Self-Guided Opportunities
Canoeing and Kayaking
Location Gunpowder Falls State Park in Northern Baltimore County, York Road to Sparks Road
Gunpowder Falls State Park, 410-592-2897.
Access Site Access the creek from York Road where it crosses the Big Gunpowder Falls, which is reached via I-83 exit 27 on Mount Carmel Road heading east, then a left turn heading north onto York Road. Put in at the bottom of the grassy area on the downstream side. The take-out is on Sparks Road where it crosses the Big Gunpowder Falls just downstream and to the left of the iron bridge. Sparks Road is reached via a left turn off of York Road south. All other road crossings for take-outs in between Big Falls Road and Sparks Road are on private property.
River Trip Distance 11 miles
Time 4 hours
Water Conditions Canoeable winter and spring within three or four days of a hard rain. Sometimes canoeable in early summer, provided that the Prettyboy Reservoir is full, or the Little Falls (a tributary) is running high. During dry spells, the amount of river flow from the dam is not sufficient for boating. However, the City of Baltimore will release water to fill the Loch Raven Reservoir further downstream if the dry spells are prolonged. This typically occurs in late August. There is no provision for public notification of these releases. The creek provides riffles and fast-moving flatwater. A rocky rapid by the quarry between Big Falls and Blue Mount Road provides excitement and can catch paddlers off-guard.
Skill Level Easy to moderate difficulty (should have experience on moving water)
Suitable For Families? Yes, with older children
Hazards/Restrictions Fallen trees can obstruct the stream. The water temperature is extremely cold (55 degrees) due to dam releases from the bottom of the reservoir. Be careful of hypothermia and wear water-wicking clothing. Private property borders much of the stream. Be respectful of private land owners and their property.
Potable Water Carry in your own water.
Natural Features The Big Gunpowder Falls flows through calm sections and a series of bouldery rapids through hard, erosion-resistant mica schist rock.
Habitat for trees is adapted to cool hillsides and floodplains, including river birch, cherries, oaks, hemlocks, mountain laurel, dogwood, spicebush and witch hazel.
Early spring wildflower displays include hepatica, bloodroot, spring beauty, rue anemone and pink ladies slippers. Late summer flowers include goldenrod, asters and woodland sunflowers.
Beaver activity in the river, evidenced by gnawed trees, is common. Numerous brown trout thrive in pools in the cool water. The gorge through the park between York Road and Big Falls Road is particularly attractive.
Historic/Cultural Features None
Guiding Ultimate Watersports (410-666-WIND) provides sit-on-top kayaking excursions.
Rentals Canoes can be rented in Jarrettsville, Monkton, Timonium and Towson. Kayaks can be rented in Chase from Ultimate Watersports, 410-666-WIND.
Camping Organized youth group camping is available at nearby Camp Wood on Bunker Hill Road. Call the park for reservations at 410-592-2897. A private recreation park offering camping is located in the Hereford Area.
Other Points of Interest Many trails are located in the Hereford Wildlands and also surround Prettyboy Reservoir, including the Northern Central Railroad Trail and Monkton Train Station. Fly-fishing for trout is a popular activity in the river. Kayakers, canoeists and tubers test their skills in the swift water.
Other Accommodations The Mill Pond Cottage, a quaint park-owned home located on Masemore Road, is being renovated for overnight rental accommodations. Call 410-592-2897. A bed and breakfast is located in Parkton.
Fees or Permits A service charge is in effect for youth group camping.
Description The Gunpowder Falls rises in the hills along the Pennsylvania line and meanders southeastward through beautiful upper Baltimore County before tumbling over the Fall Line to the tidal Gunpowder River in eastern Baltimore County. This river is contained by two reservoirs along its path to tidewater, because the stream provides most of metropolitan Baltimore's water supply. The trips offered on the upper Gunpowder are particularly attractive, because of their scenic beauty, proximity to Baltimore and the longer-lasting paddling season than other streams in the region.

This trip has a generally smooth, but swift path with some riffles. The rocky rapid between Big Falls Road and Blue Mount Road can be unexpected to paddlers. The river winds through a shallow wooded gorge with scenic rock outcrops, shutting out views of development and making for a relatively isolated, remote-feeling trip. Other sections provide scenes of the surrounding countryside, horse farms, abandoned fields and country homes. The lower reaches of the trip parallel the Northern Central Railroad Trail, which is extensively used by hikers and bikers. The river is also popular with anglers and lots of tubers. Be respectful of other recreationists and private land owners. Be sure to take out at Sparks or Phoenix roads. Below that the Gunpowder backs up into the flat water of Loch Raven Reservoir. Canoeing is illegal there without a permit, and there are no good places to take out.

  • Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails (Edward Gertler)
  • Gunpowder Falls State Park trail map and guide, available from the park office
  • Hiking, Cycling and Canoeing in Maryland (Bryan MacKay)
  • Gunpowder Falls State Park homepage
Recommended Gear and Safety Tips
  • Spare paddles
  • Knee pads
  • Hat
  • Water
  • Insect repellant
  • Canoe or kayak
  • Personal flotation devices (life jackets)
  • Appropriate shoes that can get wet
  • Throw ropes and a bowline