Self-Guided Opportunities
Location Gunpowder Falls State Park in Baltimore County, north of Perry Hall, Bel Air Road to Jones Road.
Gunpowder Falls State Park, 410-592-2897.
Access Site Access the creek from Bel Air Road where it crosses the Big Gunpowder Falls, which is reached from I-695 exit 32 for Route 1 North. Take the stairs to the put-in at the front of the overflow parking lot. The take-out is on the left side of the river, just upstream of Route 40 off of Jones Road. There is a 200-yard walk up from the river to the user's access parking lot off of Jones Road.
River Trip Distance 3.4 miles
Time 2 hours
Water Conditions Flow is dependent upon the conditions of Loch Raven and Prettyboy Reservoirs. In dry weather there may be very little flow, only that from side streams. If the reservoirs are full, a hard rain during winter or spring will sustain adequate water levels for a week. The gradient during two miles of the run drops at 30 feet per mile, providing "one long, roaring, heavy hole-studded rapid."
Skill Level Difficult to very difficult
Suitable For Families? No
Hazards/Restrictions Fallen trees can obstruct the stream.
Potable Water Carry in your own water.
Natural Features The Big Gunpowder Falls flows through a shallow wooded gorge. The hills on either side are vegetated with oaks and tulip poplars. Sycamore and box elder thrive on the floodplains. By summer, the riverbanks show a display of wildflowers, including jewelweed, coneflower, woodland sunflower, joe-pye weed, boneset and asters. An unusual rock formation "pot rocks" is in the middle of the stream, located just over a mile from the put-in. These cone-shaped depressions in the bedrock were created by water action grinding cobbles against the bedrock.
Historic/Cultural Features The banks of the Big Gunpowder Falls were used during the 18th and 19th centuries for numerous water-powered mills. Although not necessarily visible from the water, ruins along this stretch of the river include the Carroll Sawmill (c. 1833), Nottingham Iron Works (c. 1750), Howard's Furnace Site (c. 1846), and Joppa Iron Works (1817-1860).
A section of the river one-quarter mile before I-95 has been nicknamed "Long Calm." This calmer section was used as a ford before 1692. A ferry was in operation here in 1754. Old Philadelphia Road once was the site of a covered bridge called Forges Bridge (c. 1790). Iron rings are found lodged in boulders above the B&O Railroad Bridge, showing the place where ocean-going sloops once sailed up the Gunpowder to load and unload goods. This is at the bottom of the fall line and the base of the first "falls" along the river.
Guiding None
Rentals Canoes can be rented in Jarrettsville, Monkton, Timonium and Towson. Kayaks can be rented in Chase from Ultimate Watersports, 410-666-WIND.
Camping Organized youth group camping is available nearby at Camp Cone. Call the park at 410-592-2897 for reservations.
Other Points of Interest Many trails are located along the riverbanks. An especially scenic area is the Sweathouse Branch Wildlands, just north of Bel Air Road.
Other Accommodations Motels are available in White Marsh, Perry Hall and Edgewood.
Fees or Permits Service charge for youth group camping.
Description The Gunpowder Falls rises in the hills along the Pennsylvania line and meanders southeastward through beautiful upper Baltimore County before tumbling over the Fall Line to the tidal Gunpowder River in eastern Baltimore County. This river is contained by two reservoirs along its path to tidewater, because the stream provides most of metropolitan Baltimore's water supply. Although water levels are typically low on this stretch due to the impoundment at Loch Raven to supply city water, after a hard rain this wooded gorge creates a big flush downstream to Route 40.

This trip provides technical kayakaying excitement. Just below Route 1 (Bel Air Road), the geological fall line begins, hence the name Big Gunpowder Falls. This is the gradient between the rolling piedmont and the flat coastal plain. There are no true waterfalls along the river. The word "falls" is a local term used to name streams that cascade down ledges on their way to flat water. The river here tumbles down a bouldery and ledgy bed. At low levels this is a rocky and complex passage. Steep rapids are located at "pot rocks," about one mile downstream of the put-in, and just above the B&O Railroad Bridge close to the take-out. Be sure to recognize the take-out. There is no parking along Route 40, so use the lot off of Jones Road.

Resources Recommended Gear and Safety Tips
  • Spare paddles
  • Knee pads
  • Hat
  • Water
  • Insect repellant
  • Canoe or kayak
  • Personal flotation devices (life jackets)
  • Appropriate shoes that can get wet
  • Throw ropes and a bowline