A visit to Baltimore usually means plenty of beer and crabs, so burning off a few calories — and getting some fresh air at the same time — is a smart way to spend a bit of your vacation time.
Luckily, within a half-hour drive of the city center are a few glorious hiking trails that can easily be tackled in an afternoon or even a couple of hours. There are also green spaces within the city for easier strolls if you don’t have a car or prefer to leave your hiking boots at home.
Just north of the Beltway (I-695), the Loch Raven Reservoir is one of the quickest ways to get out of town and into nature — it’s about a 30-minute drive from downtown.
There are a number of trails (of varying levels of difficulty) that run along the reservoir banks and offer views of the water, along with an astonishing number of birds to see, including blue jays, woodpeckers, cardinals and bald eagles.
Southern trails are less challenging than the 9.3-mile Merryman’s Mill Trail, which runs around the western side of the reservoir. You can add in extra loops or steeper climbs to make it even tougher.
More than 200 miles of trails await in Patapsco, just 13 miles east of Baltimore: It’s so close you could even do a morning hike, head back to the city for lunch, and then do an afternoon hike. The Patapsco River cuts down the middle of the park, and you can raft here in the summer months.
A particularly good trail for kids is the 2.2-mile Cascade Trail, which follows a brook to a series of waterfalls and wading pools. Other trails in the park (some hikers-only, some multiuse) range from easy to difficult, and it’s even possible to do just a quick half-mile hike if that’s all you have time for.
The Gwynns Falls Trail, a full 15 miles long, has nine trailheads, meaning you can start your hike from the spot most convenient to you.
It’s not your ordinary hiking trail, though — many of those 15 miles are asphalt and wind through the city’s historic neighborhoods before leading out to dirt trails, waterfalls and Piedmont forest (it’s also a great biking trail).
One particularly good place to begin is the Baltimore Visitor Center in the Inner Harbor, where you can pick up maps that highlight the interesting historical points you’ll pass as you walk, like the 18th-century Mount Clare Mansion, 19th-century trading posts and the Western Maryland Railroad.
If you’re more of a casual stroller than an avid hiker, you can grab some fresh air and stretch your legs while staying well within the city limits. Dating back to 1860, Druid Hill is one of the oldest urban parks in America.
Its 745 acres comprise well-kept lawns, welcoming picnic spots, the Maryland Zoo and the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory, a stunning Victorian glass building home to all sorts of flora and fauna and open to the public.
There’s also a gentle 1.5-mile walking/biking loop around the reservoir. The park holds farmers markets and live music events; check them out here.