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Washington area bike trails: Patapsco Valley State Park is a challenge

Friday, April 30, 2010; WE23

Cascade Falls, Ridge and Morning Choice trails, Patapsco Valley State Park

Surface: Natural.

Distance: 3.3-mile loop.

Degree of difficulty: Hard.

Detailed maps available at: The Avalon area visitor center close to the park entrance near South Street and Route 1.

Mountain biking is not for the faint of heart, and that's exactly why serious mountain bikers love it. Rocketing down hills, bouncing over rocks and roots, and splashing through streams all have a certain danger -- and therefore thrill.

Trails in Patapsco Valley State Park deliver on that thrill. Park in the lot on River Road near the swinging bridge. The blue-blazed trail head for the Cascade Falls trail is across from the bridge.

The trail is so steep and rocky that you must walk your bike the 0.1 mile to where it meets the orange-blazed Ridge Trail. Cascade Falls is an incredibly popular trail and for good reason: There are lovely views of waterfalls coming down the mountain. Get to the park as early as you can to have this picturesque scene to yourself.

The ride really begins on the appropriately named Ridge Trail. It is extremely rocky and hilly, and it will challenge even experienced riders. After a mile you get to the Connector Trail, which will take you to the yellow-blazed Morning Choice Trail, which is considerably smoother and flatter than Ridge and Cascade Falls. There are still some challenging hills, but for the most part you can slow down and enjoy the bright green spring foliage.

After about another mile, you will see the familiar blue blazes of Cascade Falls. This last mile is a favorite of mountain bikers because it is not so difficult as Ridge, but more challenging than Morning Choice. The loop brings you back to the parking lot.

Before leaving, be sure to take a walk on the swinging bridge. If you're lucky, that wobbly feeling will come only from the bridge -- not from your legs.

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