There’s a time of year when 55 degree water sounds painful. When the air temperature is in the 80s and the sun is beating down on you… not so much. Then it just makes for a pleasant chill on your backside as you do a leisurely float down the Gunpowder Falls River.
The river is just one component of Maryland’s Gunpowder Falls State Park but for my money – not that it takes much money to enjoy the river – it’s the best part. I’m happy to tell you about it in detail, but really here’s all you need to know: you get to float down a lazy river for either an hour and a half or a little over two hours – depending on where you get in – and it’s cool, calm water and you’re semi-shaded by lush greenery.
I’m not entirely sure why you’re not already in the car and on your way. I’d rather be there now than telling you about it.
The biggest pain about going on this outing is getting there. It’s not an unpleasant drive but it’s not a quick one – about an hour and a half if you avoid any traffic. Your starting point is your ending point: Monkton Bikes, where you’ll rent the tube you ride down the river in. Or you could take your own, if you just happen to have a three foot inflatable raft hanging around.
Just do yourself a favor and don’t try this on that pool noodle you have in the back of your closet. The cold water is refreshing in small doses, but if you stay immersed in it for several hours without some protection you’re going to be the only person in the emergency room suffering from hypothermia in July. Embarrassing.
Besides, renting your tube from Monkton Bikes also gets you a deal on their shuttle service. If you want to cheap out on that too, you can. The parking lot by the bike store is at the head of the trail and it’s state park land. If you can find a space you can have it. If you don’t mind making the walk up the trail carrying your tube you’ve got no need for the shuttle. If you want to take the shorter float down the river you’ve got no choice in the matter – the shuttle doesn’t go to the midway point.
Which is no big deal, distance-wise. The river makes winding big turns so the fifteen minute stroll gets you to where it’ll take over an hour to float back. Making it to where the shuttle would have dropped you off takes thirty. The only thing that makes the walk less pleasant is schleping your tube. As you can see in the picture above, you need to remember to turn the giant thing sideways before you walk between two trees. Though I can tell you – it’s pretty funny for your companions when you forget. *snicker*
So while they’re not heavy, they’re big and unwieldy. Having to hold it up that high for that long left my defective right shoulder a little sore later in the day. When we do it again we’re going to take the shuttle not only for that reason but because once you’re on the river you won’t want to get off, so why opt for less time?
Once you’re in the river there’s little to do but chat with your companion and relax and enjoy the scenery. The signage in the park made some lofty statements about beavers and other wildlife but the extent of what we saw were homo sapiens beerus and some birds. The fellow drinkers were nice, mind you, and the birds were amusing. One kept making flying runs at the water to wash himself, though he was very uncooperative about doing it in a convenient time and place for my camera. You’ll just have to go see for yourself. Tell him we sent you.
Oh wait, did I mention the drinking? Theoretically there’s no booze allowed, but every single other person we saw on the river – all 7 of them – had a drink with them. We, being perfect law abiding folks who would never flout the rules, had only soda of course. I’ll comment that nobody expressed the slightest interest in our cooler to verify this fact that I make to you with no hint of deception, so it’s not like anyone would have stopped us if it had been something else.
Monkton Bikes is happy to rent you a small cooler tube which held our lunch and perfectly within the rules soda as well, though if I had to do it over again I might not bother. The water is cold enough to keep your drinks chilly without dragging anything complicated around. We found the most useful bit about the cooler tube to be the piece of cord it came with to tie off to one of our tubes.
About halfway down we untied it from the cooler tube and looped it through the handle, tying one end to each of our tubes. Holding on to each other’s tube wasn’t a big challenge by any means but this was a nice way to have even one less thing to deal with. The next time we return I’m going to bring a length of clothesline-weight cord to do this with. I see it in the dollar store all the time so it’s not a significant investment.
Which brings us to the price. The way we did it – one short trip down the river and then out – is the same exact price as repeatedly doing the run over and over. The state charges nothing to float down the river and Monkton Bikes charges a flat daily rate for the tube rental. Hand the tube back in an hour or seven, it’s all the same under-$20 rate. If you opt for the shuttle ride you can add $5 per person on top of that. The little cooler-sized tube cost us just $5.
The most strenuous part of the float for us was the beautiful homes we saw along the way. Or rather, the realization that those beautiful homes didn’t belong to us. Second most strenuous was getting out at the end. Your float comes to a draw – or at least requires a brief stop as you get out and go back to the beginning – underneath the Monkton road overpass. It’s not that it’s hard to get out of the tube and scramble up the embankment – though it is a little steep – but it’ll be the most you’ve put your body in that freezing cold water in a while. It comes as quite a shock after having acclimated the other parts of yourself to the chill.
We did our run while playing hooky on a weekday and I highly recommend it. The guy at Monkton Bikes said that the weekends are quite a zoo. Personally I think it would be worth braving the crowds it for the relief and relaxation, but why deal with it? Those sick days aren’t going to take themselves.
Monkton Bikes is at 1900 Monkton Road, Monkton MD and is about ten miles north of the top of the Baltimore beltway. Getting there from the DC area is best done by going up 95 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and then clockwise around the Baltimore beltway to 83 North. While you can drive through the city I personally wouldn’t recommend it.