At a Glance
Hours: 9 am to sunset, seven days a week, year-round.
- April through October: Weekdays: Maryland residents $2/vehicle; out-of-state residents $4/vehicle. ◾ Weekends and holidays: Maryland residents $3/person; out-of-state residents $5/person.
- November through March (honor system in effect – use pay station): Maryland residents $2/vehicle; out-of-state residents $4/vehicle.
Tips: Trails may be muddy and there are some steep sections. Closed-toe sturdy hiking shoes or boots are recommended. ◾ The park requests that visitors stay off trails for at least 24 hours after a heavy rain to avoid damage to the trails. ◾ Trails are multi-use and some are shared with horses and mountain bikes. ◾ Be aware that cell phone reception may be spotty. ◾ Restrooms are scattered throughout the park; see the trail maps at links below.
Best Seasons: Year-round. Spring and fall migrations are excellent.
Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Sykesville NE
Local MOS Chapter: Carroll County Bird Club
Patapsco Valley State Park – McKeldin Area
11676 Marriottsville Road, Marriottsville MD 21104
The McKeldin Area of Patapsco Valley State Park, located in southeastern Carroll County, is one of eight named recreation areas within the sprawling park. The McKeldin Area is bordered by the north branch of the Patapsco River (and Baltimore County) to the east and the south branch of the Patapsco River (and Howard County) to the south. Located within the Piedmont physiographic province, the terrain is generally hilly except for flat areas in the river floodplains. The entire McKeldin Area spans 1103 acres, with the main trail network and picnic areas occupying about 430 acres east of Marriottsville Road. Additional sections of the McKeldin Area lie to the west of Marriottsville Road.
The primary habitat is second growth deciduous woodland with some riverine, field, and edge habitat. Common trees include Tulip Poplar, sycamore, oaks, hickories, maples and beech, but unusual trees such as Umbrella Magnolia and Eastern Hemlock can be found. The forest hosts a rich understory, including a population of Drooping Trillium, although invasive plants such as Lesser Celandine and Wavy-leaved Basketgrass pose an expanding problem.
There is a well-developed system of trails – see maps at the links at left. The McKeldin Rapids Trail is particularly good for birds; it runs east along the South Branch of the Patapsco, and continues north along North Branch, wrapping around the point of land that lies at the confluence of the two river branches. There are many loops of varying lengths that can be chosen from the trail network; see the descriptions of the various trails and their lengths on the DNR website.
[A word about the trail maps available through the links at left: The topographic trail map has a lot of detail, including contour lines that show the changes in elevation. This map is geolocator enabled, which means that you load it into a handheld GPS device or a GPS app on a Smartphone (such as the free Avenza app) and the map will show your exact location and track your steps as you move along the trails. This is a great way to navigate the trails and avoid getting lost. However, if you just want a map that you can print and read on the trail, you might prefer the simple trail map, which shows less detail. The topographic trail map can also be printed for use on the trail.]
The name of the McKeldin Area honors Theodore McKeldin, who served two terms as governor of Maryland, from 1951 to 1959. McKeldin is just one of eight separate recreation areas that make up Patapsco Valley State Park. The entire park is huge, extending along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, spanning four counties, and encompassing 16,043 acres. 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 included in this Birder’s Guide include the Daniels Area and Henryton, both in Howard County.
Over 165 species have been reported on the eBird hotspot for Patapsco Valley SP–McKeldin Area.
The Patapsco Valley forms a natural migration corridor, and birding is best during spring and fall migration. This is evident in the 34 species of warblers (plus Yellow-breasted Chat) that have been recorded.
Breeding birds include river-loving species such as Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula and Belted Kingfisher. Cerulean Warblers used to be regular breeders and were often encountered on the hillside northwest of the confluence of the two branches of the Patapsco, but they have declined in recent years and as of summer 2021, have not been confirmed as breeders for the Third Breeding Bird Atlas project. However, Ceruleans can still be found just to the west of McKeldin in the Henryton areas of both Howard and Carroll Counties, and perhaps they will return to McKeldin to breed.
Bird Blitz surveys conducted by Audubon Maryland-DC led to the designation of the Patapsco Valley as an Important Bird Area, and these surveys found that the McKeldin Area supported a high diversity of Forest Interior Dwelling Species, with up to 23 breeding species, Wood Thrush, Veery, Worm-eating Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager
The trails at McKeldin are natural-surface, dirt and grass lanes and are not wheelchair-accessible. However, the final section of road to the McKeldin Rapids Trail is not generally open to vehicle traffic and should provide good birding to anyone in a wheelchair or using a walker. There is some birding possible from the car on the paved road system within the park and at the parking areas. Handicapped restrooms are available near most of the parking areas. See the trail maps at the link at left.
Pets are permitted on leash. Be prepared to pick up after your pet and take the waste with you when you leave, as all Maryland State Parks operate on a trash-free basis.
The McKeldin Area is contained within the Patapsco Valley Important Bird Area 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.
In addition to breeding and migrating birds, the rivers are home to River Otter and Mink, although these are wary and rarely seen. ◾ There is an attractive waterfall on the South Branch of the Patapsco where the river cuts through a tough band of gneiss; this is near the start of the McKeldin Rapids Trail.
Activities include fishing, horseback riding (bring your own horse), mountain biking, disc golf, and basketball, as well as picnicking for individuals or groups in the park’s pavilions (pavilion rental fee required). ◾ Swimming is allowed the river except in areas posted as No Swimming. Swimming is prohibited in the rapids area and the pool below the rapids because of dangerous currents and rocks. At areas open for swimming, there are no lifeguards; swimming is at your own risk, and swimmers should be cautious of swift currents and sharp stones along the river bottom. ◾ Camping is available for youth group organizations. ◾ There are many volunteer opportunities at Patapsco Valley State Park.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Carroll County Bird Club, which holds bird walks at Patapsco Valley State Park and other sites within the county; such walks are free and open to the public. There are also monthly meetings with guest speakers and informational presentations; these meetings are free and open to the public.
“Urban Oasis,” available on YouTube, is part of Episode 2615 of 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.
There are several paved parking areas inside the park – see maps at the links at left. There are also a small number of parking spaces along the west side of Marriottsville Road just north of the intersection with Marriottsville Road Number 2. These roadside parking spaces provide convenient access to the floodplain in the southwest area of the park.
The McKeldin Area is located along Marriottsville Road north of I-70.
From points south: Depending on your starting point, use I-95, I-295, or I-97 north to reach MD Route 32 westbound. Follow Route 32 west and then take Exit 16 for MD Route 29 Follow Route 29 north for 9.2 miles and then take Exit 25 to merge onto I-70 westbound. In just 4.1 miles,
From the Baltimore Beltway/I-695: Take Exit 16 to go west on I-70 toward Frederick. Stay on I-70 for about 12.5 miles, take Exit 83 for Marriottsville Road northbound. Follow Marriottsville Road north for a little over 4 miles, and the park entrance will be on the right.
From points west: Take I-70 east to Exit Exit 83 for Marriottsville Road northbound. Follow Marriottsville Road north for a little over 4 miles, and the park entrance will be on the right.
From the Eastern Shore: Use US Route 50 to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Continue west of US 50 toward Annapolis, and then take Exit 21 for I-97 northbound. Stay on I-97 for about 18 miles, and follow signs to merge onto the Inner Loop of the Baltimore Beltway/I-695 (signs will read toward Baltimore and Towson). From the Beltway, take Exit 16 to go west on I-70 toward Frederick. Stay on I-70 for about 12.5 miles, take Exit 83 for Marriottsville Road northbound. Follow Marriottsville Road north for a little over 4 miles, and the park entrance will be on the right.
Carroll County: Avondale Wildlife Management Area ◾ Hashawha Environmental Center / Bear Branch Nature Center ◾ Krimgold Park ◾ Liberty Reservoir Cooperative Wildlife Management Area – Bollinger Mill Road ◾Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area ◾ Piney Run Park & Nature Center ◾ Wakefield Valley Park
Bottomland DeciduousUpland Deciduous Lawn, Ballfields, Golf Course Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainRivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:Ball Fields or Other SportsBeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Birding By CarEntry Fee (Daily, All Year)FishingHiking/Walking TrailsHorseback RidingParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundRestroomsSwimmingWater ViewYoung People / Families
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasChesapeake Bay Gateways NetworkState ParksThe Rivers of the Western Shore