Gunpowder Falls East Circuit

Description: This is a relatively easy 7 mile circuit. There are a few steep hills and several stream crossings however, the hills are short and most of the stream crossings are narrow. This is a good winter hike or a trek when you need to stay close to home but just need to get out in the woods for a while. The highlights are the falls at Raven Rocks, a popular lunch spot, and the hardly visible ruins of the gunpowder mills on Panther Branch.

The hike starts with and ends with an unofficial trail, both shown to me by Jack Weiss of the Greater Baltimore Sierra Club many years ago, so make sure you bring the accompanying map and directions with you. The Park Service sells good topo maps of the park but they won’t show these adlib routes.

Park on either shoulder of Bunker Hill Rd near the gate for the Gunpowder Archery Club.

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Trail Notes: Walk back to Collett Dr. and turn left onto it. Pass a few homes on the left and then walk around a barrier. Judging by the railroad ties on the side of the old road and the derelict BTC Street Car you pass on the way, I suspect this used to be the end of the line that at one time ran into the center of Baltimore. As you descend, the road will bend to the left leaving the sounds of I-83 and a nice meadow on the right. Hawks can be spotted in the surrounding trees at times as they search the meadow for their next meal.

Pass the remains of an old farm on the left. Several foundations can be seen. The most obvious is an old silo. Climb a short hill and enter a pine plantation. Faint blue blazes remain on a couple of the trees suggesting that this was once an official park trail. At the end of the pine plantation the most worn trail bears to the right (east) to join up with the Gunpowder South Trail. To walk along more of the river bear to the left here (west). The trail is pretty faint if you can find it at all. Just walk down the hill through open woods, keeping towards the center of the hill as you descend. You’ll notice that the hill is getting narrower. The old trail should soon become apparent.

Arrive at an old amphitheater with wooden seats not far from the river (1.28 miles from the start). Turn right onto white blazed Gunpowder South Trail. Watch the blazes. In a while the trail will split. The old trail will continue to follow the river. If you take this route you will be compelled to negotiate some serious blow downs and a blowout of the river bank. Instead take the right fork up the side of the hill, descending just before I-83.

Walk under I-83 and soon arrive at York Road (0.86 miles from the amphitheatre). Turn left, cross the bridge and turn right onto blue blazed Gunpowder North Trail. In about 0.8 miles reach scenic Raven Rocks, a great lunch spot. In the early spring, Star of Bethlehem flowers bloom along its edges.

Continue along Gunpowder North Trail, ascending and descending the only 2 major hills on the trip. They are steep but very short. At one mile after leaving Raven Rocks the trail ends at a gravel drive. Turn right and follow it out to Falls Road (0.33 miles from the trail end).

Turn right on Falls Road, cross the bridge and turn right again, back onto white blazed Gunpowder South Trail. In 0.54 miles reach the junction with pink (?) blazed Panther Branch Trail. There is no sign but the trail is obvious. There are 2 places where you can cross Panther Branch. There is a narrow rock hop closer to the trail junction and a wide “splash” crossing a little farther up stream. Pick one!

Continue up Panther Branch. Watch for old stonework on the hill on your right with breaks in it. Behind it used to be the millrace for the gunpowder mills. At the fork in the stream the trail and blazes goes right. From here you can look downstream and get a better view of the millrace. Where you are standing probably used to be a dammed pond.

Shortly after bearing right look for an obvious trail that crosses the right fork. Cross here, leaving Panther Branch Trail but still following Panther Branch. You’ll soon pass the ruins of an old hearth on the right. I think this was used to make charcoal which was used in the production of gun powder in the mills.

You’ll cross Panther Branch about 4 more times, most of these are easy rock hops but be careful. The most innocent little rock can be quite slippery and very quickly deposit one on his/her bottom.

After leaving the official Panther Branch Trail you want to keep an eye out on the ridge to the right. Where the top is flat and open happens to be the edge of Hereford High School’s Athletic fields. On the stream, just above this feature, you’ll make your last crossing. You should be able to pick up a trail that follows a trough up the back of the hill and very quickly deposits you onto a nice pine needle, wide road which ends at the edge of the school property. From here, turn right and follow the baseball field. At a break in the fence follow the third base line to the south side of the school. (There is fencing blocking your progress on the north side.) From there follow York Road and Bunker Hill Road back to your car.


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Printable/Downloadable Directions and Trail Notes

 Critique this outing




Name: Trailbuzzer                                                                                                   Hike: Gunpowder-East Circuit

Date: 04/15/15                                                                                                        Rating: 4


Ccritique: The trail notes are a little bit dated but they are more than sufficient to follow the intended trail. This is a nice hike with some great scenery along the river. Very little contact with others along the way except for a few fly fishermen. The trail is mostly flat along the river but there is enough up and down in other places for a some cardio challenge. The scenery along the Panther Branch gorge (around 5.5 miles) is especially magnificent.




Name: Dave                                                                                                             Hike: Gunpowder Falls East Circuit

Date: 10/12/13                                                                                                       Rating: 5


Critique: This needs to be updated--I think the park may have built some trails that make the early description obsolete.




Name: Bruce                                                                                                             Hike: Gunpowder Falls-East Circuit

Date: 06/22/13                                                                                                       Rating: 4


Critique: The description is good. I made it without the map, but used my gps a couple of times to make sure I was on the approximate right track. The trail was overgrown in spots, but for the most part not too difficult. I saw a total of 7 people on the hike. 4 runners, two other hikers and a guy standing by the water at one of the entry points. I took a dog with me and had no problems. The other two hikers had a dog as well.


Photo at the amphitheatre




Name: Ed. S                                                                                                              Hike: Gunpowder Falls East Circuit
Date: Feb 10, 2013                                                                                                 Rating: 4

Critique: This was a good hike. For being in the suburbs, it reminded me quite well of my more typical hikes in the mountains, especially while looking up the gorge walls of Gunpowder Falls. Water is involved with the main highlights here; there are good cascading streams, almost waterfalls, flowing into the Gunpowder. The Gunpowder itself is often lined by mountain laurel bluffs. The Panther Branch area contains numerous historical ruins; and there is a serene pine stand near Hereford High. Trails are a mix of woods roads, floodplain routes, and narrow ledges along steep sidehills. The only caution would be that the Gunpowder North/South Trails appear to get flooded during high water. In addition, the Gunpowder North Trail was sparsely blazed, and I drifted off the trail while in the floodplain west of Big Falls Road. (Though, with the river next to me it was not hard to work my way back to the trail.



Name: Adventure Runner                                                                                       Hike: Gunpowder Falls (Hereford) East
Date: 12/2/12                                                                                                         Rating: 5

Critique: I ran a modified version of this loop today and have hiked most of the trails in this area at some point. This is an extremely beautiful and peaceful area considering how close it is to Baltimore.

I started at the big parking area at the bottom of Bunker Hill Rd, and followed the loop from there. When ascending Panther Branch, I followed the official trail all the way to a meadow from which I could see Hereford HS. I used a wide mowed trail to cut over N of the school, and dropped down to York Rd right across Bunker Hill Rd on a gravel drive between the school track and some houses. I then descended the Bunker Hill Tr back to the parking area.

All of the official trails S of the river are in good condition and are well-marked. The Gunpowder N Tr seems to receive much less maintenance than the rest of the trails. Every time I've been on it, it is overgrown with thorny, scratchy plants, and the blazes are faded and intermittent at best. Currently, there is also flooding damage from Hurricane Sandy that has not been repaired, but it is still passable without too much trouble. It would be hard to get lost because you just follow the river, but you may feel like you're bushwhacking at times and need to scout the best route.

The only other place that can be confusing is Panther Branch. The trail is easy to find from the river, but as you go up along the creek, you need to pay attention. At the point you need to turn up a feeder stream, an obvious path continues to ascend Panther Branch. I'm not sure if this drops you S of Hereford or into a neighborhood to the E of the stream. You'll be able to tell you missed the turn if you don't see any blazes for a couple of minutes. The official trail has little numbered posts along it as it climbs the side stream.

There are numerous connecting trails and routes to the HS and out to York Rd. I think the easiest way is to climb the official trail until you get to an open meadow. Cross the meadow and at the far end, the blue blazes take you a across a mowed track. Turn left on this track, then veer left on a more narrow path to follow the fence line along the HS track. This leads to a gravel drive that passes 2 houses and takes you to York Rd directly across from Bunker Hill Rd, making the circuit very simple.

Very enjoyable loop. The river and its tributaries are beautiful, the falls are nice, and there is plenty of mountain laurel and pine to keep things green all year.




Name: Kingston Bowen                                                                                            Hike: Gunpowder Falls-East
Date: 11/24/2011                                                                                                    Rating: 4

Critique: Enjoyed great weather and truly fascinating change in scenery over this 4 mile hike. It was tough in spots. The uphill in a couple of spots got the blood flowing. What was cool was hiking in the rocky waterfalls area and then hitting an open meadow and then hitting a very fragrant pine forest. This is only a portion of the Gunpowders Falls area but very pleasing. We look forward to tackling this area again.



Name: Paul Schwartz                                                                                                Hike: GunpowderFalls-East
Date: 11/19/11                                                                                                         Rating: 4

Critique: This hike must have been spectacular several weeks ago at the peak of the fall leaf season. As it was I enjoyed being in the woods with just the map and instructions and managed to see numerous deer as well as several other hikers and joggers. Parts of the trail are overgrown but as long as you keep the river in sight you'll be fine. I did have difficulty with the last part of Panther branch and managed to take the wrong fork, winning up on the north side of Hereford High School. This hike can easily be subdivided since there is a parking area on Falls Road. The only drawback...the inescapable noise of traffic on major roads for most of the hike.


Name: Matt                                                                                                                  Hike: Gunpowder Falls-East
Date: 7/13/2008                                                                                                        Rating: 4

Critique: Headed out to the start of this hike a little late on a Sunday at about 3:30pm. I downloaded the gpx data from the hike description and loaded it onto my Garmin 60CSx. The hike up to the bridge at falls rd was sunny and humid. There were a bunch of storm clouds rolling in and just before the road it started to rain. Luckily I was sort of training with a full pack on so I grabbed the tarp to my tent and 4 of us huddled underneath it until the nasty storm passed. The bridge at falls rd is under construction, but there is a footbridge made of 2 steel i-beam girders that you can walk across. It gets a little bouncy once you get halfway, so one person at a time crossing wouldn't be a bad idea. Due to the heavy rain, the remaining trails were wet, muddy, and full of puddles. The stream crossings over Panther Branch were a little more difficult because the water level rose a couple inches due to the rain. Some spots were muddy enough to cause a couple falls. Overall it was a cool hike. I'd do it again. Here is a link to my GPS data:




Name: Rob                                                                                                                   Hike: Gunpowder Falls-East
Date: 07/23/07                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: Just finished this hike about an hour ago.  Nice hike. Parts of trail along Gunpowder North trail are becoming overgrown so more people should try this hike.

Trail notes:
1. At the end of the pine plantation when the trail apparently hooks to the right then ends, keep heading downhill as stated in trail notes keeping between the downhill slope on both sides of you.  Eventually, the wooden seats will appear (at first they looked like a steel guard rail, you may even see the rooftop of a structure to your left at the bottom of the hill).
2. Immediately past the wooden seats/benches, the white blazed is on the right.  DON'T go across the footbridge straight ahead.  This also looks like it may have overgrown at some point as the only way I noticed it was it appeared that the area between the benches and the trail had been mowed.
3. On the white blaze just past the split where it is noted about the river blow downs, towards the top of the hill, it appears that the either continues straight uphill and/or to the left.  There is a blaze at the intersection.  Bear left.
4. After crossing the York Rd. bridge, there is a town sign for Wiseburg and the guardrails on both sides are open just enough to walk through on both sides.  There is even a blue blazed post sign for Gunpowder trail on your left but no sign to the right.  Take the right into the guardrail opening and there are some rocks (for runoff into the stream?)  You'll know you're back on the trail if the bridge and the stream are on your right side.  Also, the trail here for the first few yards is not quite clear but if you drop down the hill towards the stream you'll eventually see the trail ahead.
5. At this point and until you get to Falls Road, there are several short stretches of the path that have become overgrown.  Just basically keep the stream on your right until you get to Falls Road.
6. After crossing Falls Rd. bridge and heading in the opposite direction on Gunpowder South trail, the Panther Branch trail is now blazed blue.  Before crossing Panther, you can see blue blazes on tree just on the other side, and as you cross Panther, you will find a trail marker for Panther also showing Panther blue to the left up the hill and Gunpowder white continuing along the stream.
7. Just after heading uphill to the left on Panther Branch trail, the trail switches back in the opposite direction and continues along the Panther Branch stream on your left.
8. At one point, one of the Panther Branch crossings has two blue blazes on a tree and a tiny sign (about the size of a postcard) which states that "horse trail" goes off to the left and the hiking trail continues to the right (keeping Panther Branch stream on one's left).
9. Between this last point and up to the last Panther Branch crossing, it appears that due to several downed trees that the hiking path could be on either side of the stream.  I would cross the stream at one point, see the trail starting to become overgrown and look on the other side and kind of see where a trail could have previously been.  There were even two points while keeping Panther Branch stream on my left side, that the trail would veer off and up to the right following some smaller tributaries, but then the trail would cross the tributary and then head back towards the Panther Branch stream again...still keeping the stream on my left.  Finally, at one point, there is a "hiker's post?" or a trail marker with the number 11 on the top (basically a tree in the ground that was cut with a saw about two feet above the ground and a piece of plastic over the 11 marking).  It was at this point that I first crossed Panther Branch and now had the stream on my right side.  Agai!
 n this junction is confusing due to the amount of overgrowth.
10. At the last Panther Branch crossing, if the trough/trail isn't quite clear, you'll know you've gone too far if the current trail you're on starts veering uphill to the left and away from Panther Branch.  Another good indicator is now you may even see through the trees the top of the baseball fence which is lined with yellow plastic along the top edge of the fence (I had missed the trough heading up towards the pine needle road and saw the yellow topped fence from across the way halfway up the hill on the opposite side.

Sorry for the lengthy-ness.  Edit if you wish.


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