Read an Excerpt
Robert E. Lee Park – Serpentine
Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 3.7 miles
Configuration: Out-and-back with a loop and out and back
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Scenery: Jones Falls, serpentine ecosystem, upland forest
Exposure: Mostly shade
Traffic: Light to moderate
Trail Surface: Packed dirt, serpentinite
Hiking Time: 2 hours
Access: Dawn to dusk
Maps: USGS Cockeysville
Special Comments: Because of their differing natures, the two Robert E. Lee Park hikes described in this book are treated separately; however, because they share the same trailhead, they can be easily combined for one long hike. See the previous hike in this book for details.
Take I-695 to Exit 23, Falls Road. Follow to the first light at Joppa Road and make a left back onto Falls. Cross Old Court Road and go another 0.3 miles. Park on the left shoulder where the road sweeps to the right. The trail starts just beyond the guardrail.
Follow an old rail bed along the Jones Falls to an upland forest containing rare serpentine landscape.
The first 0.75 miles of this hike follows the same route as the previous hike in this book, Robert E. Lee – Lake Roland. For a more specific description of the beginning of this hike, see that description. For now, climb the guardrail and follow the trail 0.75 miles to the steel bridge spanning the Jones Falls.
Cross the bridge and look for two path offshoots – both to the right, one leading downhill and one leading uphill; pass both of these and take the next path you see to the right; it’s easy to spot. This trail is very rocky and rooty; you’ll see a blue blaze or two, but these will die out. At just over 0.8 miles, the trail suddenly opens up and you’ll be in an entirely new landscape in an area that’s part of “Bare Hills.” You’ll see prairie grass and smell the short, stubby pines as you walk over the rocky topsoil.
The sharp rocks you see about you are serpentine, or serpentinite, a mineral that produces extremely nutrient-poor soil that supports few plants and grasses. According to the Maryland Geologic Society, serpentine landscapes are “Stony, unfertile and sparsely vegetated – hence the term ‘serpentine barren.’ Typically a serpentine barren contains scrub oak and pine, cedar, grasses and some unique and rare wildflowers.” It also produces chromium, or chromite, the raw ingredient for chrome. This extremely rare ecosystem exists in only a few places in Maryland. (For a heavy dose of serpentine, take the hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area. Between Bare Hills and Soldiers Delight, almost all the chrome in the world was mined and produced in the early to mid-19th century).
The landscape here is a new world from the forest you just left. After turning up hill, follow the trail 500 feet to a clearing. Here, the trail splits. Go left. The foliage is dominated by short stubby pines, crisscrossed by loads of deer trails. There are also many little trail offshoots. Take the main one, which is recognizable as the widest. It’s full of rocks and heads uphill. But do note the all these little paths; they offer plenty of opportunity to explore as they form a spider web of trails across the hillside. The hike described here simply follows the “main” trail, but you’d be encouraged to veer off and explore.
This is a beautiful place, and one that can be a real revelation to those living in the Baltimore area who have never seen a serpentine landscape before. With its many rocks and minimal vegetation, it looks little like the typical hardwood and piedmont forests of the region. At a little over 1 mile, you’ll see the remnants of a pit mine to the left. Don’t expect a massive open pit, but rather a filled depression about 3 X 3 feet across. There’s a tiny and very pretty stream you’ll jump over soon after. The rightward path here eventually goes to a private road.
After another 200 feet, where the trail opens onto another clearing, head right up the hill. In spring, this area is dotted with little white wildflowers. At 1.2 miles, the foliage begins to change again – to the more recognizable forests of the area. There’s one last fork; head left back into woods. There’s a trail intersection soon after. Head left. Then, a few hundred feet later, go left again onto a wider trail, near a gorge to the right. This trail meets the main one you used coming in. Take a left to head back to the bridge. (There’s another trail heading to the left up the hill soon after, so if you want to do more exploring in the serpentine area, take it).
This time, when you cross the bridge, head immediately down the hill to the right. This little trail follows the Moores Branch of the Jones Falls for a 1-mile out-and-back, toward where Roland Run enters Lake Roland. Along the way, look for the foundations and existing brick structures of some old ruins to the left 0.1 mile from the steel bridge. It requires you leaving the trail and heading up the hill; there’s no established path. Do tread considerately. Just up the hill from these structures is a private home.
You’ll reach the steel bridge on your return at 2.9. Backtrack to your car.
See the next hike in this book, Robert E. Lee – Lake Roland for two nearby historic sites. If you’re hungry, there are great coffee shops and bakeries along Falls Road heading south. Continuing on Falls Road south, you’ll come to Mt. Washington in just a few miles, containing shops and groceries, and one of the nicest business districts anywhere around. Take a right over the Kelly Avenue bridge to reach Mt. Washington.