My discovery of Pot Rocks came while searching for a swimming hole last year. I’d recently returned from the rainforest of Puerto Rico and had become accustomed to cooling off in a river. Luckily, I didn’t have to journey far, since this area of Gunpowder Falls State park, the so-called Central Area, is located right off Belair Road in Baltimore County. Upon arrival with my “puppy” in tow, I was immediately concerned that this hike would not be what I had hoped. The overflow parking lot had already filled and a line of parked cars had formed on the shoulder near the entrance. I took this as an indication of how heavily used the trail might be, but one look at my dog’s expectant face convinced me we should at least find out for sure – and I’m glad we did!
At the far-left corner of the Central Area parking lot is the trailhead of the “Lost Pond” Circuit. This eventually leads to Pot Rocks. Surprisingly, the trail wasn’t nearly as congested as I assumed it would be. Though we passed several hikers and other dogs, everyone smiled and all the dogs quickly became friends. The path itself, gratefully, was almost entirely shaded, but be prepared to traverse a few muddy spots, a manageable stream crossing, and a small footbridge. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the junction where the Lost Pond Trail forks and another 10 minutes from there to reach the swimming area.
During the entirety of the walk, the trail paralleled the river with the rushing water in sight at every bend. Every few yards, we found short, well-worn trails leading from the main trail to the riverbank that served as pocket-sized picnic areas, fishing piers, inner-tube launch ramps, and perfect photo ops. This helped explain why the main trail was not extremely crowded, since many of these areas were occupied.
Before settling into our own alcove, we walked a short distance down to where the river widens and I was blown away to find a stunning swimming hole retreat. There was a small island serving as the ultimate hammock camp, large blanketed rocks transformed into tanning beds, and, of course, a throng of children, adults, and dogs splashing in the current. It was amazing! Due to the size of my “puppy”, I decided to forgo the party this time and continued to a little spot, just as magical but more secluded, further upriver.
I’ve returned to this area several times and have learned to be mindful of the tide and the last rain event, as these two factors will drastically affect the depth and flow of the river. If you do plan on taking a splash, I would highly recommend wearing water shoes to avoid slipping. If you would rather just watch from afar, there is a spectacular overlook that veers off to the left of the trail just before reaching the large swimming area. Despite being a trash-free park, trash is inevitably left behind. So, bring an extra trash bag for your fellow hiker or family – someone will need it.
Notwithstanding the size of Gunpowder Falls State Park and its additional 118.5 miles of trails across Baltimore and Harford Counties, the Pot Rocks trail is, hands down, my favorite and judging by its popularity probably that of many others, too. And to top it off there is no entrance fee!
Directions: Take I-695 to Exit 32, MD 1 North (Belair Rd), and go 5.5 miles; look for the parking lot straight ahead after crossing Gunpowder River. Park in the auxiliary parking lot, then head to the back left corner of the lot to reach the Lost Pond Trail, marked with a blue hash. After a bit less than a mile, you'll come to a crossroads. To the left is the continuation of the Lost Pond Trail, which leads you up the hillside and up to some beautiful, open fields. Bear right at the trail marker and continue hiking for about ten minutes, and you've reached the Pot Rocks.