Hiking – Gunpowder Falls and Prettyboy Reservoir (Hereford Area)

Last weekend I hiked in Gunpowder Falls State Park near the Prettyboy Reservoir in Baltimore County, MD. It was drizzling when we hit the trail, and there was more rain in the forecast. Relating somewhat to my previous post about being outdoors in cold weather, hiking in the rain isn’t ideal, but we came prepared to complete roughly 8 miles on the trail.

My hiking companions for the day were my friend Jesse and his 2 year old daughter Geneva. While we were on the trail, it was impressive to see a 2-year-old step over some big muddy obstacles with no hesitation. I suppose it takes the edge off if you know there is an option for someone to carry you at any point on the trail.

In the Rain

Jesse and Geneva preparing for the weather at the Bunker Hill Parking Lot

Gunpowder Falls

Gunpowder Falls is a river that runs through Baltimore County and flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It is impounded twice along its course to create the Loch Raven and Prettyboy Reservoirs. The boundaries of Gunpowder Falls State Park surround much of the river in six different sections. Our hike took us through the Hereford Area, which I remember fondly from my cross-country days. Hereford High School (located right across the street from our starting point) has one of the toughest cross country courses in the US. I digress.

Hiking along Gunpowder Falls

Hereford Area Trail Map

Hiking Map

Gunpowder Falls at the start of our rainy hike

We parked in the parking lot at the end of Bunker Hill Road, where we found the trailhead. Actually, there are multiple trailheads, but we took the most obvious paved trail which leads down to a bathroom and picnic area. We then took a left turn onto the Gunpowder South Trail to head upstream.

Hemlocks along the ravine near the trail junction

The trail takes you over the Mingo Branch which you can cross (only a few inches deep) by stepping on some exposed rocks. After about half of a mile, the trail turns slightly away from the water and up the hill into the Masemore Hemlock Ravines Natural Area. Along the steep slopes, there are several stands of evergreens which, according to the name, are primarily Hemlocks. At one point in this area you come across a trail junction for the Mingo Forks Trail which loops back to Bunker Hill Road. There were a few folks bird-watching along the trail. Jesse pointed out a Kingfisher flying along the river near Masemore Road.

We continued along the South Gunpowder Falls Trail, originally intending on making it to the Prettyboy Dam. Once we made it to Masemore Road, the rain had picked up and despite her toughness, Geneva was beginning to feel the effects of the weather. Rather than punish her (and ourselves) any further by completing another ~6 miles in the cold rain, we headed back to the cars and finished the day with only 3 miles of hiking. We could always drive to the Dam. Plus our unfinished hike gives us an excuse to return to Gunpowder Falls in the future and complete the “route not taken” to the Dam.

Prettyboy Dam

OK so it wasn’t a particularly strenuous hike. With the rain coming down hard, we were now driving to our destination for the day, the Prettyboy Dam [insert joke here]. The Prettyboy Reservoir also provides most of the drinking water for the city of Baltimore. The Dam has an interesting design in that most of the water cascades down the lower walls. Despite the cold wet weather, the mist from the dam combined with the moisture in the air to create a dense fog. This added a mystical element to the surrounding forest; reminiscent of Scotland.

The rain didn’t let up at the Dam, and we called it a day after walking down to the lower end of the dam. We took a scenic drive (see map above) around the reservoir since neither of us had seen the area before and headed home. It’s very scenic, and I’m sure much better in warmer and drier weather.


Gunpowder Falls and the Prettyboy Reservoir are popular recreation areas, however since we hiked on a cold rainy day, there were few other people outside. Which was great in a sense, but warmer weather (and more leaves on the trees) would make for a better experience. I will certainly head back to the area in the near future to finish our hiking route “not taken” to the Dam and check out the many trails near the reservoir. Ciao for now.

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