At a Glance
Hours: 9 am – sunset. Certain activities are permitted outside of the regular park hours (e.g. fishing, boat launch, hunting). Check with the park before your visit if you plan to be in the park before or after hours.
Tips: No restrooms. ■ Watch out for mountain bikers on the trails. ■ The main trail is gravel; other trails are dirt with moderate to steep slopes and may be muddy. Hiking boots recommended.
Best Seasons: Spring, summer, and fall.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Ellicott City CW, Ellicott City CE
Patapsco Valley State Park – Daniels Area
2090 Daniels Road, Ellicott City, MD 21043
Patapsco Valley State Park is huge, extending along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, spanning four counties, and encompassing 16,043 acres and eight separate recreational areas. Patapsco Valley State Park, originally called the Patapsco Forest Reserve, was the very first state park established in Maryland; the nucleus of the park dates back to 1907, with the donation of 43 acres of land in Catonsville by the philanthropist John Mark Glenn. Other portions of Patapsco Valley State Park in this Birder’s Guide are Henryton, which is nearby in Howard County, and the McKeldin Area in Carroll County.
The Daniels area of Patapsco Valley State Park is in northeastern Howard County; the Patapsco River here forms the boundary with Baltimore County, and part of the Daniels area is on the north side of the river, in Baltimore County. This description covers only the Howard County portion of Daniels, on the south side of the river and comprising roughly 400 acres.
This largely undeveloped area of Patapsco Valley State Park was once the site of a bustling mill town, and reminders of the past are scattered along the trails here. Most of the Daniels area is wooded floodplain forest along the Patapsco River or upland deciduous forest on steep hillsides. There is access to a stream valley with mature trees adjacent to the paved parking area on Daniels Road, and additional small stream valleys upriver. A limited amount of open lawn and brushy area around the Daniels Dam and historic church provides diversity.
Access to the Daniels area is via Daniels Road, which winds northward from Old Frederick Road and descends into the Patapsco River Valley, before coming to a dead end on the south shore of the river. There is no river crossing. There are several shoulder parking areas along Daniels Road and two parking lots at the river. There are active businesses at the end of the road and an historic church.
The main trail heading upstream (to the west) along the river is broad and shaded and is a pleasant walk in all seasons. The trail is orange-blazed and is shown on the DNR trail map at the link at left. The Daniels Dam creates a two-mile slack water stretch upstream.
After parking your car, walk south along Daniels Road (going back the way you came when driving in the car), birding along the way. There will be activity here earlier in the morning than on the main trail.
To walk the main trail, enter the gated gravel road heading west from Daniels Road just a few hundred feet south of the small parking lot. Follow the gravel road upstream (i.e., west). The road often has muddy areas which are usually easily skirted. The road at first runs along the water, but soon the floodplain widens, and a dirt path leads off to the right along the water. The trees at the water’s edge along this path may have the most activity in the morning sun. The riverside path rejoins the road and becomes the main trail about one-half mile west of Daniels Road. A spur that veers to the left at this point leads to abandoned buildings. Beyond a gate blocking vehicles, the trail narrows and continues along the river. It is generally level and dry, but there are occasional permanently muddy spots which must be bypassed where water seeps from the hillside. The path runs west for several miles within sight of the river, terminating at the Davis railroad tunnel. Most birders bird the main trail as far as desired or as time permits and then return along the river. If you took the riverside path on the way upstream before reaching the gate, try the gravel road on the way back, as the steep hillside can give good views up into the interior forest.
There are additional trails and spurs that can be explored in the Daniels area. Several of the trails are loops and there are numerous confusing intersections, so we recommend using a compass and/or GPS device and a state park trail map. MD DNR’s geo-locator-enabled trail map can be downloaded and printed from the link at left, or better yet, download the DNR trail map to an app on your smart phone and use it to follow the trail in real time as you hike.
Alternatively you can use DNR’s free Interactive Trail Atlas or free Maryland Interactive Recreation Atlas, both of which are smart-phone-enabled; download these two apps from https://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/DNR_TrailMaps.aspx. Also see the Howard County Bird Club’s online guide Birding Howard County, which features a simplified trail map at https://howardbirds.website/birding-hoco/site-guide-daniels-site-map.pdf.
Over 175 species have been reported from the eBird hotspot for the Howard County side of the Daniels area of Patapsco Valley State Park.
Notable birds include Green and Great Blue Herons; Wood Duck; Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers; Yellow-billed Cuckoo; Belted Kingfisher; Pileated Woodpecker; Great Crested Flycatcher; Blue-headed Vireo; Golden-crowned Kinglet; most of the thrushes; and Kentucky, Canada, Blue-winged, and Hooded Warblers.
Breeders include Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Wood Thrush; Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and White-eyed Vireos; Scarlet Tanager; Baltimore Oriole; and the following warblers: Northern Parula, Yellow, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Common Yellowthroat. Northern Rough-winged, Tree, and Barn Swallows are present during the warm months, and there may be Purple Martins as well. Cliff Swallow has been reported but only during a brief period in early May. Watch and listen for Barred Owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, and other forest birds.
During migration, be sure to check the stream area and boggy floodplain for migrant Northern Waterthrushes and breeding Louisiana Waterthrushes. Ospreys and Bald Eagles are possible.
The trail at Daniels Area are not wheelchair accessible. However, some roadside birding from or near the car is possible on Daniels Road.
Pets are permitted and must be on leash at all times. Be prepared to pick up after your pet and take the pet waste with you when you leave. All Maryland State Parks are trash-free.
Patapsco Valley State Park is contained within the Patapsco Valley Important Bird Area (IBA), as designated by the National Audubon Society. Patapsco Valley State Park is a part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network of the National Park Service.
- A soft launch for canoes and kayaks is available just above the Daniels Dam.
- Fishing is permitted in the area (license needed), but is prohibited within 300 feet of the dam.
- Unguarded swimming is allowed on the river unless posted otherwise; but the area within 300 feet above and 300 feet below the Daniels Dam is not open for swimming.
- The Daniels area is well-known for its dragonflies.
- For the wildflower enthusiast, spring brings Dutchman’s breeches, various species of violets, early saxifrage, wild columbine, miterwort, Greek valerian, nodding trillium, and showy orchids along with others. Witch hazel blooms near the end of October.
- The Daniels area was once an industrial area where the river was used to power textile mills. The Gary Memorial United Methodist Church (still active) and the dam are among the few remnants of this era. An informational sign below the church gives more details about the community that once existed here.
- The Daniels Dam features a display on fish spawning activity in the river and how the fish ladder works.
- A seasonal list of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, and herps at Patapsco Valley State Park is available at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/patapsco-valley-state-park/patapsco-valley-state-park-species-lists/, courtesy of the Howard County Bird Club.
Local MOS Chapter:
The Howard County Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, holds bird walks throughout Howard County; such walks are free and open to the public. See the Howard County Bird Club’s calendar for more information.
The Howard County Bird Club has a detailed online guide, “Birding Howard County,” on their website at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/. Edited by Joanne Solem, the online guide replaces an older printed guide, now out-of-print. The website is up-to-date and extremely detailed. Check it out!
“Urban Oasis,” available on YouTube, is part of Episode 2615 of the Maryland Public Televisions series Outdoors Maryland, and shows the trails and attractions of Patapsco Valley State Park, emphasizing the park’s role as a place of natural respite so close to the City of Baltimore.
Paved lots, roadside shoulders. See Howard County Bird Club’s map at https://www.howardbirds.org/birdinghowardcounty/Daniels/Daniels_site_map.pdf.
From points south, use I-95 or I-295 or I-97, and then take MD Route 32 westbound toward Columbia. From MD Route 32, take Exit 16A for US Route 29 north. In 7.8 miles, take Exit 24A for US Route 40 eastbound. In just a half-mile after entering US Route 40, turn left to go north onto Rogers Avenue. Continue north on Rogers Avenue for 1.2 miles, crossing I-70. At the traffic circle, bear right at the first exit to go east on MD Route 99/Old Frederick Road.In 0.6 miles, turn left to go north on Daniels Road. Continue to the parking area where the road ends near the Patapsco River.
From points west, take I-70 east to Exit 87 for US Route 29 northbound. Go north on Route 29 for just over a half-mile, then turn right to go east on Rogers Avenue. In 0.7 miles, at the traffic circle, take the second exit to go east on MD Route 99/Old Frederick Road.In 0.6 miles, turn left to go north on Daniels Road. Continue to the parking area where the road ends near the Patapsco River.
From points east, including the Baltimore Beltway, take I-70 west to Exit 87 for US Route 29 northbound. Go north on Route 29 for just over a half-mile, then turn right to go east on Rogers Avenue. In 0.7 miles, at the traffic circle, take the second exit to go east on MD Route 99/Old Frederick Road.In 0.6 miles, turn left to go north on Daniels Road. Continue to the parking area where the road ends near the Patapsco River.
Howard County: Centennial Lake & Park ■ David Force Natural Resource Area ■ Howard County Conservancy – Mount Pleasant Farm ■ Lake Elkhorn ■ Middle Patuxent Environmental Area ■ Patapsco Valley State Park – Henryton ■ Patuxent River State Park – Annapolis Rock Road Area ■ Patuxent River State Park – Hipsley Mill Road Area ■ Rockburn Branch Park ■ Schooley Mill Park ■ Triadelphia Reservoir (Brighton Dam) ■ Western Regional Park ■ Wilde Lake
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesHuntingParkingPets AllowedSwimmingWater ViewYoung People / Families
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasChesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkState ParksThe Rivers of the Western Shore