Patuxent Branch Trail


22 Reviews

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Patuxent Branch Trail Facts

States: Maryland
Counties: Howard
Length: 4.5 miles
Trail end points: Lake Elkhorn Loop at Broken Land Pkwy (Columbia) and Savage Park north of Fair St & Baltimore St (Savage)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016069

Patuxent Branch Trail Description

Whether by wheel or foot, many off-road trips in southern Howard County involve the Patuxent Branch Trail. Opened in 1997, the 4.5-mile regional trail connects to an extensive network of local trails that serve neighborhoods, parks, and commercial areas, making it ideal for recreation or commuting.

The trail takes a generally flat route, following the Little Patuxent River from Lake Elkhorn reservoir south of Columbia to the athletic fields at Savage Park near Laurel. It is currently surfaced with crushed stone for 1.3 miles—from Old Guilford Road to Vollmerhausen Road—and asphalt for the remainder, but Howard County plans to completely pave the trail in 2023. The trail passes under several major highways. Horseback riding is prohibited.

A 2-mile segment follows the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s (B&O’s) Patuxent Branch, which at one time served a major granite quarry in Guilford and a cotton mill complex in Savage. Built in the 1880s from the main B&O line passing through nearby Savage Station, the Guilford section was closed in 1928, leaving Savage Mill as the end of the line.

Park at either lot near the reservoir, and take the Lake Elkhorn Loop trail to an intersection with the Patuxent Branch Trail just west of the dam. As the trail enters the wooded valley alongside the Little Patuxent River, remember to consult trail markings at frequent junctions to stay on the correct path.

After 2 miles, the trail comes to the Guilford Road parking lot at the beginning of the former B&O branch line. Signs along the trail explain the historical significance of the B&O and the quarry that operated here until 1928. Leaving the trailhead, you’ll cross the picturesque 83-foot Pratt Truss Bridge, installed in 1902.

The trail follows a wooded area alongside the Little Patuxent River for 1.3 miles until it emerges at Vollmerhausen Road. Cross the road and take the sidewalk or bike lane for 0.2 mile, and then make a sharp right back onto the trail at Patuxent Valley Middle School. (To visit 4 miles of mountain biking trails, turn right at Vollmerhausen Road, go 0.1 mile, and turn left into the Wincopin Loop trailhead parking lot.) The Patuxent Branch Trail ends in 0.7 mile at the sports complex at Savage Park, which has restrooms, drinking water, and parking, as well as 3 miles of hiking or mountain biking trails.

About 0.5 mile south, the historic Savage textile mill complex, which dates to the early 1800s, is now a tourist spot housing restaurants and shops. Follow the signs from Savage Park for street access. The mile-long Savage Mill Trail starts there and offers scenic views of the Little Patuxent rapids.

Parking and Trail Access

To access the Savage Park entrance from Interstate 95, take State Route 32/Patuxent Parkway east and turn right on US 1/Baltimore Washington Boulevard, heading south toward Laurel. Turn right on Gorman Road and right again on Foundry Street. Turn left onto Washington Street and follow it to the end, where you take a right onto Fair Street, which ends at the park. Take the road in the parking lot to the right until it ends at a smaller parking lot at the trailhead.

To access the Lake Elkhorn entrance from I-95, take SR 32/Patuxent Parkway west then Broken Land Parkway north toward Owen Brown. The lake (and a parking lot next to the playground and boat slip) will be on your right.

In Columbia, parking is available by Lake Elkhorn Park (Dockside Ln & Cradlerock Way) and in the Lake Elkhorn parking lot (Broken Land Pkwy, between Snowden River Pkwy & Cradlerock Way), and by Old Guilford Rd & Guilford Rd. In Jessup, parking is available by the Wincopin Trailhead (9299 Vollmerhausen Rd between Spring Water Path & Savage Guilford Rd), 0.1 mile north of the Patuxent Branch Trail. In Savage, parking is available at 8400 Fair St., 0.1 mile north of Baltimore St.

Patuxent Branch Trail Reviews

Howard county destroying trail

Trail is awesome. Howard county destroying trail by paving and over building.

Needs signage at Vollmerhausen Road

Wonderful ride. A bit muddy and rough in spots but not too bad. We started at Savage Park and rode until we got to Vollmerhausen Road. There was no signage for the trail at that point. You have to turn left and either walk on the sidewalk or ride in the bike lane for a short bit until you see the trail pick up again. Lots of wildlife and wildflowers. A fair number of people so if riding a bike please be watchful on the curves. Very shady until you get to Lake Elkhorn. To

Very Nice Shady Trail on a Warm August Day!

First, thank you TrailLink for a very good description of how to find this trail and follow it! I hiked out from Savage Park to the Pratt Through-Truss Bridge this morning (2.2 miles), then went a little further on a nearby trail. Total of 5.2 mostly shaded miles by the time I returned to my car. Lovely! Next time will start at Elkhorn Lake and go the other way — or bring my bike to explore further!

Help Locating Missing Person

Hi All,

Asking for some crowdsourced help to locate my best friends sister who is missing and known to frequent outdoor areas and trails. In addition to the name listed in the police report she also goes by "Hope". She poses no danger at all. Please take a look and keep an eye out. A tip was received that he was recently spotted on the Patuxent Branch Trail.



Good for a run

This trail becomes more beautiful and less crowded as you run away from the Lake Elkhorn loop.

Great hike

I hiked this last weekend to Savage Mill and back. The other reviews give a great description. The only thing I have to say is that I went with a group and our fitness monitors said it was longer than 4.6 there and back.

Trail was very pretty and definitely a good workout. However if you plan on biking all the way to Lake Elkhorn, pay close attention to the signs. I had to backtrack a bit because some of the signs are blink-and-you-miss-it.

You can add 2 miles to your trip if you bike around the lake.

Carefull, trail is busy on the weekends

biked the trail early on a beautiful Sunday morning (from Savage Park to the lake and back) and it was less than 12 miles total. It was a very nice trail with lots of walkers, runners and some bikers. A lot of the walkers/runners had their headphones on and couldn't hear my bell or me shouting at them until I was almost upon them. This was my only complaint for a nice morning bike ride.

Scenic ride

You can combine this with the Lake Elkhorn trails. There is an underpass marked on the Lake Elkhorn trail which avoids having to cross Broken Land Parkway. The paved area (northern end) is well maintained. The gravel dirt area is good, although there are minor some ruts.

The iron bridge is worth the trip. The educational signs give historical perspective to the bridge and area. The wooden boardwalk parts of the trail are in very good condition.

Beautiful river side ride

I agree that it was a nice leisurely ride and there was nothing challenging to it (as older reviews mentioned.) I think the trail is in better shape these days. I'm a newbie to riding and totally out of shape, so if I can do it... I can see where sections might be impassable after a rain though.

I recommend starting at Lake Elkhorn and riding to Savage Mill. The biggest hill is the one going to Savage, so I would have preferred to take that at the beginning of the ride when I had more energy. Then you can stop for lunch at Ram's Head or a pastry at Bonaparte Breads. There is also a bike shop at Savage Mill.

The fall colors were looking brilliant along the Patapsco River, and I saw deer and black squirrels. I didn't see any areas where I felt unsafe riding alone either.

update to trail funding

Nice trail. Just saw that the Transportation Alternatives program provided $1M to pave 1.3 miles of the trail, between the Old Guilford Rd trailhead and Vollmerhausen Rd. Hope they go just a bit further across Vollmerhausen to bypass the portion of trail that uses the road. Would like to have the trail only cross the bridge on Vollmerhausen and then follow a short path through the woods to meet up with the rest of the trail.

Great Place to Walk Around

Beautiful place. One side of lake you can exercise with the outside equipment. The other side of the lake has all kinds of trees with labels to tell you what type of tree it is. I saw a large turtle in the water. I saw deers out there. If you get tired you can sit on benches provided and just sit back and relax. It's just a beautiful place.

A cyclist's favorite

This is an excellent trail, but like the other commenter said you do have to be alert to other cyclists, runners, and walkers. If you continue on from Little Patuxent Park past Lake Elkhorn towards the Columbia Mall, be sure to have at least one riding buddy for safety reasons. For some reason, there's a small stretch where you would want to use common sense and a little more caution because we had passed by some folks who looked like they could be a part of a gang or something. We also passed a handful of people walking vicious looking dogs that just wanted to chase after you. Be sure to warn dog walkers far enough ahead of time to give them a chance to shorten their dog's leash. The area right before the Columbia mall is a little sketchy (may not revisit), but the rest is just fine and is a very enjoyable ride (will definitely revisit).

Nice Ride

Nice leisurely bike ride with plenty of shade and a few good hills. The trail was in great condition. Watch your speed on the straight-aways. There are lots of pedestrians and other bicyclists that use this trail and they all seemed to be hiding just out of view behind the few sharp turns on the trail.

Patuxent Branch Trail

I road this trail from Savage Park to Lake Elkhorn yesterday and it was a great ride. Beautiful landscape and very peaceful with enough hills and dales to make it both challenging uphill and provide fast coasting downhill. I discovered that at the far end of the lake, the trail continues to Oakland Mills Road and if you turn right, there is another trail that takes a tunnel under the road and continues at least until Route 175 and possibly as far as Route 108. Does anybody know anything further about this extended trail - conditions, length, history, etc? Are there maps available?


Trail is Open

I rode it this morning expecting the worse and was pleasantly surprised that the trail is complete and smooth. I rode it reverse from lake elhorne to savage and will do it again tomorrow for a great 10 mile trek back and forth.

Patuxent Branch Trail, Howard County, Maryland

The Patuxent Branch Trail is currently closed because of sewer construction and is not scheduled to reopen until the Summer of 2011. As others have noted, you can slog through some sections but it's not worth it.

you have to be a a little crazy,but it's a good ride

Starting at Lake Elkhorn,the trail heads south.The first section is easy, mostly flat and smooth.After you pass under 95,It becomes more of a muddy construction site(it also stinks).This is where being a little crazy helps.If you are willing to get dirty,continue past the sign that says trail closed.Travel through the construction,be sure to take a right across the old truss bridge, and continue to Volmerhaussen Road.If you go up the the hill to Wincoppin Park, you can ride on some rugged trails for a semi mountain bike experience.I did the red trail,then headed back to the lake.By adding a circuit around it ,the whole thing came out to be about 11 miles,a perfect Sunday ride.


This trail is presently under construction. There is a stretch right in the middle that is practically unpassable. I say "practically" because I forged ahead and passed through the construction area. It's not the construction equipment that gets in the way, it's the huge stretches of mud. This is the kind of mud that will take your sneakers right off.
I recommend either starting at Elkhorn Lake and turning around when you reach the old railroad bridge, or start at Savage Park but instead of crossing Vollmerhausen Rd, keep going up the hill and hike some of the Wincopin Trails.
Since they parked big heavy machinery across the trail, they probably don't want people hiking it. I wish they had been a little more informative at the trailhead at Savage Park. I had my wife drop me off at Savage Park so, when I reached the construction, I was out of luck. I couldn't go back as I had no ride, so I kept on going. If there had been a more detailed warning at the trailhead, I wouldn't have attempted it. As it was, the warning sign was very vague and did not indicate clearly(at least to me) that the trail was unpassable.
I can't wait for them to finish the construction, though. The sections where I wasn't worried about being sucked down into the mud were quite beautiful.

A trail for fairly skilled bike riders

I have ridden this trail many times, since I can bike from my front door via Columbia pathways and pick up the trail at Lake Elkhorn. Only a portion of the trail could have followed the original railbed; most of it is too twisty, with many sudden, short but sometimes steep hills. The trail is rather narrow with lots of overgrowth along its edges and has many blind curves, so bikers need to be alert for walkers, runners, dog walkers and baby strollers and well as other bikers. The stretch from Vollmerhausen Road to Savage Park is indeed a roller coaster; a much better route would have been to continue down the riverbank to link up with the Savage Mill Trail instead of taking the sidewalk up Vollmerhausen and then making a very sharp right onto the next section of trail, but there is a private inholding blocking the way. It also would have been better for bicycling if the section from the railroad bridge to Vollmerhausen had been paved instead of gravel and mud, but someone at Howard County Recreation and Parks told me it was left unpaved to please equestrians (none of whom I've ever seen use the trail).

Despite these shortcomings, the Patuxent Branch Trail offers a peaceful ride throught the woods and along the Little Patuxent River (actually a creek) in the midst of suburbia. I've seen lots of deer and other wildlife, including a black rat snake and, most recently, black squirrels. It's just not a good bicycling trail for children, inexperienced bicyclists, those doing speed trials, or those without low gears.

Ron Meservey


"We were delighted to explore this woodland trail along the Patuxent River. No fewer than 10 wooden bridges and boardwalks support your journey through beautiful native forest land.

It is easy to imagine earlier generations loving the abundance and tranquility of this river valley as the world rushes above you at speeds in excess of posted limits!

If you need a flat, paved trail, this is not the path you want. Beginning at Lake Elkhorn, the trail is paved but hilly as it winds over streams and wetlands, through the woods, and under major highways. When you reach the portion that is a rail bed the path is no longer paved. Nearing Savage Park the trail is again paved but impossibly hilly for young children on bikes or scooters. We passed a few in tears. Better to make a hike of this trail if you are taking it with little ones."

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