Montour Woods Conservation Area & Abjuration Brewing

McKees Rocks, PA

So excited to share the very first of our Hikes & Hops in Western PA. J and I recently moved back to our hometown and we can’t wait to have a whole new area of hikes and brews to explore. Last weekend we took advantage of a fresh snowfall to go for a winter hike. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day at the Montour Woods Conservation Area! Then we did some sampling at Abjuration Brewing in McKees Rocks which has been on my radar for a while. It was a perfect day and such a warm (cold?) welcome back to our hometown.

THE HIKE: Montour Woods Conservation Area – Hollow Oak Loop

Length: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 426 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Time:  1.5 hours
Trail use: Hiking, mountain biking, leashed pets
Parking: Small lot or park at Montour Trail
H&H: 5/5

One of the most exciting things about moving back home is exploring the area with a whole new lens. J and I haven’t lived in Pittsburgh in over 4 years and while we definitely were beer snobs, we hadn’t really gotten into hiking yet. I’ve spent a lot of time since moving researching green spaces in Pittsburgh and there are so many more than I thought! Montour Woods is one of the first that I learned about and I knew we had to go right away. I grew up walking on the Montour Trail but it leaves a bit to be desired in terms of hiking. Side note: it is a great place for running or biking! The Montour Woods Conservation Area is just up the road from the Hassam Rd parking lot of the Montour Trail. And in fact, there’s a project due to be completed at the end of the month to connect these trails with the larger Montour Trail system. Yippee!

This trail area is maintained by the Hollow Oak Land Trust, an environmental nonprofit based in Coraopolis. They care for 6 conservation areas totaling over 600 acres of protected space. The Montour Woods Conservation Area covers 320 acres of woods and offers over 10 miles of hiking trails. As I mentioned above, it also will connect to the Montour Trail and there are plans to connect to Moon Park in the future. There are three trailhead parking areas to access this site: Hassam Road (where we parked), Nike Road, and Downing Drive (in Londonbury). 

So there are 10 miles of trails here but we stuck to about a 3 mile loop since it was so snowy. Thankfully, there wasn’t much ice on the trails so we didn’t encounter any dangerous conditions. We cobbled together our own loop only vaguely following the Hollow Oak Loop on AllTrails. Based on the trail map above, I think we took Meeks Run → Honeydew Trail → Powerline Trail → Hemlocks Trail → Meeks Run. It was an awesome loop with some elevation changes that really got my heart pumping. 

This was my first truly snowy hike and it definitely changed my opinion about being outside in the winter. I had always been afraid of getting too cold or slipping on ice so I opted to stay home. But this year I’ve made a point to get outside every day and try to hike every weekend. I invested in a pair of slip-on crampons which I’ve really liked and I always wear two pairs of pants if it’s under 40F. No more staying inside all winter for me! This was a particularly beautiful hike because the day before the snow fell there was some freezing rain so all of the branches were encased in ice. There was still some snow falling as we walked around and it felt like we were in a snowglobe. We hardly saw anyone on the trail so it made for a magical winter hike. I highly encourage everyone to get outside in the winter, especially after a fresh snow. Just be aware of icy conditions and make sure you know where the trail is. It can be much easier to get off trail in the snow!

THE BEER: Abjuration Brewery

Address: 644 Broadway Ave, McKees Rocks, PA 15136
Distance from Trail Head:  5.2 miles, 12 mins 
Website: http://www.abjurationbrewing.com/
Food?: BYOF
H&H Rating: 5/5

Abjuration is one of those small local breweries that popped up in Pittsburgh after I moved away. It’s been on my radar for a while since I love the life they’re bringing back into the McKees Rocks area. This small town used to be a thriving town but has suffered decline once the steel mills closed down. But the small team behind Abjuration is doing their best to bring people back to the Rocks. 

The brewery is located inside of the historic Parkway Theater which has undergone a complete revitalization and is now known as the Community Reel Art Center. The Center’s mission is centered on bringing new life to the Stowe community through art and film. They work closely with the team at Abjuration so you can bring drinks from the full bar or a beer from Abjuration into the film screenings or live shows. Follow the Community Reel Art Center on facebook to keep up with upcoming events! 

The day we visited Abjuration it was HOPPING. They had two major bottle releases and were hosting a stop on the Pittsburgh Brew tours. We were lucky to grab a seat! As we like to do at a new place, we stuck with some tasters to get a feel for the place. As one of the owners informed us, you won’t find traditional “headliners” at Abjuration. They pride themselves on sticking to their homebrewing roots by making small batches and constantly tweaking the recipe. That’s why all of the names refer to the version of the beer. And keeping in line with their experimental mad scientist theme, all the drafts are served in beakers. I love it! 

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a brewery where I liked every single beer I tasted. Honestly it’s hard picking a favorite since they were all SO GOOD. But I think the standout beer was the Coffee Stout made with local favorite Prestogeorge French Vanilla Roast. Maybe I’m biased since Prestogeorge is always a favorite when I visit the Strip District but this was one of the best coffee stouts I’ve ever had. It was so smooth with none of the bitterness that sometimes crops up in coffee stouts. Especially after a long hike in the snow, this one really hit the spot! 

Another great thing about Abjuration: since the two owners were homebrewers themselves, they make all of their recipes available online! Nice job guys!

Our Beer:

  • Dip Hop IPA (v1.2) – New England IPA – 7.6%
  • IPA (v6.7) – IPA – 7.2%
  • Norwegian Farmhouse Ale (v1.3) – Farmhouse – 5.5%
  • Coffee Stout (v2.2) – Stout – 7.1%
  • Smoothie Style Sour (1.16) – Sour – 7.1%
  • Malty Amber Ale (v1.16) – Red Ale – 5.9%

SUM UP: Montour Woods Conservation Area is a 320 acre greenspace managed by the Hollow Oak Land Trust. It provides over 10 miles of hiking and connects to both Moon Park and the Montour Trail. The area offers peaceful woods, some opportunities for elevation changes, and a bubbling stream to follow. It’s surprisingly woodsy despite being so close to suburbia. It’s especially beautiful in the winter so don’t let the snow keep you at home! Afterwards, had into McKees Rocks to enjoy delicious small batch brews at Abjuration brewing located in the old Parkway Theater. Sit back and enjoy the old Hollywood atmosphere inside or take a seat in the biergarten complete with picnic tables and fire pits. You’ll definitely be treated like new friends here!

Assateague Island National Seashore & Sinepuxent Brewing Company (BONUS: Burley Oak!)

Berlin, MD

It’s road trip time! J and I took a ride across the Bay Bridge and over to Worcester County. I’ve always wanted to visit Assateague Island but never wanted to deal with the humidity and the Ocean City crowds. My solution? Go to the beach in January! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I absolutely loved being at the beach in the winter. It felt like we had the whole world to ourselves and we saw the wild horses almost as soon as we parked! It was a magical day and I highly recommend checking out your favorite summer haunts in the off season!

THE HIKE: Assateague Island National Seashore – Beach hiking & Short trails

Length: Variable
Elevation Gain: Flat
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time: Variable
Trail use: Hiking, Biking, NO PETS
Parking: Large lots throughout park, $25 entrance fee, valid for 7 days
H&H: 4/5

A little chilly on the beach in January

Assateague Island National Seashore is located in Worcester County along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s only a few miles away from its much more popular neighbor Ocean City. The island is separated into two sections, the state park and the national park. The state park offers 2 miles of beaches and campsites and is open for a number of activities including swimming, camping, biking and fishing. The National Park side of the Island is 35 miles of preserved beach and salt marsh habitat spanning Maryland and into Virginia. The Maryland side (apart from the state park) is managed by the National Park Service and the US Fish & Wildlife Service cares for the Virginia end (which is called Chincoteague)

The National Park is open all year round from about 7am to sunset. Be aware that there is no road connecting the Maryland and Virginia districts of the island so if you wish to visit both, it’s about an hour drive from one visitor center to the other. On our visit we opted to explore the National Park. The entrance fee is usually $25 per vehicle (which is valid for 7 days and includes both the MD and VA sections) but we used our America the Beautiful NPS pass to get in for free. I know I’ve said this before, but definitely invest in this pass if you think you’ll be going to more than one park in a year. It covers so much more than I realized and we’ve already used it for Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Harper’s Ferry, Great Falls, and now Assateague! It’s only $80 for the whole year. Okay end of my pitch. 

When you first get to Assateague, stop in at the Visitor Center before crossing over the bridge. We were able to get maps, talk to a ranger, and explore some museum displays. It was a great way to prepare us for what to expect on the island. It’s also a great place to use the restroom; there’s only vault toilets on the island! Also you can park at the visitor center and walk over to the park but this would add a few miles to your day and you’d be better off saving your energy. 

Once we crossed over and showed our pass, we pulled into the first beach parking lot. There was rain forecasted for the day and I wanted to get as much done as we could before the chilly day turned into a wet chilly day. We really lucked out because as soon as we parked, we noticed about five horses hanging out in the brush by the beach! I couldn’t believe that we were able to see the horses at all let alone first thing in the morning! They were so beautiful but without a fancy camera lens, we weren’t able to get close enough to take good pictures. But trust me, we saw them! 

Walking on the beach was probably my favorite part of the day. I’ve never seen such a long stretch of sand with no other people anywhere in sight. It really was magical. We did about a 2 mile out and back along the water before it started raining. If you do go in the winter, make sure to bundle up! It was about 40F that day but the wind on the beach made it feel SO much colder. We had on leggings under our hiking pants, sweatshirts, and big winter coats. 

After walking on the beach, I wanted to do some of the small trails along the island. There are three loops all focused on different habitats found on Assateague. We started at the furthest point and worked our way back. Also a side note: there is an Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) area which can be accessed by permit through the NPS. We didn’t pursue this but it sounds really interesting! So we started our hiking at the Life of the Dunes trail which is a short 0.8 mile loop that highlights the dune habitats. It’s full of interpretative signs, viewpoints, and even a walk along the asphalt road from the 1950’s when developers tried to inhabit Assateague. This trail was probably my favorite of the day. Although it was short, it was a completely different world from the hikes we usually do and I loved seeing the different plants and trees. Also walking on the sand is quite the workout! 

Next we did the 0.5 mile Life of the Forest trail which mostly followed a raised boardwalk. The views along this walk were incredible. It looks out over the Sinepuxent Bay and we spent so much time just watching birds swoop around. Next, we explored the Life of the Marshes trails which was also a 0.5 mile raised boardwalk. This was probably the best spot for watching birds and we even saw some horses in the distance. Part of the boardwalk leads right onto a small beach which was so peaceful and had some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. We got a lot of walking in around Assateague but unfortunately by this time even our winter coats were soaked through so we needed to call it a day. 

A couple things to note about visiting Assateague: it’s very windy so it will feel colder than on the mainland. The trees are fairly short so there’s no shade on sunny days. In warmer months, the heat and humidity bring out a lot of mosquitoes and biting insects. Finally, make sure to pack water and snacks and don’t leave food out. We kept everything in our car and threw our trash away at the visitor center. Remember to always Leave No Trace!

THE BEER: Sinepuxent Brewery Company

Address: 8816 Stephen Decatur Hwy, Berlin, MD 21811
Distance from Trail Head: 4.4 miles, 7 mins
Website: https://www.sinbrewing.com/
Food?: Snacks, seasonal juice & smoothie bowls
H&H Rating: 4/5

THE BEER: Burley Oak Brewery Company

Address: 10016 Old Ocean City Blvd, Berlin, MD 21811
Distance from Trail Head: 8.5 miles, 14 mins
Website: http://www.burleyoak.com/
Food?: Seasonal Taco Truck
H&H Rating: 5/5

The best part about doing an overnight trip? I feel no guilt in trying out two breweries for one hike! Our first stop was at Sinepuxent Brewing Company which boasts a sprawling outdoor venue as well as an indoor taproom. Honestly I wish it hadn’t been snowing at this point because the outdoor area looked so nice! There were fire pits, picnic tables, games, and animals. This place must be hopping during the summer! Thankfully we got there when we did because the owner wasn’t sure about opening up since the weather was looking grim. Luckily for us we were able to snag a small table and try pretty much everything on tap. Everything was pretty good but I think J’s favorite thing was the popcorn machine. I’ve never met someone who loves popcorn as much as him! My fav brew here was the IPA, it was a solid, no frills kinda ale which really hit the spot! Also I really love their logo. It’s an old seaman with a beard made of hops, so original! 

Later on that evening, we also checked out Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin. I was super excited to go here because I had been hearing a lot of buzz about them in the Maryland craft beer world. Their space was rustic and cozy, also with a large outdoor space. It had started snowing so we opted to stay inside. Guys, this place makes so much beer! I honestly had a hard time choosing. Which of course means we have to try as much as we can. My favorites were the Aboriginal Gangster IPA which had the sweetness of a hazy without the thickness, and the Rude Boy which had a delightfully sweet malty flavor. All in all, this was a bucket list trip and I’m so glad we got to check out an incredible hike and have some good brews along the way! And if you’re looking to stay the night during the off season, I highly recommend the Atlantic Hotel. Our room had a claw foot tub! 

Our Beer:

Burley Oak Brewing

  • Bunker-C – Porter – 6.6%
  • Aboriginal Gangster – IPA – 6.6%
  • Rude Boy – Imperial Red Ale – 8.2%
  • Pear Gingerbread J.R.E.A.M – Sour Ale – 4.8%

Sinepuxent Brewing Company

  • Hefeweizen – Wheat Beer – 5%
  • IPA – 6%
  • Double IPA – 8.5%
  • Stout – 8%
  • Pilsner Sin Brew – 4.8%

SUM UP: The beach isn’t just for summer! Assateague Island is located in Eastern Maryland and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay. It offers some of the most unique landscape in the state and is very well known for the wild horse herds that roam freely around. If going in the winter, dress warmly and be prepared to hike on sandy paths. After you’ve had your fill of wildlife, be sure to check out Sinepuxtent or Burley Oak breweries (or both)! Definitely consider staying the night in historic Berlin, known for its small town charm and plethora of antique stores.

Annapolis Waterworks & Forward Brewing

Annapolis, MD

J and I are super lucky to have an awesome hike and brew combo right in our backyard! It’s so nice to do a quick hike after work instead of having to wait for the weekend for a big excursion. The Waterworks trail is perfect for any length of hike. We usually do between 3-4 miles but the full loop is over 10 miles! Once you’ve gotten enough outdoors time on the trails, warm up at Forward Brewing, a small nanobrewery in the Eastport neighborhood. Come ready for a delicious menu and thirst-quenching brews! 

THE HIKE: Annapolis Waterworks Trail

Length: 10.3 miles full loop (We did ~4 miles)
Elevation Gain: 1000 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Time:  4.5-5 hours
Trail use: Hiking, leashed pets, mountain biking
Parking: Park off Housley road, can fill up
H&H: 4/5

It took us a few months of living in Annapolis to finally venture out to the Waterworks trail. I was a bit intimidated at first because there wasn’t a lot of information online about it and it seemed pretty confusing. Well I’m going to dispel some of the misleading info out there so you can enjoy these trails! So first of all, the Waterworks park is a specific park in Annapolis that requires a permit to use. BUT you do not need a permit to hike the trails! I repeat, you do not need a permit! These trails run near the Waterworks park but they don’t actually go into the facility. However, there are parking areas that are permit only. The best place to park is on Housley road. There is a pull off for about 20 cars on the side of the road. Or you can park in the large shopping center lot and walk over. But you didn’t hear that from me! Be aware that the parking lot off Defense Highway is permit-only so don’t park there! The section of trail accessible from Housley is the southern section. If you want to access the northern section, the only way I know of is to get dropped off or bike ride to the trailhead on Honeysuckle Lane. Do not park here as I’ve heard the residents won’t hesitate to have you towed. So really, your best bet is to park at Housley Road. 

Okay so now that we know where to park, let’s chat a bit about the trails themselves. These trails were built by MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts) and are maintained by their volunteers. Since MORE is an organization of mountain bikers, these trails are more geared toward that activity, although they are open to hikers as well. Just don’t be surprised if you encounter cyclists on the trail. Remember to share the trail! The full trail system comprises several different trails that all interconnect (Housley, Missing Link, Solar Park, Silopanna, Honeysuckle, and Duke of Gloucester). For our hike, we took the Housley trail and used the Missing Link connector to take us to the Solar Park Loop. Overall, we did about 4.3 miles! I’m so used to hiking on the weekend that I almost forgot to turn around with enough time to get back to our car before dark. We were definitely hoofing it at the end! 

I really like these trails and I definitely enjoyed my experience of a winter hike. During the warm months, these trails can get very busy. But we hardly saw anyone on a Friday afternoon! Be aware that sometimes these trails can get muddy. Check the trail monitor at the trailhead to see if walking on the trails is recommended that day and use your discretion. We only encountered a few muddy spots, most of the trail was still frozen when we went! The only section I didn’t enjoy of this hike was the first half of the solar loop. It circled through an open field full of solar panels and while not exactly the nature I was looking for, it was actually the wind whipping by that I hated. Thankfully the later half of the loop took us back in the woods. This was surprisingly beautiful landscape for being smack in the middle of a town. I hope that eventually more parking is added to make these trails more accessible.

THE BEER: Forward Brewery

Address: 418 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403
Distance from Trail Head:  5.3 miles, 15 mins 
Website: http://www.forwardeastport.com/
Food?: Full Menu
H&H Rating:  5/5

Guys I love Forward Brewing so much. There I said it! Despite the setback and challenges of opening during a pandemic, they’ve been killing it! Every time we visit, they are hopping and putting out consistently delicious beers. And just recently they’ve finally opened their indoor seating so we’ve finally been able to enjoy their cozy space. 

Forward was started by two Annapolis natives and is very focused on their local neighborhood.  I love how much of a local vibe this place has. In my hometown, nearly every neighborhood has their local brewery and I love to see that spreading! Unlike a lot of Maryland breweries that are in business/ industrial parks, Forward is tucked into the Eastport neighborhood in a converted house that has been in the owner’s family for over 30 years. There’s only street parking nearby so it’s pretty common to see people walking over to the brewery from their homes (or boats!). Be warned, Forward is pretty small on the inside so don’t be surprised if you have to wait for a table. Sometimes they have outdoor seating too but it varies. 

On this visit, we were excited to sample some of the new winter offerings. Dark beers reigned supreme with our favorites being the Chupez Stout and the Chaleur De Lenore Belgian Quad. The Chupez had just the barest hint of spice with a very smooth chocolatey finish. It was so satisfying after a chilly hike in the woods! We were also really impressed with the Belgian Quad and were happy to see that it was a collab with another of our favorite breweries, True Repite. We don’t often get out to Rockville so it was great to see our local pairing up with them. Honorable mention to the 2 Birds 1 Scone which was a cherry rhubarb sour with vanilla and spices which made it perfect for the chilly weather. 

Another plug for why I love this place so much: they are highly invested in the health and future of the Chesapeake Bay. They’ve launched a campaign called the Momentum Initiative in conjunction with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in which they plant enough oysters to filter the equivalent of the water used to brew their beer. Fun Fact, oysters are key to clean water in the Bay because a single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day! I think it’s so important to give back to your community and I love that Forward is doing just that! If you’re ever in the Annapolis area, be sure to check them out! 

Our Beer:

  • Chupez Beer – Mole Oatmeal Stout – 6.8%
  • Eastport Wassail – Winter Warmer – 7.5%
  • 2 Birds 1 Scone – Sour – 6.5%
  • Silent is the Night – Imperial Black IPA – 8.6%
  • Doppelbock – German Dark Lager – 8%
  • Chaleur De Lenore – Belgian Quad – 9.2% (Collab with True Respite)

SUM UP: Annapolis Waterworks is a large trail system in the Annapolis area for mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners. All together it is about 10.5 miles but there are plenty of smaller loops to do. The best place to park is off Housley Road but it is a popular area and can fill up. The natural trail is full of ups and downs that keep it interesting but not too difficult. Keep an eye on the weather and don’t risk hiking on a wet trail! After your outing, head into the Eastport neighborhood to check out Forward Brewing. This cozy brewpub sits in a converted home and offers a full menu alongside carefully made brews. Keep an eye on the ABV, some of their taps pack a punch in the best way.

Calvert Cliffs & Ruddy Duck Brewery

Lusby, Maryland

Calvert Cliffs should absolutely be your next hiking trip. While January might not seem like prime beach time, icy beaches are stunning in their own way! Calvert Cliff can get really busy in the summer so I highly encourage you to try something new and check it out in the winter. We went on an absolutely frigid day and I was blown away by how gorgeous the icy beach was. And the best part is you can warm up with a hot meal and a cold brew at the Ruddy Duck in Lusby. What a perfect way to check out Southern Maryland!

THE HIKE: Calvert Cliffs – Orange and Red Loop

Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 282 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Time:  2-2.5 hours
Trail use: Hiking, leashed pets
Parking: Large parking lots. $5 per vehicle. Often reaches capacity in summer
H&H: 5/5

Calvert Cliffs is a very popular state park that features hiker-only access to a beach. You may have heard about this beach for its fossil hunting! According to the State Park website, over 600 fossil species have been identified on the beach. Fossil hunting is a very popular activity here and is lots of fun for kids and adults alike! 

This park had been on my Maryland hiking bucket list for ages but it had always seemed so far out of the way. I’m here to tell you that no matter the drive, it’s absolutely worth it! We chose to go off-season as the park often fills up in the summer. Be sure to check the State Park’s social media before heading out in the summer to check if the park is still open to visitors! There is an entrance fee of $5 per vehicle ($7 for out of state) and it is cash only. 

The easiest route to the beach is the 1.8 mile Red trail. It’s a fairly flat path which makes it easy to bring a picnic to the beach for the day! If you’re looking for more of a hike, you can follow the loop we did. We started out with the Orange trail which was more moderate and meandered through the woods. It lets out at the beach where we spent a while looking at shells and the awesome ice formations. My favorite spot was a huge driftwood tree that was just covered in icicles. There’s just something so incredible about seeing a place that you usually associate with hot sunny days being covered in ice and snow. We walked back along the Red trail which was an easier route to end with and had lots of boardwalks along the marshy water. Be warned, these trails are probably quite muggy in the warm months! 

Overall I really loved this hike. I’m so grateful for J who insisted that we do this hike even though I wasn’t feeling the long drive. We ended up having a fantastic time and even took a drive through the small town of Solomon’s Island afterward. Not much was open in January but it was still so cute! If you go back in the spring or summer, check out Lotus Kitchen. We heard from a local that it has the best Key Lime Pie in the world. I guess that means we have to come back! No complaints from me

THE BEER: Ruddy Duck Brewery & Grille

Address: 13200 Dowell Rd, Dowell, MD 20629
Distance from Trail Head:  4 miles, 7 mins 
Website: https://www.ruddyduckbrewery.com/
Food?: Full Menu
H&H Rating: 3/5

Less than 10 minutes away from Calvert Cliffs is brewpub The Ruddy Duck. It offers a full restaurant menu along with a tap list of house-made brews. I was excited to check this place out since it’s not too common to find a brewery with a full menu. This was the perfect spot for us after spending a few hours out in the cold. We were able to get a really delicious pizza with prosciutto and shallots which warmed me right up. We sat in the bar area and the waitress was immediately attentive and let us try several different varieties of their beers. Since the water was so wintery, we shied away from the IPAs and other light beers. Thankfully, they had several versions of their Oatmeal Stout available and we took the bartender’s suggestion and did half regular stout and half Coffee Toffee. It was a winner folks! We both found the flavored stouts to be very sweet so adding the regular stout helped to mellow it out. Honorable mention goes to the Hammerhead Red which was a nice malty red. 

Overall, I found this to be a great local restaurant. The service was excellent and the pizza was scrumptious. The beer was just alright but combined with the enthusiasm of the bartender and the delicious food, it was an overall good experience. We definitely felt spoiled by the full menu! Definitely beats the sandwiches and carrots we usually pack as an after hike snack. Shockingly, pizza is more satisfying than carrot sticks. 

Our Beer:

  • Knuckle Dragger – Oatmeal Stout – 5.6%
  • Coffee toffee – Stout – 5.5%
  • Hammerhead Red – Irish Red – 4.8%

SUM UP: Calvert Cliffs is a state park located in Lusby in Southern Maryland. It is a popular summertime destination but it is also quite beautiful in the off season. There is a $5 entrance fee and the park often reaches capacity in the summer months so be sure to check their social media before heading out. It’s a 1.8 mile trail to the hiker-only beach which is very popular with swimmers, sunbathers, and fossil hunters alike. Dogs are also welcome as long as they stay leashed. Afterwards, head to the Ruddy Duck for delicious food and fresh beer made in house. I dare you to try and count all the ducks in the restaurant!

Centennial Lake Loop & Sapwood Cellars

Ellicott City, MD

Some days you don’t have the energy for a huge rock your world hike. Some days you just have to take the short and easy route and make sure to stop and smell the flowers. That’s exactly what the Centennial Lake Loop in Columbia was for us. We had been feeling pretty spread thin but still wanted to get outdoors. This is a popular paved path along a man-made lake in Columbia that was quite peaceful and had lots of different trees. We loved taking our time and reading all of the tree labels and trying to spot as much wildlife as possible. The slow down was rejuvenating, made even better by a stop at Sapwood Cellars, one of our favs!

THE HIKE: Centennial Lake Loop

ttps://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/maryland/centennial-lake-loop

Length: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 128 ft
Difficulty: Easy
Time:  1 hour
Trail use: Hiking, Leashed pets, bikes
Parking: Large parking lots throughout park, can get busy at times
H&H: 3/5

Howard County in Maryland is well known for having trail systems connecting neighborhoods. Today’s trail loop is one of them, which travels around Centennial Lake. Despite its name, this isn’t really a lake. It’s a dam that’s been created by damming a portion of a branch off the Little Patuxent River. In addition to the waterway, the Howard County Parks and Rec also maintains a large park surrounding Centennial Lake with every outdoor activity you can think of! There are pavilions, boat launches, fishing piers, playgrounds, sports facilities and more. Needless to say, this park is very popular! We went on a surprisingly warm January afternoon and the park was full of families getting their vitamin D. 

The loop around Centennial Lake is a paved path that makes it perfect for an easy walk or for pushing a stroller or wheelchair. It’s definitely a popular place which means the trails can get crowded. This took a while for me to get used to since I’m usually pretty isolated out in the woods. But it was also heartwarming to see so many people enjoying the great outdoors in the depths of winter. We definitely just took it easy and enjoyed all the birds and wildlife. I also really liked that throughout the trail there were labels on the trees with descriptions so that we could learn a bit more about tree varieties. It’s my New Year’s resolution to be able to identify more trees when I’m out hiking!

Overall, this wasn’t my favorite hike since the paved path got a little boring and sharing the trail with so many other people soon became annoying. But I’m still glad that we found a good trail for a day that we were too tired to do a major hike. This would be a great way for people to start getting into hiking or just trying to add some more outdoor time into their life.

THE BEER: Sapwood Cellars

Address: 8980 MD-108 Suite MNO, Columbia, MD 21045
Distance from Trail Head:  3 miles, 6 mins 
Website: https://sapwoodcellars.com/
Food?: BYOF (Food trucks on select days)
H&H Rating: 5/5

Sapwood Cellars has been making high quality brews since they opened in 2018. Founded by homebrewing friends Scott Janish and Michael Tomsmiere, Sapwood takes a scientific approach to beer-making. Instead of making a wide range of mediocre beer, they have honed their skills to specifically make fresh, hop-forward ales and more funkier barrel-aged sours. 

Like many breweries in Maryland, you’ll find Sapwood tucked into the back corner of an industrial park. They don’t have a kitchen onsite, but you’ll often find a food truck parked out front. If not, you’re free to bring in your own food! The taproom is large but finds a perfect balance of cozy yet spacious. Having a green thumb myself, I particularly love that there are plants everywhere throughout the space. Also around the space is local art for sale, often pieces by the artist who designs the can labels. 

Sapwood’s name harkens back to the two focal points of their production. Sap for the fresh hoppy IPAs and wood for the barrel-aged brews. Sapwood is one of those few breweries where everything is consistently good. Honestly, more than just good! There’s always something that I love on tap. It definitely helps that I’m particular to those fresh IPA flavors! This past visit, the standout for me was the Combo Wombo. I seriously don’t think I’ll ever get enough of Hazy IPAs. I liked it better than the Grapefruit Rings which I was really hoping for more Grapefruit flavor to come out. J was a big fan of The Dragon, the rye double IPA which I actually didn’t mind! The rye flavor was well-balanced and didn’t overpower the IPA flavor. 

I cannot recommend Sapwood Cellars enough. It is definitely in my top five favorite Maryland breweries and it definitely will not disappoint!

Our Beer:

  • The Dragon – Rye Double IPA – 8.2%
  • Grapefruit Rings – NEIPA – 5.9%
  • Unbound – Wheat Beer – 5.1% 
  • Combo Wombo – Hazy DIPA- 6.6%

SUM UP: Centennial Lake is a 3 mile paved loop around a manmade waterway in Ellicott City. It is a popular park that can get busy but has plenty of free parking. It is popular with walkers, cyclists and families. It features wildlife and lots of nature learning opportunities. Close by is Sapwood Cellars, a brewery that specializes in hoppy IPAs and barrel-aged brews. They are consistently making excellent beer and are one of our favorite places in Maryland!