Family Fun

Enjoying the Baltimore-Washington Trail System


Walking, dog walking, walking with strollers, running, foraging, birding, watching airplanes, picnicking. Road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, tandem bikes, electric bikes, outdoor elliptical bikes. Rollerblades, roller skis, electric scooters, hover boards, and contraptions yet to be invented. These are all activities you'll see on the B&A Trail……now that’s what I call multipurpose!

The B&A Trail near the Ranger Station. Photo courtesy Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks.

Though the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail (B&A) and the Baltimore Washington International Trail (BWI) are separate trails, as a user they feel like one continuous trail, as my weekday training ride straddles both trails, and they are only separated by Dorsey Road.

B&A Trail Overview

The B&A Trail is 13 miles long, beginning at Boulters Way in Annapolis and continuing to Dorsey Road in Glen Burnie. The B&A is a true rail trail, following the footprint of the old “Annapolis and Baltimore Short Line" which was built in the 1880s to provide a direct rail link between the state capital in Annapolis and the City of Baltimore. History buffs can learn more about the railroad’s history at the the B&A Railroad Museum (also referred to as the Ranger Station), located alongside the trail in Earleigh Heights.

At a maximum grade of 3%, the B&A is primarily flat, except for a few quick overpasses, passing through a mix of woodland, suburban neighborhoods, and shopping centers. There are plenty of places to stop to grab a snack or lunch. Before you reach Jumpers Hole Road on the left is a small wetland which is a great place for observing ducks and turtles sunning on logs.

The portion of trail that travels through Severna Park is heavily used and has frequent stops. For many years the B&A was my go-to place to ride my road bike, but I found it hard to social distance at the beginning of the pandemic and began riding the BWI trail exclusively. Now I prefer the better workout I get from the hills around the airport, with fewer stops, and fewer people.

Places to Park Along the B&A

On the southern end of the B&A, before the trail officially begins, there is a trail head parking lot.   You can also use the Jones Station Park and Ride in Severna Park. There are two small parking lots at the B&A Railroad Museum, which has the added benefit of heated restrooms and picnic tables. These lots tend to fill up on weekends. I have also parked at both Jumpers Hole Shopping Center and Marley Station Mall. Right after you pass through Glen Burnie town center, you come to Sawmill Creek Park. The park itself has a lot to offer in addition to parking: a picnic pavilion, skate park, basketball and tennis courts, water fountain, playground and portable toilets.

The 1.5 mile section of trail from Sawmill Creek Park to Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area on Dorsey Road (official northern terminus of the B&A Trail) is referred to as the John Overstreet Connector Trail. This stretch of trail is the most wooded, shady and prettiest part of the whole trail system and has my vote for the most scenic portion to walk.

The Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area has parking, a playground, portable toilets, and offers great views of planes landing. This lot can fill up on weekends; if so, the best option on crowded days is to park at Lindale Middle School on Andover Road or adjacent Andover Park that has restrooms and a picnic area.

BWI Trail Overview

The BWI Marshall Airport Hiker-Biker trail is a 12.5-mile loop that circles around the entire airport. To ride the loop clockwise from the Observation Park, just follow the trail left up a slight hill on the very left corner of the parking lot, continuing up Dorsey Road, then cross Dorsey at the light at the top of the hill. The BWI loop can also be accessed (counter clockwise) by following the Connector Trail from Sawmill Creek Park and then continuing straight when you cross over the bridge on Stewart Avenue.

The persimmon trees along the BWI Trail provide a nice carb boost in the fall.

After navigating your way past two busy parks with lots of people walking the trail, it’s like a breath of fresh air to travel on the BWI’s more open, less populated loop. As a long-time runner, I enjoy the hills on the BWI loop that offer a chance to get my heart rate up. Take a break at the top of the biggest hill to enjoy a great airport view. Just after the hill (riding counterclockwise at least) is the Andover Equestrian Center, a full service training, boarding and lesson horse farm. Seeing the horses is a destination unto itself for some trail users, especially popular with children, and it’s easy to park at Andover Park or the middle school and meander over.

The historic Benson Hammond House is located on a corner of the airport grounds adjacent to the trail. The Ann Arrundell County Historical Society continues to operate the house as the only remaining example of what was once a thriving business in northern Anne Arundel County – truck farming. A summer kitchen and wash house, a tack house, corn crib, meat house and privy have all been, or are in the process of being, restored to their 1880’s appearance, in addition to the Hammond family home.

An annual strawberry festival is held at the Benson Hammond House. The 2022 edition will be held on June 11.

Trail Safety and Etiquette

In a perfect world, everyone would just stay to the right, pass on the left, notify others when passing, ride or walk single file, keep dogs close, etc. However, that is not exactly the reality of life on the trail. Bike riders need to be aware that near parks, trail users tend to be somewhat oblivious to bicyclers, so one needs to slow down and be prepared to stop quickly for children, dog leashes clothes-lined across the trail, people standing in the middle of the trail, etc. In general, bicyclists and skaters should yield to pedestrians and slower trail users.

It’s great to see children learning to ride bicycles using the trail, but one suggestion to parents for their child’s safety and safety of others is to be sure your child is able to understand staying to the right before riding on the trail.

When passing, bike riders need to communicate that they are “passing on the left.” One very important caution about vehicular traffic: even though there are crossing buttons/signals for trail users at most major intersections, even if the pedestrian signal goes on you should still look both ways and be cautious.

Outdoor exercise has been an important part of my life for many years, and this trail system is a essential to my routine and, I dare say, health and happiness. I’m sure I’m not alone in that! The entire “Washington–Baltimore Combined Statistical Area” population is 9,973,383, according to the 2020 census, and the BWI/B&A trail system is accessible to most of that population – at least on weekends. That’s a lot of potential health and happiness. Having sought out and ridden rail trails across the country, I can vouch for the fact that this trail system is one of the best.

Maps, links, more resources

B&A Trail Map   

BWI Trail Map   

Rails to Trails Conservancy 

Baltimore and Annapolis Trail

The Baltimore and Annapolis Trail Park in central Maryland features a paved surface ten feet wide set within a corridor of parkland over thirteen miles long. The linear park is shared by walkers, runners, bicyclists, rollerbladers, and others.

Pat Pasley

Pat Pasley is a communications freelancer and outdoor enthusiast.

April 9, 2022

Main image: The BWI Trail with the Andover Equestrian Center in the background. All photos by Pat Pasley except as noted.
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