For years, ACLT (Parkers Creek Preserve) hikers have had to make a choice – go to the South Side, in Port Republic? Or to the North Side, Double Oak Farm outside Prince Frederick? Both have their draw…
A couple years ago, ACLT opened the new PF2BAY (Prince Frederick to Bay) Trail, which connected the North section out to downtown Prince Frederick, essentially a 4 mile connector which gave a satisfying sense of being able to GO somewhere other than around a loop – though it stops frustratingly short of actually getting to the Bay.
But just within the last couple weeks, ACLT opened a new 2.2-mile connector. The pink-blazed North-South trail now runs from Cemetery Lane in the South, all the way up to and across Parkers Creek in the North, making the whole area now trail-accessible! One of the neat aspects – instead of a complicated and costly bridge across Parkers Creek, the trail builders installed a floating raft with cables and pulleys, making a self-contained ferry to cross the creek. No silver for the ferryman required!
I shared a news-item post on this on my Facebook site back in early March – and couldn’t wait to go check it out. So on March 12th, I set out to do a point-to-point hike, from the South Side trailhead, all the way to Prince Frederick – with nice varied route options on both halves to add or subtract mileage as needed.
My route: (GPS Data) From the South Side trailhead off Scientists Cliffs Road in Port Republic, MD, take the western Flint Trail (Yellow), up and over the ridge at the beaver swamp via the Girl Scout Switchback, and then up the Cemetery Trail to the North-South Trail (Pink). Follow that all the way to and across Parkers Creek via the Raft, up the old Parkers Creek Road (Purple) to the PF2BAY Trail (Blue), then out to Prince Frederick. In my case I caught a one-way ride share back to the trailhead, but this was a gamble in this area – I got lucky and didn’t have to wait long.
Note: there are several other trail options in both south and north halves that could add a lot of mileage here, if you wanted to do that. Mine wasn’t the shortest route, but it wasn’t the longest either.
Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation: +1700 feet, -1550 feet (Lots of short, steep climbs of 75-100 feet in and out of multiple creek valleys. Steepness makes this, particularly the North-South piece, a workout.)
Trip Report and Observations: Despite having had a very warm February, it was a chilly March morning, a few degrees below freezing at 10am. Though I got a fairly late start, mine was the only car at the South trailhead. I took the option of veering as far left as I could go, on the Yellow-blazed Flint Trail down into the valley, and it was very quiet down there. Just the drumming of woodpeckers and the serenading of northern cardinals.
Flowers were just starting to bloom – a few widely separated redbuds, pear trees, and sporadically some daffodil clusters.
The new map (see links below) shows the North-South trail as connecting into the Cemetery Trail about halfway along its length, and indicates that it connects into point “20” on the map. However, this isn’t clear when you actually get there – point 20 marks the intersection of the yellow-blazed Swamp Trail and the Girl-Scout Switchback Trail, and signs indicate ONLY these trails. To the north, the old swamp trail has been overcome by beaver activity, and there’s now a chain barrier across the trail and a sign indicating closure. There’s a faint “bushwhacked” trail that runs out parallel to the closed trail – again with no signs – but it’s needed, since the old intersection of the Cemetery and Swamp Trails now lies beyond that barrier. Not clear if this new connector is aimed at being formalized, or not, but it does indeed take you the right way and up the hill on Cemetery.
Based on this confusion, I was enticed to take a non-existent trail up at the top of the hill because of blue surveyor tape and a faint trail, thinking it was the new poorly marked North-South. It wasn’t… the real trail, thankfully, was very clearly marked, although a bit biased towards hikers coming from the other direction, seeming to reinforce the idea that the connection to Cemetery I took was not the intended path… but then again, the map still indicates that point “20” is the right connection.
Anyway, all that ultimately wasn’t a big deal, but be aware there is some room for confusion. Blazes (pink) are plentiful all along the North-South so once you get started, navigation is not a problem. The topo map reveals this – but North-South can be challenging. Lots of up-down, often very steeply, in and out of the creek valleys, connected by rambling along the tops of the ridges. Not a bad walk or a rough trail, by any means, but a good workout.
At one point along here, I encountered a flock of hundreds of robins. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture them on the GoPro, but there were enough that the woods were just crackling with the combined sounds of all these birds hopping around.
The last half-mile of the North-South is relatively easy, as it mostly follows the old Parkers Creek Road route, which was cut to be a gentle grade.
The Raft is cool… a little 5-by-8-foot platform with rails on the sides, a box containing life-vests for those inclined, a bamboo pole, and a 2×10 board to be used as a bridge are all included on the raft, which is connected via plastic-coated cables and pulleys at both banks. When I arrived, a teenager on the opposite shore quickly heaved-to to pull the raft my way… and unfortunately, the raft ran aground a couple feet short of the landing on my side. I couldn’t reach the 2×10 “bridge”, so a little crunching through the sand and ice at the shoreline was required to get to the raft — it appeared the water was lower than normal, so hard to tell if this was typical.
Once aboard, I was able to move the raft with no problems, though it did drift downstream a bit once I floated it. The cables caught it though and it docked very nicely against the landing (a little low) on the north bank. All in all, very cool, and a fun, unique way to cross the river!
My route continued to follow the Parkers Creek Road north, so again gentle walking to the PF2BAY Trail intersection.
PF2BAY again, by necessity, does some plunging in and out of creek valleys, but the climbs don’t seem to be as plentiful or as severe as what I saw on North-South. One additional note of confusion here – the PF2BAY sign off Parkers Creek indicates 4.9 miles to Prince Frederick. It’s NOT that far… more like 3.9. This bias stubbornly persists in all the signs all the way to town, such as a sign combination at one point showing 4.1 back to Parkers Creek, 0.8 to “PF Trailhead”, when in fact neither direction runs that far. Ignore the signs and “just keep walking”… One nice surprise, this trail used to have a road-walk along Tobacco Ridge Road for maybe a quarter mile. That’s been fixed and it’s now just a road crossing with the trail completely in the woods.
I made the trip in just over 3 hours, average speed of 2.5 mph, with a full backpack. So overall not terribly strenuous despite the occasional vertical climbs.
More info on the American Chestnut Land Trust, including maps and regulations, can be found here.
Hope you find the opportunity to get out and hike at ACLT, it’s a great gem in central Calvert County!