The off-road trails at Gambrill State Park and neighboring Frederick Watershed are the steepest, rockiest, and most technical riding within an hour drive of DC. I’ve had so much fun riding off-road in this area than I went almost a year without discovering a second biking gem within this pristine natural preserve: the access roads.
The dirt and gravel access roads within the watershed parallel Steep Creek and Fishing Creek as they gradually flow down 1,000 ft slopes to the Fishing Creek reservoir. There are only a handful of trucks on the road at any given time, allowing visitors to really lose themselves in the surrounding nature.
The map below shows a recent ride that started at the base of Gambrill State Park Road off of Route 40.
Gambrill Park Road has a bicycle-friendly 35 mph speed limit and climbs over 600 ft in the first mile and a quarter after the Rock Run Recreation Area. Shortly after the climb, riders are rewarded with the a panoramic view of the city at the South Frederick overlook.
Another three miles on the undulating Gambrill Park Road leads to Hamburg Road, which in turn leads to the Fishing Creek gravel access road. This is where the real fun begins. As traffic is virtually non-existent, the Frederick Watershed is the perfect place to safely build an aerobic base and log quality training miles. Fishing Creek Road descends 600 ft to the intersection of Fishing Creek and Mountaindale Road. A half mile north on Fishing Creek Road is the intersection with Delauter Road, which heads west and climbs 600 ft back to the paved Gambrill Park Road. Fishing Creek Road continues north and climbs an additional 500 ft to the top of the watershed, where it intersects with Gambrill Park Road, a gravel access road within the watershed. Gambrill Park Road heads east and then south following Little Fishing Creek to the Fishing Creek Reservoir, where it merges with Mountaindale Road.
Mountaindale Road intersects with Putman Road, which continues along Little Fishing Creek and leads to the unique views of a fish hatchery. From here its a 1,200 ft continuous climb back up either Gambrill Park Road or Fishing Creek Road to the top of the watershed.
I find the long climbs to be great for building strength in the off-season and for interval training in-season. When I’m not feeling my best, I chalk the climbing up as building gravitational sweat equity, which I immediately cash out on the fast and winding descents. Overall, the ride is not technically challenging, but the descents let me practice the fine art of high speed cornering.
The lung-busting climbing and thrilling descents of the low-traffic watershed access roads combined with the unparalleled technical challenges of the off-road trails in the watershed and Gambrill State Park make Frederick my favorite destination for DC area mountain biking.