So, you want to go to the woods…

Pine trees greet you at one of the entrances to Hashawa (Molly Sherman / McDaniel Free Press).

It’s finally the point of the year when Spring feels like Spring and life is starting to emerge from every nook and cranny. Now, walking through the woods feels as magical as ever, as you see new life literally blossoming before your eyes.

The emergence of wildflowers and trees creates the most vibrant colors, naturally. The smells around the area are equally as intoxicating, as every plant competes for pollinators. Sensory moments like these really make you envious of the bees of the world, spending their time in the flowers.

One of the most exciting sensations is how loud these woods get when teeming with life. With spring comes the thunderous noises of mating seasons. The development of the frogs’ various mating sounds is one of the most natural gauges of time. When clocks and calendars may fail us, wood frogs chirping in the forests and the mighty bullfrog croaking deep into the summer nights will not.

This article is here to help you immerse yourself in and experience the natural world around the McDaniel campus. Whether you’re someone who wants to stroll through natural wildflowers, or a thrill seeker that’s in it to swim it, here are some trails with your name on ’em.

Here are a few of my favorite spots around the area:

Hashawha & Bear Branch Nature Center

The first of these parks is just outside of the Westminster area, less than a 10-minute drive from the campus. Going north on Pennsylvania Avenue, drive until a right turn onto John Owings road. Once on this road, you can either park by two ponds, great for fishing, or you can drive a bit further ahead and turn left onto Hashawha Road. Bear Branch nature center and Hashawha nature center work with local organizations, such as Weed Warriors, to guarantee native growth and a boon to biodiversity. Personally, this is where I’ve found the most wood frogs and red-backed salamanders. The strengths of this area are its stream, known as the Bear Branch, and the lake, known as Lake Hashawha. This area’s greatest qualities are the ease of hiking and the abundance of wildflowers. Spring Beauties, violets, bloodroot, and wild mustard spread far and wide.

Morgan Run

Honestly, you could write a book about Morgan Run and its many strengths. This river is directly south from Westminster on 97, with each spot being about a 20 minute drive. I’m going to break it down by parking area, since each one offers something different in biome and utility.

  • Jim Bowers Road: This trail is accessible by heading south on 97, then left on Nicodemus Road, and the next right onto Jim Bowers Road. This trail will take you to the thick of Morgan Run, near a fallen bridge. Some of the most trout I’ve ever found in Maryland reside here! This area excels for hiking with a fun trail running south and north. It presents many opportunities for recreation like swimming, (two great spots: by the bridge and a fallen log downstream) climbing, and aesthetic beauty. 
  • Klees Mill Road: This parking lot is best known as Morgan Run Boulders, and for great reason! When initially parking here, you’re met by some amazing boulders. This area is amazing for rock climbing, as well as appreciating the natural beauty within the old growth forest. Whether going upstream or downstream, there’s an opportunity to connect to the land.
  • London Bridge Road: This final area doesn’t have a parking lot, only a pull-off on the side of the road, just past the bridge. Here, you’ll find the best swimming opportunities, as well as an opening to a massive forest next to Liberty Reservoir. This spot has various rocks to jump off and a lake crowded with trout. The area is also known for morels and its massive pine forest that alternates between coniferous and deciduous. You can even set up by the lake and watch the beavers spring out of the water!

Patapsco River – McKeldin Area 

This massive park is on the Patapsco River, a river flowing from Liberty Reservoir all the way to Loch Raven. This is the closest state park to us of the Patapsco, just over 30 minutes away from campus. This park requires two dollars to get into, but is worth every penny!

Located off Marriottsville Road, this forest has just about everything. Hikes here range in difficulty, from walks along the river in a field, to switchbacks among giant boulders. My favorite section here would be the tall Poplar trails, with trees dwarfing the rest of the vegetation. There are several streams all throughout the park, making the woods lush. This area is also home to one of the few Class IV rapids in Maryland, for all of you kayakers or rapids enthusiasts. 

Another secret spot here just beyond the confines of the park is the Liberty Dam, one of the best swim spots in Maryland, as well as an architectural masterpiece. To discover it, you’ll want to go North on Marriottsville Road, just past the McKeldin Area, and then take an immediate left after a large bridge. Park anywhere on this road and head on the path upstream, for rocks you can sunbathe on, vernal ponds, and the Liberty Dam!

Prettyboy Reservoir 

The last area we have to talk about is the Prettyboy Reservoir, which is half an hour North of McDaniel, and consists mostly of coniferous trees. To get to the reservoir itself, park alongside Beckleysville Road, where there’s pullouts on either side and a fire road to your right. There is a gigantic monoculture pine forest that feels ancient. There will eventually be a trail that will lead down to the water.

The Prettyboy Reservoir is illegal to swim in. However, there are anecdotes of folks cliff jumping into the water, including a chalk silhouette on a rock beyond a hill’s edge. If you aren’t to follow these unverified stories, the park has a slew of trails and streams that are sure to fascinate!

This article only presents a few spots, there are a ton more hidden gems all throughout the county. You just need a little bit of gas and a lot of drive! If you’re interested in hiking and enjoying the outdoors with others, consider joining Green Life, a student organization on campus that has ventured to all the spots in this list, please reach out to Erick Lowe at!