Today's stop featured one of the best places to run in the Washington, D.C. area: the North Tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge. The entirety of the park (made up of three tracts) spans well over 1,000 acres in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. The northern tract, located in Anne Arundel County, south of Fort Meade and east of Laurel, features miles of roads, paved and unpaved, as well as hiking trails that are open to the public from 8 AM to 4 PM. You can find more information on the North Tract at fws.gov/refuge/Patuxent/visit/plan_your_visit.html and directions at fws.gov/refuge/Patuxent/visit/directions.html.
You'll need to park and sign in at the visitor center (above), and from there take a right (heading west) to reach the unpaved roads that line the western section of the park. The roads are mostly dirt and gravel, plenty wide to accommodate groups (though at this point in time is obviously not recommended) and dodge any puddles or obstacles in the road. While the park's roads and surrounding terrain don't feature any big hills, they roll just enough to keep the run interesting.
The soft surfaces and long periods of uninterrupted stretches of relatively flat, open roads make it a perfect place for longer workouts or relaxing long runs. The variety of the landscape and almost overwhelming seclusion - in certain places the park can seem almost completely silent aside from bird calls - is a staggering contrast to the surrounding suburban landscape that dominates the outer reaches of the nation's capital.
The park features numerous ponds and river crossings throughout, one of which (Blue Heron Pond) is located at the far western corner of the refuge. It is also one of the designated fishing areas within the park for those inclined for a more relaxing day trip out to the North Tract.
Also, while not as apparent as the history featured on signs along the NCR Trail, the refuge does hold a rich past. It has been used for military training, a fact revealed by signs around the park warning of the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that may still lie within the grounds in areas that have not yet been cleared. If you visit, make sure to pay attention to the signs and avoid areas labeled "closed"; depending on the season, certain roads and trails may be closed due to hunting activities within the refuge as well.
All told, one can run close to ten miles while only sticking to the unpaved roads on the west end of the park. Other paved roads, such as the Wildlife Loop (both north and south) loop around to the eastern end of the park and can allow for runs of even greater length throughout the entirety of the Northern Tract (as well as connecting other unpaved roads, such as Duvall Bridge and Telegraph roads). Throughout the park you can expect more river crossings over the Little Patuxent, gentle rolling hills with wide curves and little to no vehicle traffic, remnants of old buildings and cemeteries dating back centuries, and plenty of ponds and swamps. The current state of public health also makes this a more inviting option than potentially crowded rail-trails (such as our first stop, the NCR Trail), making it worth checking out over the coming weeks.
If you have a recommendation for a place to be featured in the coming weeks, let us know!
More Pictures from the Refuge
Crossing over the Little Patuxent River on Wildlife Loop North.
Recent rains have raised the water levels of this swamp along Telegraph Road.
Old structures such as buildings and cemeteries date back dozens, sometimes even hundreds of years.
Smaller side trails can make for interesting explorations of the park - that is, when they aren't too wet.