At the beginning of this semester, I purchased a bike off of Craigslist for $150.
“This bike saw everything the 70s had to offer,” the previous owner told me while scratching his long, unkempt beard, pointing to the collection of scars on his shins. “1970 Raleigh Racing Bicycle — might need new tires. She still holds up nice.”
While the bike has its flaws, this simple purchase transformed my relationship with Baltimore. As a student with a rudimentary understanding (at best) of Baltimore living without a car, I invite you to explore the city on two wheels; you might be surprised at the beauty you find along the way.
Baltimore has taken impressive strides to become a safer city for cyclists, and there is no better time to explore the city by wheel than the advent of spring – the air is sweet, the temperature is inviting and the mood is elevated.
Rent a bike through Race Pace Bicycles on St. Paul Street or borrow one for the next warm day and embark on Jones Falls Trail for a complete display of Baltimore bliss. Here’s my guide for making your way through this trail, starting in Hampden and ending in the Inner Harbor.
Following the length of the Jones Falls, the trail is a 10-mile cycling circuit that originally served as a transportation route through the city. The historic waterway served as a major center of commerce and contributed to Baltimore’s 19th century industrialization boom. The path meanders through parks, along abandoned railroad tracks and ultimately dispenses you at the waterfront downtown.
Make sure to bring a backpack with water, snacks and perhaps a book if you have time to pull over and enjoy any of the scenic attractions along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for green “JF” trail markers on the ground and trailside signs for guidance.
An assemblage of independently-owned and locally-operated businesses in Hampden, Union Collective is a perfect place to embark on the trail. Placing you just about two miles south of the official start, you’ll have the opportunity to slam down a coffee from Vent Coffee Roasters and order something light from Well Crafted Kitchen to fuel the day (the Farmer’s Salad is a personal favorite).
Known as the “Mill Corridor,” Jones Falls provided Baltimore’s emerging textile industry with waterpower, thus transforming the stretch into an industrial hub. Built in 1877, Union has since been repurposed into a visitor-friendly location.
When you’re ready to put wheels up, turn right onto Jones Falls Expressway and again onto Clipper Park Road, where you’ll find an entrance to the trail.
The first landmark you’ll zoom past is Rockrose Park. Marking the path’s brief pass through Woodberry, Rockrose is a pleasantly wooded and grassy area perfect for a picnic or a quick rest. The ride features Woodberry’s collection of 19th-century structures, unique for their masterful stonemasonry and industrial-era architecture.
Woodberry’s history is closely tied to the flow of this waterway: It is built upon the topography that rises from the Jones Falls Valley. Innovations in weaving technology, paired with the American embargo on British finished textiles, cradled the establishment of the Woodberry district.
Druid Hill Park
The trail forks and offers two potential routes: one that follows the Jones Falls and another that cuts through Druid Hill Park. Following the Falls is peaceful and more secluded, while a detour through its back hills is full of blossoming trees and wooded trails. Historic monuments, public pavilions and other attractions, including the Maryland Zoo and the Rawlings Conservatory, make this route more than worthwhile.
Named for the Jones’ town settlement that predated the founding of Baltimore, Jones Falls serves as the main tributary to the Inner Harbor and is a fantastic place to cool off. The system nurtured Baltimore’s first wave of industrialization by the mid-1800s and can be credited for the modern urbanization of Baltimore along the Falls.
Baltimore Streetcar Museum
A straight ride downhill from the Falls (keeping the waterway on your righthand side) brings you to the abandoned tracks adjacent to the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. The museum, which restores antique streetcars, has been closed until further notice due to COVID-19, but it still makes for an interesting stop.
Baltimore Bicycle Works
Got a flat tire or in need of a snack? Baltimore Bicycle Works invites you into the artsy district of Station North. This is a great checkpoint if you are having any cycling issues or have questions about the route ahead.
Station North Books
Situated at the entrance back into town, the trail swings by Station North Books, a quirky shop that sells a variety of repurposed and antique books. Owner and prolific reader and writer Ned Sparrow greets his customers with enthusiasm and encourages them to take their time perusing the store. Lined with enticing titles, campy taxidermy and hidden treasures between every nook and cranny, your exploration of the tiny shop could consume an entire day.
You've made it! From Station North, Jones Falls Trail heads straight into the Inner Harbor down Fallsway, dispensing you at the Baltimore Visitor Center. The Harbor marks the end of the trail and is a fantastic place to peruse for a meal. Fells Point and Federal Hill are each only a couple minutes away cycling and are a couple of Baltimore’s best culinary destinations. If your legs are worn out, take the Light Rail (there’s a stop right by the Visitor Center) for $1.90 or the free Charm City Circulator to head home.