Riding Circles Around Planes: The BWI Bike Trail
By Jonathan Cohen

The days are shorter, the air is crisp, and as the leaves fall, a young man’s fancy turns to … well, skiing, I suppose. But this is the Baltimore-Washington area, and today’s cloudless high is expected to be in the 60’s - more conducive to cycling than skiing.

Today, my wife and I will take a quick run around Baltimore-Washington Airport’s recently finished bicycle trail that completely encircles the airport. The trail, mostly a six-foot-wide asphalt path, provides more than 10 miles of easy terrain that is surprisingly pleasant and at times picturesque. Despite being an afterthought, the trail fits in well and does not have the rider eating much exhaust.

Although one can start almost anywhere on its course, we will begin at the official beginning (and ending) area: the Thomas A. Dixon Jr. Aircraft Observation Area, a small but popular park providing parking for people watching the planes coming in low as they complete their approach to BWI from the southeast. Dixon park is on the south side of Dorsey Road, the southern border of the airport.

The trail leaves from the back end of the parking lot heading east away from the road and goes about a quarter mile before turning northeast to follow route 100 at a distance of several hundred feet and separated from it by thick woods. After passing through alternating clearings and forest, you emerge to see I-97 joining route 100; the trail turns sharply to left and shortly comes to Stewart Avenue. Here, you are offered a choice: a right turn will take you on a connector to the 13-mile Baltimore-Annapolis hiking-biking trail not far away. We turn left along the left side of Stewart going west and then north, make two minor road crossings, and in short order come to Dorsey Road where it joins Hammonds Ferry Road, the eastern border of the airport. Here, at mile 1.5 from the start, is the first of 5 major road crossings, all aided by pedestrian crossing lights.

The trail follows Hammonds Ferry, with the road 3 to 50 feet to the east and the fenced airport lands to west. Grass, occasional trees, and groups of recently-planted shrubs flank the open trail. At mile 3.4 we reach the historic Hammond house, now the property of the Anne Arundel County Historical Society. Here we make a major crossing at Poplar avenue and follow the trail as it goes into forest separating the road from airport parking. The trail later comes out to the road (known apparently as both Andover Road and Hammonds Ferry Road) as the road turns from north to northeast. At mile 3.9, the trail, now on sidewalk, crosses 170 (known here as Camp Meade Road). We stay on the sidewalk going west and pass Andover High School on the left.

Right after the high school, the asphalt trail resumes and angles south into Andover park, which is also an attractive horse farm. A sign here advertises rest rooms, though I didn’t investigate. After zigzagging through the park, the trail again enters airport land and climbs a hill at mile 4.6. Land to the south and west is open and the hill offers a nice view of the general aviation portion of the airport, the Amtrak lines, and route 170. From here, the trail meanders slowly to the west as it descends through open areas with patches of young growth.

The trail finally emerges at the side of Elkridge Landing Road and shortly, at mile 5.4, we cross Elkridge Landing at Elm Road and immediately turn south to continue on the left side of Elkridge Landing. If I had been hungry at this point I would have given more notice to the Golden Arches a few hundred yards ahead where the trail veers to the left and leaves the road.

A short distance leads to a trail fork at mile 5.7. To the left is a spur that goes over a new pedestrian bridge on a nice ride to the Maryland Department of Transportation Building in the airport complex. Instead, we head to the right and travel above an exit ramp that leads to the airport access road (I-195). We stay above and parallel 195 briefly as it goes northwest, cross over it on a newly-constructed pedestrian bridge, then continue to the northwest along the other side of 195 before turning left into woods.

At mile 6.4 we reach the access road and parking deck for the BWI Amtrak station, cross the access road, and follow off its right shoulder as it goes south toward route 170. The trail then pulls off to the right, offering a nice view of the bit of valley holding the train tracks. The trail passes behind Westinghouse parking lots before coming nearer to 170 where it is mostly open but passes trees and recent plantings, keeping a nice distance from the road. It then takes a flying ramp up to meet Stoney Run Road. Despite being nearly deserted at all times, Stoney Run has a nice, wide bridge crossing 170, which the trail takes.

Shortly after crossing, the road reaches a T at mile 7.5, and the trail crosses the T, turns right, and follows to the left side of a ramp as it curves to meet 170.

The trail continues south along the airport side of 170, and at mile 7.8 it enters construction, though the trail is still passable. After passing the construction and crossing a nice long wooden bridge, the path completes the 170 portion on a slightly winding trail in and out of trees with lots of shade.

As we approach Dorsey Road, the trail curves gently to the left and at mile 9 parallels the north side of Dorsey, separated from the road by about 50 feet of grass. This last eastward leg of the trail is open with occasional trees. It passes over a few wooden bridges and eventually reaches a road crossing at mile 10.4 (at WB&A road) to cross to the south border of Dorsey, where it continues to the east, returning to the Dixon observation area. Total trip: 10.71 miles.

For a light hassle-free ride, this loop is a nice choice. The surface is flat and unpopulated, the slopes gentle, and the trip pleasant. The path is usually a comfortable distance from road, but when very close, is separated by a low concrete barrier. Serious road crossings are rare and mediated by crossing lights.

To reach the Dixon Observation Area from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, take route 100 east, go 1.2 miles to exit 10B, and take the MD 713 (Ridge Road) exit north. Take 713 a few hundred yards to the first light at Dorsey Road (MD 176). Turn right on Dorsey and go 2.9 miles to find the park on the right.

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