Little Gunpowder Trail: Fields of Crystalline Arches

The Little Gunpowder Trail is one of my go-to trails. Just outside the Baltimore beltway, it runs roughly twelve miles along the Little Gunpowder Falls from Pleasantville Road in Fallston, Maryland to Kingsville Park in … well, Kingsville. On February 11, the mid-Atlantic was covered with a blanket of new-fallen snow. Perfect. I got to the trailhead at 12:30pm and headed into a marshmallow world.

The trailhead I had chosen was off of Harford Road at the southern end of Section 2 of the Little Gunpowder Trail. These sections by the way, are of my own designation; they may or may not gel with other route labeling along the Gunpowder Falls. My Section 2 runs between Harford Road and Bottom Road, three trail-miles to the north. This stretch doesn’t have a lot of elevation, but it is replete with delightful scenery including the picturesque steel bridge on Bottom Road and a pair of small waterfalls on an associated tributary. I stepped onto the trail into four inches of wet snow that squeaked as it packed beneath my boots.

The trail wound for a third of a mile through a floodplain of brambles, old-growth trees, and tall grass. The run-of-the-mill brambles that choke the woods to each side of the trail bent under the weight of the white stuff, creating fields of crystalline arches. Each was topped with a sparkling ribbon of snow. The Gunpowder snaked through this winter wonderland, a near-black highway through a white world. I crossed a small waterway, passed through a field of wild rose, and entered the woods. Dollops of snow fell from the trees and piffed on my head and shoulders.

Nearly a mile into my hike, I came to another creek gurgling its way toward the Gunpowder. This is Dick Branch. No, I am not making that up and I have no idea how it got it’s name, but here we are. At the Dick Branch I had a choice. I could cross and continue up the Gunpowder Falls, or bear left and hike up the branch. I turned left and took the Waterfall Trail. This trail tracks a quarter-mile upstream and passes two small cataracts. These falls are a delight in summer and they did not disappoint in winter either. The first is best viewed from the other side, the second, a few yards further upstream, fell five or six feet in a cascading sheet. The water frothed against a dark background framed by a stark mantle of snow. Icy white fingers reached for the falling water as if trying to grasp the glittering jewels that tumbled over the black rock.

I crossed the branch above the second falls and started back downstream. As I passed, I turned to look at the first falls, viewing it from above. This is the larger of the two chutes, plummeting fifteen feet through the snowy woods. Unfortunately this section of Dick Branch Falls was partially obstructed by deadfall. Two large trees lay over the cataract, looking appealing with their virginal veneer of snow but spoiling the view of the falling water. I continued downstream and rejoined the Little Gunpowder Trail.

From that point, the trail undulated along the river past snow-spattered trees and rock. All was black and white, as if I strode through an Ansel Adams photograph. The two-tone landscape was in need of some color; I was in need of some stability. The wet snow packed nicely and the trail wasn’t particularly treacherous, but tiny lateral slips were wreaking havoc on the torn meniscus in my right knee. I stopped, taking a moment to don my bright red microspikes. A little more sure-footed, I continued north, my crimson feet flashing along the trail like a teacher’s pen on a type-written term paper. As I continued, I suddenly seemed to be constantly stepping on a rock or log. Turns out, my traction came with a price; balls of wet snow were collecting in the chains of the microspikes and growing in size with every step – almost like a snowball rolling downhill. I had to continually knock the snowballs off my boots, but it was worth it to keep my knee stable.

On I went, striding through the silent woods and enjoying the snow-dampened serenity. No other hikers had ventured onto this section of trail on that afternoon, and I enjoyed the solitary communion with nature. The only evidence of other life was the occasional bird call or the tracks of woodland creatures. At one point I followed the cloven prints of a white-tailed deer, which zigged and zagged next to the trail. Eventually the hapless deer’s tracks became interlaced with scarlet stains of blood. I searched for other tracks to determine what might have been worrying the creature, but found none. Eventually, the tracks veered up into the woods, and I was left with no answers to the events that had caused the bloody scene. I was still thinking of the deer when the bridge on Bottom Road came into view.

I climbed up onto the road and stepped out onto the bridge, one of those old steel bridges that are almost always painted green. It was but looked nearly black in the high-contrast scene. The view down the Little Gunpowder from the bridge was sublime; the black-and-white forest reflected on the river in shades of grey, as if someone had simply adjusted the contrast on the water. I spent several minutes drinking in the hibernal scene before heading back the way I had come. I retraced my steps back to the Dick Branch where I crossed rather than hike up to the falls again. Continuing past the crystal arches, I made my way back to the lot on Harford Road.

At only 178 feet of elevation over a six-mile round trip, this section of the Little Gunpowder Falls is a pleasant jaunt in the summer. It was a little more challenging with a fresh blanket of snow. It’s a great hike in any weather, offering beautiful views of the Gunpowder, and a variety of wildlife including chipmunks, deer, blue heron, and, if you’re lucky, the occasional bald eagle. I frequently see the majestic raptors soaring over the water and crying their high-pitched eagle cry. The falls on Dick Branch are among the nicest in Harford County, second only to Kilgore Falls in Rocks State Park. (There are pictures of Kilgore Falls in my Rocks State Park post – read here). Check out the Little Gunpowder Falls Trail – it’s easy to follow but blazed in white so, if you plan to hike on a day like the one in this post, don’t count on seeing the blazes! ♦

Date: Febuary 11, 2021
Location: Kingsville, MD
Trailhead: 39.478764, -76.422306
Distance: 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 178 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

BIT|Hiker acknowledges the indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Piscataway, Nantego, and Susquehannock.

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