Gunpowder Falls State Park in Hereford, Maryland, is my favorite place to take the horses within an hour's drive of South Central Pennsylvania. This beautiful park contains about 20 miles of trails that traverse the area, and parallel both the north and south banks of the Gunpowder Falls River. The parking area is located off of Exit 27 on I-83. I'd highly recommend parking at the pull-off area, where you can easily access the trailheads for either the Mingo Forks or Bunker Hill trails.
Before heading to Gunpowder, purchase a detailed trail guide from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. (See below.) The guide will help you to navigate the 3,620-acre park; all trails are marked with a blaze that corresponds to the color code on the map.
River & Rock
I'd rate many of the trails in the Hereford area to be of moderate difficulty, and not well-suited for beginners. There are numerous stream crossings, and the river's water level can sometimes reach stirrup height.
Not to discourage anyone, but it was at this park that my wife, Janell, had her first - and hopefully, last - horse injury. We took a slight detour off a main trail to get around a fallen tree, and while we were going down a small bank, her saddle slid forward, causing her to slip over the horse's head and onto her own! We ended up in a nearby emergency room, but fortunately, a few days later, the stitches were gone, and her confidence was restored.
A ride on the Gunpowder North Trail that follows the river is one of my personal favorites. Even on a warm summer day, the cool water seems to chill the surrounding hillsides, filled with river birch, oaks, hemlocks, and mountain laurel.
The rock outcroppings above add to the backdrop and give the area a feeling of seclusion. If you're lucky, you may even spot a beaver near the dozens of gnawed tree stumps along the trail. If you take the Gunpowder South Trail from the bridge at Masemore Rd., you'll encounter some tricky spots along the river where the trail narrows with a steep drop-off.
As an old-time trail boss once told me, "This is not a place to pick a fight with your horse, so just keep him off the edge and let him take care of you."
Also on this route, don't attempt to ride from the Highland Trail intersect (west of Falls Road) to Pretty Boy Dam, because it's impassable by horseback.
If you prefer a much less challenging ride, head to the Gunpowder Falls Sweet Air Area, a park watershed system located a bit farther south in Harford County. Also purchase a trail guide from the Maryland DNR, which details the 1,250-acre park's 18 miles of blazed trails.
In late summer, Janell and I rode out of the Sweet Air parking area on the Boundary Trail, which runs southwest for about a mile before reaching the river. This trail passed through open cornfields bordering the north side of the park.
A deer jumped out of the thicket, and Janell made an unscheduled dismount. With only her pride injured, she mounted up, gripping the saddle horn a bit tighter. In a poor attempt to boost her spirits, I joked that no one would believe me if I described two horse wrecks in the same trail story!
Upon reaching Gunpowder Falls, we headed south, following the Little Gunpowder Trail for about a mile and a half, before fording the river. About a mile after crossing the river, we picked up a connecting trail taking us in the direction of Green Glade Pond.
We continued on the Boundary Trail back toward the river, heading north along the opposite shore. Much to our disappointment, the trails at Sweet Air didn't offer the dramatic aquatic backdrop that you'll find at Hereford. However, the trails are well-marked and maintained, and suitable for most riders, and will provide you with many hours of scenic woodland travel.
For more information on Gunpoweder Falls State Park, call (888) 423-CAMP , or visit www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/gunpowder.html.