Maryland’s Greenbrier State Park: The Big Red Trail Loop

Once again, Candee's hiking app describes the hike better than I can!

Once again, Candee’s hiking app describes the hike better than I can!

Since today’s hike in Greenbrier State Park, I have done some reading on the internet.  I came across some old tweets from the GSP office stating that the park had been filled and had no room for additional visitors.  The close vicinity of Route 40 and I-70 apparently makes Greenbrier a very popular destination, so a cold December morning seemed to be the right time to hit the Big Red Trail–the park’s main footpath.  On the way up Boonsboro Mountain Road, we went for a spin on black ice created by water left over from the previous day’s rain, so it’s not all that surprising that we didn’t see too many people during our hike.  Call it perfect–if not frightening–timing!

Upon entering the park, the 42 acre Greenbrier Lake stands out.

Upon entering the park, the 42 acre Greenbrier Lake stands out.

The Big Red Trail itself is roughly 4.5 miles long, and there are a few access trails meeting it from the outside.  Also, a maze of trails crisscross inside of the Big Red’s circuit.  This may sound confusing, but the trail is very well-marked, and at every junction there’s a sign with a map of the park and the ever-popular “you are here” caption.  The Maryland DNR offers a trail map for three dollars, but it only seems necessary for planning a hike in advance.  Getting lost is almost impossible!

You Are Here  --->

You Are Here …

Crossing over the dam

Crossing over the dam

From the parking lot, we walked along the lake before connecting to the Big Red Trail near the dam.  The trail is rated as difficult/strenuous, but heading in a counter-clockwise direction, the biggest strains were two fairly long hills and a small stream crossing.  However, as we neared the end, the trail made a steep descent toward the lake.  I suppose going clockwise would make for an ATish climb right from the start, and that’s not too surprising considering that the Appalachian Trail does go through the eastern end of the park.

We've been on a lot of trails, but this may have been our first red blaze.  At least I don't remember another red-blazed trail!

We’ve been on a lot of trails, but this may have been our first red blaze. At least I don’t remember another red-blazed trail!

In spite of the Big Red’s billing as Greenbrier’s main trail, it doesn’t offer access to the Appalachian Trail.  Instead, the AT can be reached from the visitor center via the .6 mile Bartman Hill Trail.  This gives thru-hikers an opportunity to get water or a snack without much of a detour.  Surprisingly, we did the Greenbrier stretch of the AT a couple of months ago and had no clue we were in the park.  Then again, with my track record for navigation, maybe it’s not all that surprising!

Greenbrier SP's stream crossing

Greenbrier SP’s stream crossing

At the end of the day, Candee, Jane, and I all gave the Big Red Trail a unanimous thumbs-up.  It’s a solid workout for most people, but it’s not so difficult that it should scare away a family out for some exercise.  Also, there are several miles of shorter trails, and conquering all of them would be a two hike affair.  Greenbrier State Park reminded me of Rocky Gap (minus the casino!) in a number of ways (the lake, number of trails, potential crowds…), and I think it would be worthwhile to make a return trip–just as long as it’s in the off-season.

The Big Red is a wide, well-maintained trail!

The Big Red is a wide, well-maintained trail!

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by BikerChick on December 7, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    I really enjoyed our hike today. I would rate the Big Red Trail Loop as a “Goldilocks Trail”..not too hard and not too easy, making it JUST right!


  2. Posted by Jamie on December 9, 2014 at 8:22 am

    I’m sure I have hiked red blaze trails in the past, but I couldn’t remember where. Poking around the Internet, I didn’t see anything that jogged my memory but I did find this link about trail blazes which I thought you might find interesting.


  3. Posted by LevelWalker on December 9, 2014 at 9:26 am


    That’s amazing! My blaze knowledge just tripled in a matter of minutes. Of the trails listed, we’re familiar with the Tuscarora and AT,:of course, but I would like to check out the Lost Turkey. Maybe it’s a red blaze thing. The article also reminds me a bit of the Green Ridge mountain bike loop. Because of the speed of bikers, it’s the best marked trail I’ve seen.


  4. Posted by Jamie on December 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    One trail it mentioned was the Baker Trail. This trail was somewhat of a running joke between my college roommate and me because it seemed to be everywhere. We used to do a lot of hiking, usually on state forest or game lands. We often came upon the yellow blazes of the Baker Trail in the areas we frequented. (I know the link says the blazes are blue, but they were yellow when I was in college.)

    Much of the trail is made up of former forest dirt roads — probably once used for logging purposes. One time, with my roomy and another guy in tow, I took my VW Bug right up one the those paths. It was bumpy and slow, but great fun. The second time I tried, I wasn’t so lucky — I got hung up and they had to push me off the Baker Trail.

    Ah, memories!


  5. Posted by LevelWalker on December 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    That’s back when men were men and there wasn’t a padlocked gate at every trailhead and access point! Those were the days!


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