At a Glance
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily.
Tips: The trail is packed stone-dust and generally has a good surface, but waterproof boots can be useful if exploring side trails. ■ Weekday mornings are the best time to bird. Early morning on the weekend can be good, with only light bicycle traffic. ■ The trail is wheelchair-accessible. ■ Restrooms (some permanent some portable) are available at Paper Mill, Phoenix, Glencoe, Monkton, White Hall, and Bentley Springs. There used to be a restroom at Freeland but it has been closed.
Best Seasons: Spring, summer, and fall.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Cockeysville NE, Hereford SE, Hereford CE, Hereford NE, Phoenix SW, Phoenix CW, Phoenix NW, New Freedom SE, New Freedom CE, New Freedom NE, New Freedom NW
Local MOS Chapter: Baltimore Bird Club
Northern Central Railroad Trail (NCRT)
aka Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail
2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville, MD 21087
The Northern Central Railroad Trail (NCRT or the NCR Trail), formally known as the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail, is a state park facility administered by Gunpowder Falls State Park. The trail is located north of the City of Baltimore, and runs 21 miles from Ashland north to the Pennsylvania State Line, passing through historic communities including Phoenix, Monkton, White Hall, Bentley Springs, and Freeland. A 20-mile continuation of the trail extends into Pennsylvania as the York County Heritage Trail, ending in York, Pennsylvania.
The trail, 10’ wide with a stone-dust surface, is built on a former railroad right-of-way. It is used by birders, bikers, hikers, runners, dogwalkers, and occasionally by horseback riders. Much of the trail is adjacent to private homes and respect of private property rights must be observed. As one goes further north on the trail, population density decreases greatly, especially north of the Bentley Springs parking lot (see maps at link below). At a few points, the trail allows views of adjacent fields, but much of the trail passes through wooded habitat.
Just north of Bentley Springs, the trail runs beside the 258-acre wooded Bee Tree Reserve. While the Reserve itself is private and is accessible only by written permission from Towson Presbyterian Church, it provides extensive habitat and increases the likelihood of birds being seen on the trail.
There are dirt side trails that provide fishing access to the Gunpowder Falls. Mile markers, painted in the red, yellow, black, and white colors of the state flag, make it easy to check your location along the trail; the marker numbers run from south to north. There are also historical mile markers painted in black on white; these date from the railroad days and the miles on these markers span the old railroad line from Baltimore to Sunbury, Pennsylvania.
There are eleven eBird hotspots covering the NCRT; eBird uses the title “Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail” for the hotspots. The number of species identified at each hotpst varies from about 60 to more than 150. The hotspots, in order from north to south, are
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Freeland Rd. – 84+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Bentley Springs – 84+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Parkton – 84+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–White Hall – 86+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Blue Mount – 103+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Monkton – 99+ species
- North Central Railroad Trail – Glencoe – 79+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Sparks – 62+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Phoenix Pond – 145+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Paper Mill – 126+ species
- Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail–Ashland – 151+ species
Since much of the trail is near the Gunpowder Falls and its tributaries, water-related birds occur here, including Wood Duck in summer; other ducks in fall, winter, and spring; herons and egrets in the warm months; Bald Eagle (year-round), Osprey (warm months); a few shorebirds (July through September); and swallows (warm months). Other species found in appropriate seasons include Wild Turkey; Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoo; Great Horned and Barred Owl; woodpeckers, including Pileated; flycatchers; vireos, including Yellow-throated and Warbling; warblers, including Yellow-breasted Chat; Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting; Baltimore and Orchard Orioles; thrushes; and small woodland birds such as nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, wrens, and kinglets.
The trail has a packed stone-dust surface and is rated wheelchair-accessible. However, some parts of the trail may be soft after rains. Handicapped electric scooters and motorized wheelchairs are permitted on the trail; no other motorized vehicles.
Pets must be on leash at all times and you must pick up after your pet.
A section of the Trail north of Monkton (Mile 7) goes through the eastern tip of the Prettyboy Important Bird Area (IBA), as designated by the National Audubon Society. ■ Gunpowder Falls State Park, including the Rail Trail, is a part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network of the National Park Service.
The restored 1898 Monkton Train Station, at Mile 7, serves as a museum, gift shop, and Ranger Station. It’s a great place to learn about the history of the Northern Central Railway. The Monkton Station is open from 9 am to 4 pm Wednesdays to Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and weekends only in September. ■ The Sparks Bank Nature Center, which features interpretive displays and family activities, is located in Sparks at Mile 3.5. It’s open from 11 am to 6 pm each Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Baltimore Bird Club. The Baltimore Bird Club is the founding chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, and remains an important hub of birding activity in the state. The club offers monthly meetings with informative presentations and a full schedule of field trips and bird walks, all free and open to the public.
Free parking–see directions below for parking areas.
Parking is available adjacent to the trail at the following points (listed from north to south):
- Freeland (Mile Marker 19): From I-83, take Exit 36 to northbound MD Route 45/York Road; take York north then turn left (west) onto Freeland Road. Follow for 1.8 miles to parking lot and trail access on right, across from intersection with Railroad Avenue.
- Bentley Springs (Mile Marker 16): From I-83, take Exit 33 for northbound MD Route 45/York Road. Follow York north. Turn left (northwest) onto Kaufman Road and follow for 0.8 miles; then turn left (west) onto Bentley Road and proceed 0.8 miles to parking lot and trail access on right.
- Parkton (Mile Marker 12.5): From I-83, take Exit 31 for Middletown Road east, then left (north) onto MD Route 45/York Road. Take York north; go left at fork onto Old York Road, and right (east) onto Frederick Road. Parking lot is at 18858 Frederick Road, adjacent to trail.
- White Hall (Mile Marker 11): From I-83, take Exit 31 for Middletown Road east, then right (south) onto MD Route 45/York Road. Turn left (east) onto Wiseburg Road. Follow Wiseburg for 2 miles. Parking lot and trail access is located at Wiseburg and White Hall Roads.
- Monkton (Mile Marker 7): From I-83, take Exit 27 to MD Route 137/Mount Carmel Road east. At MD Route 45/York Road, turn right (south) and take York for 600 feet to first road on the left – MD Route 138/Monkton Road. Turn left (east) onto Monkton Road for 3 miles. Just after crossing Gunpowder Falls, look for parking lot & park office (open on weekends) on left. This site has restrooms, water, telephones, & picnic tables; a convenience store is open on weekends. Parking is limited.
- Sparks (Mile Marker 3.5): From I-83, take Exit 24 to Belfast Road east. At MD Route 45/York Road, turn right (south); travel 0.4 miles and turn left (east) onto Sparks Road. Go 0.6 miles to parking lot and trail access, just after crossing Gunpowder Falls.
- Phoenix (Mile Marker 2): From I-83, take Exit 20 to Shawan Road east. At MD 45/York Road, turn left (north), then turn right (east) onto Phoenix Road. Travel 1.9 miles and look for parking lot on the right, across from a pond.
- Paper Mill (Mile Marker 0.5): From I-83, take Exit 20 to Shawan Road east. At MD 45/York Road, turn right (south), then turn left (east) onto MD Route 145/Ashland Road. At fork, bear left onto Paper Mill Road to stay on MD Route 145. Go less than ½ mile to parking lot on left.
The actual southern terminus of the trail is at Ashland, just south of Route 145, but there is no public parking facility there. For additional parking options, see maps and descriptions at http://www.bikewashington.org/trails/ncr/ncr.htm
Baltimore City: Cylburn Arboretum ■ Druid Hill Park ■ Fort McHenry National Monument ■ Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center ■ Patterson Park
Baltimore County: Cromwell Valley Park ■ Holt Park ■ Irvine Nature Center ■ Lake Roland ■ Loch Raven Reservoir ■ Milford Mill aka Villa Nova Park ■ Oregon Ridge Park
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous FarmyardLawn, Ballfields, Golf Course Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Rivers & Streams
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)FishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeGift Shop or BookstoreHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesNature Education ProgramsParkingPicnic AreaRestroomsVisitor Center, Interpretive Displays, ExhibitsWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasChesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkHiker-Biker Trails (Paved)State Parks