history of the Hoffman paper mill. The gorge area is as beautiful as everyone says it is. Loved hiking along the rocky trail thru gorge, seeing and hearing the rushing water below. We took our time and spent 5 hours enjoying the sights and sounds along the trail. Seeing the mother of all hemlocks was impressive.

The directions on the map and trail notes are accurate and easy to follow. I will definitly come back and hike this trail in the summer.





Name: Adventure Runner                                                                                       Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 11/25/12                                                                                                        Rating: 5

Critique: I've run this route twice now, both times in winter. This area is beautiful - even the drive out is beautiful. Highly recommended.

Hemlock Gorge proper is incredible - you'll feel like you're in the wilds of northern PA. There are caves, swimming holes, rapids, hemlocks (obviously), the works. The rest of the area is pretty as well, just not as spectacular as the gorge itself.

Even though there are no signs or blazes, the directions are easy to follow. You're either on old roads or along a creek or river. The directions and map from the site are more than sufficient as long as you pay attention. The trail along the river between Silver Run and Walker Run is a genuine scramble, but it is not too long. The first time I ran here, there were a couple of inches of snow, and it was very slippery. So be careful if it's wet or icy.

Summer has the advantage of swimming in the river, but I really recommend this area in the winter as well. The green of the hemlocks and mountain laurel contrasts nicely with the snow, and interesting ice formations form along the rapids and up the feeder streams. The brambles and stinging nettle are also at a minimum - although I could still tell where the problem areas are.

The only downside is that I saw a fair amount of trash in the gorge today - beer cans, coffee cups, etc. It's possible this is leftover from flooding from Hurricane Sandy (I didn't notice the trash on my first trip), but it looks like the gorge's proximity to the road is attracting the wrong kind of visitors. Hopefully this problem doesn't get worse.




Name: Ed. S                                                                                                               Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: July 15, 2012                                                                                                  Rating: 4 (3 when poison ivy out)

Critique: This is a nice short hike, which I suppose is easy to get to for more people than it is for me. The highlight is certainly hemlock gorge itself, along the Gunpowder downstream of Gunpowder Road. Steep rock bluffs, hemlocks, and gentle cascades make this a nice area to take a break from hiking and watch the river. There are also two cemeteries to pass, plus two good side streams. The upland parts of the hike make for pleasant reasonable level sections.

Two words of advice, one already made by many. First, expect poison ivy to encroach the trail along the river downstream of Gunpowder Road, when on the dirt benches. Also on the final connector trail next to River Valley Ranch. I needed to do some fancy footwork to avoid it. It'd probably be better in the cooler months. Second, except for hemlock gorge itself, the woods roads are heavily used by horseback riders, and so on those trails you also have to watch where you step.




Name: Paul Schwartz                                                                                              Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 8/21/11                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: Due to time and weather constraints we were only able to do part of the loop but apparently the best part. The Gorge views were rewarding, and we met a group of bathers at lunchtime. There was a veritable feast of mushrooms on the trail of various colors and sizes. Even when the trail thinned out it was easy to follow. Basically it's almost impossible to get lost here. Definitely worth a repeat during other seasons.



Name: Ned                                                                                                                Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 1/22/11                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: Mid 20's and 3-4 in. of snow cover made for few other hikers on this quiet and scenic route. Had no idea there was such a nice set of trails this close to Baltimore. The isolation made for a pleasant change from hiking the lower Gunpowder and Loch Raven reservoir. Crossing the streams is a little dicey with ice covered rocks. Fallen trees proved safer. The rocky section of the gorge was similarly challenging but quite doable. The trail guide is very good. Recommend for all seasons.





Name: Matt                                                                                                                Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 4-5-09                                                                                                              Rating: 4

Critique: I picked a perfect day to do this hike. It was mid 60s and sunny all day. I started around 12:30 and was back at the car by 4. Since Spring has just started, nothing was really blooming yet. I think in a couple weeks the hike will be much more alive. Recent rains made the streams nice and full. Since it's still early in Spring and nothing is overgrown, the trail was really easy to follow by the streams. I had forgotten the trail description but managed well because I downloaded the GPX data, loaded it onto my Garmin 60CSx and just walked from waypoint to waypoint. It's a really great hike and the gorge is a really nice place to relax and eat. Unfortunately the hike is fairly easy from Gunpowder Rd. so there is a bit of trash here and there around the gorge. If I had a bag with me I would've cleaned up some of it. It's really a great hike otherwise.


My GPS data can be seen here.



Name: Naz                                                                                                                 Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 11-29-08                                                                                                         Rating: 5

Critique: Updates: The Cotter road is now open with no problems.

I did only the Hemlock Gorge part of the figure 8 yesterday due to time constraints. This is an excellent shorter hike in itself and well worth it. It still took more than one hour with quite a bit of scrambling done on the stream bank and of course some stops for photos. The Gorge is beautiful and unique for this area, and there were no other hikers on this sunny and relatively warm November Saturday afternoon.

The instructions are very easy to follow. The only part that could not be identified was the "sandy and weedy" portion of the bench- this must have become altered in the years this was written. There were weedy parts but no sand. The trail is easy to follow until you reach the scrambling part in the gorge. Then you can just follow the stream and you will not get lost.

Also found a small cave filled with cans and trash. Thankfully they are not spread around and confined to this cave, but I plan to return with a garbage bag.

Thank you for this site and this very good description of this gem. This one is an excellent late fall/winter walk because the hemlocks are green year round. I plan to go back when it snows and the stream is frozen!




Name: Ian                                                                                                                   Hike: Hemlock Gorge

Hike date: 3/29/05                                                                                                   Ranking: 5

comment: What a great spot, I've lived in the Baltimore area for 30yrs and never knew this was here - Thanks for the tip! On a Tuesday afternoon, I didn't see a soul the whole hike and there was minimal litter or evidence of vandalism. One of the more beautiful spots in MD I've seen. NOTE: in late March 2005, Cotter Road was closed due to construction. From Baltimore, it might be easier (and more scenic) to take Falls Rd N; turn right onto Graves Run; at the intersection with Hoffmanville Rd, continue straight and follow the last step in the directions listed for this hike. Beckleysville Rd also intersects Falls Rd just S of Graves Run so that's another option if you're coming from I83.

Mrhyker note: It seems like every spring now there is a problem with Cotter Rd.


Name: Janet                                                                                                               Hike: Hemlock Gorge*

Hike date: several times                                                                                         Ranking: 5

comment: This is my favorite hike in Maryland. The first time you enter the gorge is awesome


Name: Alex                                                                                                                 Hike: Hemlock Gorge*
Hikedate: June 26, 2005                                                                                          Ranking: 2

comment: First off, Cotter Rd. is still closed as of June 26, 2005 and doesnt look like its going to reopen anytime soon. We followed Beckleysville Rd. around for about ten minutes and then took a right on Gunpowder and followed the directions from there. The swimming hole is really nice and is someplace Ill probably go back to in the future but I will not use this hike to get there. If you just want to go to the swimming hole, you can park on the side of the road over a bridge on Gunpowder Rd. past the newer (but still fairly old) cemetery. This is actually where you cross over Gunpowder Rd. on the hike. From there you can go DOWN trails that lead from the bridge to the river and go from there. There are actually lots of cool places to jump in and take a dip or sit on the rocks and relax. We went on a Sunday and saw quite a few people, but one of the locals said that the weekends were the only time you saw a lot of people splashing around. The main swimming hole can be recognized by the presence of a few old ropes that are tied to some trees nearby in what looks like an old attempt to make a rope swing.

The bad news is that this hike isn't all that interesting. The hike is pretty clear before you cross Gunpowder Rd, the bridge, and hit the old cemetery. However, there really isn't much to see except for your typical hardwood mid-Atlantic forest scenery. The hemlocks aren't all that plentiful or impressive. Past the old cemetery the trail is fairly nonexistent at times until you get to the swimming hole. Something else to note is that a LOT of this trail is almost completely covered in stinging nettles and thorny bushes. We went in June and wore shorts and by the time we got to the swimming hole, my hiking partners legs were pretty swollen and cut up, so if youre going to go this route, wear some long pants and think about bringing a machete to cut out a better trail. Also, the way back after crossing over Gunpowder Road is tricky and the directions are a little vague. After taking a right at the crest of the hill, the directions say, In a short distance the trail will make a sharp left and start heading down hill. Stop and look for another trail to your left just after your last turn. What we found were two left turns within ten feet of each other. The first went uphill, the second went downhill. Based on the directions we took the sharp left that went downhill and we ended up in what the creator of this hike labels in yellow on the map as swampy. The map shows it connecting back up to the main return trail, but it doesnt. We got stuck in a bog that basically dead-ended into the river and were forced to turn back. With sunlight fading, we managed to catch a ride with some nice folks back at Gunpowder Rd. so I have no idea if the rest of the directions are accurate or clear. I do know that the directions should be updated and made clearer in regards to the return trip and the left he says to take at crest of the hill you hike up after crossing Gunpowder Road. My impression is that he means the first left that goes UPHILL, rather than the second left that goes DOWNHILL, because I can tell you that the second left that goes downhill leads to a swampy dead-end. I should also point out that at least in June, the bugs are pretty ferocious, so bring some repellent, and something to wave them off and swat them with, because they can be pretty heavy at times. Overall, Id recommend the swimming hole and the river, but this hike is not worth the effort given all the other wonderful hikes in the area.

M. R. Hyker note: Will try to clarify places where Alex made some wrong turns. I'll let the visitor read all of the critiques found here. Everbody sees a hike with different vision I guess. This is viewed by many hike leaders in the Baltimore area as a crown jewel especially being so close to a metropolis.


Name: Bob Gabbart                                                                                                  Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: 1/29/2006                                                                                                      Ranking: 3

Critique: This was one of the better hikes that I have taken within an hour drive of Baltimore. The hike starts with a nice walk in the woods for a couple miles. You then come down to the gorge and walk through it for a mile or so. The gorge is very nice and is the high-lite of the hike. You then return to the woods and then go back down to the river for the last part of the hike. The directions were very good. Inf act, if you do not take the directions, you will get lost on this hike. The map by itself is not good enough. There is just one mistake in the directions. Toward the end where it says "In a short distance the trail will make a sharp left and start heading down hill. Stop and look for another trail to your left..." It should read "...In a short distance the trail will make a sharp RIGHT and start going downhill. Look for a trail to the left. Make this left turn and walk uphill..."

M.R.Hyker Note: I checked my data and I think Bob missed a turn. E-mail me Bob and we'll discuss it but:

After you leave Gunpowder road you walk parallel to the river but pretty removed from it. After a while the old woods road you're on goes straight into a grassy area and you turn right onto another well worn woods road. It follows a seasonal draw on the right. Sometimes it has a stream, other times its dry. As you near the river the road makes a "left" and begins to descend to the river. Right at that bend is another trail on the left that climbs up and over a small hill.


Name: matt w                                                                                                            Hike: Hemlock Gorge
Date: July 8, 2006                                                                                                     Rating: 3.5

Critique: Great hike for being so close to the city. Took me 30 minutes from downtown Baltimore to arrive.

Followed the hike route from the trailhead to the gorge, then decided to take the same route back. The hike into the gorge as per these directions felt almost like a bushwhack, as we were waist deep in grasses and thorn bushes for about a quarter of a mile.

The scenery by this part of the gunpowder is really impressive. Although there isn't a large amount of hemlocks, the ones that are there are absolutely beautiful, with a few of them being absolute giants.

Highly recommended, a great day trip and picnic outing.


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